By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

One weekend, about 15 years ago, Keizer’s newest First Citizen, Joe Egli, wanted to go to Costco and buy a play structure for his kids, Madi and Noah.

However, he didn’t have a way to get it back to his house after making the purchase. Fortunately, one of his neighbors, Mike Kurtz, was an acquaintance through the Rotary Club of Keizer and he owned a pick-up truck.

“I went over and asked him if I could borrow it to go buy the set, but Mike offered to drive me and then spent the whole weekend in my backyard helping me assemble it,” Egli said. “I didn’t think people did that kind of thing.”

Fifteen years later, he’s still somewhat shocked by the kind gesture, but that experience fuels his desire to be an active part in the community.

“Everything I’ve given, I’ve gotten back tenfold. Every little bit you can give back makes a difference,” Egli said.

Egli didn’t move to Keizer until 1996, but he was a frequent visitor to the area as a child and worked here during the summers as a painter beginning at age 13. He eventually struck out on his own with a painting business and that’s when his civic engagement began in earnest.

Soon after starting his own business, Egli was sold a ticket to the Rotary Raffle by another Rotarian, Kim Girouard, and he began asking how he might get more involved with the group.

“I remember I was sitting next to Jim Hupy at one of the meetings and he was telling me about the old schoolhouse. It had just been moved and the plywood was still on it and nothing else was happening. He thought if he could just get the plywood off of it, people might be more motivated to get involved in preserving it,” Egli said.

Elgi did Hupy one better, he said if Hupy could arrange for buying the paint, he would paint it for free.

“In hindsight, I wondered what I was doing offering to do it. It’s a bigger building than you realize,” Egli said with an exasperated chuckle.

Still, Egli was undeterred. He would eventually serve as president of Rotary and began taking on larger roles in civic projects. When another member of Rotary committed the group to helping create the focal point at the corner of Chemawa Road North and River Road North, Egli quickly became the supervisor for the project.

Through the enlistment of a small army of volunteers and in-kind donations, the focal point rose up from a gravel lot that was once a gas station.

“It was a lot of work, but we put together a $300,000 project on a budget of about $20,000,” Egli said. “That was my first time working with a lot of the other people associated with volunteering in Keizer.”

Newton-McGee Plaza was completed in early 2003 and it’s the spot where visitors and new residents discover Keizer motto, “Pride, Spirit and Volunteerism.”

“We were looking for a saying to put on the fountain and we were just tossing out ideas and someone said, ‘Pride, Spirit and Volunteerism.’ We all stopped and said, ‘We’re done.’ Everyone in the room knew that was the right thing to put on there,” Egli said.

Christine Diecker, the former executive director of the Keizer Chamber of Commerce, enlisted Egli to run the Keizer Chamber of Commerce’s Economic Development and Government Affairs (EDGA) Committee and that helped him set his sights on a seat on Keizer’s City Council.

“I got interested in the council through EDGA. When (former City Councilor) Richard Walsh decided to leave the council, he approached me and asked if I would be interested in running,” Egli said.

Egli was and he served one term as a city councilor. Among the major hallmarks of his time on the council were efforts to move the Chamber of Commerce office to Keizer Station, ushering in the move of the Festival of Lights Parade to Keizer from Salem, and determining the city’s position in an attempt by Keizer Fire District to annex a portion of north Keizer that was, and still is, served by Marion County Fire District No. 1.

More recent volunteer work includes serving on the board of the McNary Athletic Booster Club as treasurer and a spot on the board of directors for the Salem-Keizer Education Foundation.

His role with SKEF ended up creating an opportunity for him to fly to southern California last year and drive back in a donated bookmobile.

“You always hear about people making trips like that and I figured this was my shot. But, man, that was rough. It was like driving a semi,” Egli said.

Egli, who is now agent with Brown Insurance Agency in Woodburn, said he feels the relationships he’s developed through volunteering have helped him be successful in his business endeavors.

“But that’s always been secondary to the friendships,” Egli said. “I feel very blessed to be around such great people all the time. I feel very successful in business because of the relationships.”

(Editors note: In the Jan. 26 edition of the Keizertimes, we mistakenly reported that Egli was an agent with R. Bauer Insurance.)