Kim Freeman was having a coffee with Marion County Commissioner Danielle Bethell when members of the Keizer Chamber of Commerce walked into the shop with a surprise announcement: that she was the 2020 Keizer First Citizen.

Freeman had only one stunned word to offer for the next minute or so, “Wow.”

“This was just something I never expected,” she said after the Keizer First Citizen ceremony Saturday, March 20. “I just look at all the people that are previous winners and I'm just in awe of everyone to be standing beside all of them.”

The annual First Citizen Awards were a pre-recorded affair due to COVID-19, presenters, winners and special guests recorded everything at the Lewis Media Group office beforehand. In addition to Freeman, civic leaders handed out awards for Merchant of the Year, Jonathan Thompson, Service to Education, Joshua Rist, and the President’s Award, Jason Lewis. The title of first citizen is bestowed annually on one person who exemplifies the city motto of “Pride, Spirit and Volunteerism.”

Outgoing First Citizen Hersch Sangster said Freeman lived the motto in ways small and large.

“From helping with neighborhood clean-up to helping make a neighborhood association a model of openness and collaboration. She continually showed commitment over and above what was required,” Sangster said.

Freeman recently completed nearly eight years as a Keizer city councilor, but her service and volunteerism predate that more public stint.

She volunteered at her daughter’s school and for the chamber of commerce’s KeizerFEST and giving basket program before former Keizer mayor Lore Christoper and City Councilor Jacque Moir enlisted her as a municipal volunteer. Before serving on the council, she was a member of the Keizer Volunteer Coordinating Committee for 12 years and a member of the Keizer Budget Committee for three years.

“It was my mom who passed on the spirit of volunteering,” Freeman said. “She was always a part of school fundraisers, and seeing her volunteering made it something I felt I should do.”

Freeman’s first term as a city councilor came through appointment after another councilor resigned six months into a four-year term. She was the only female to apply. She ran for re-election unopposed.

She had two passion projects during her time on the council, constructing The Big Toy in Keizer Rapids Park and the annual clean-up at the Keizer Civic Center.

She led the effort to enlist volunteers for The Big Toy project and, while it was difficult, she has fond memories of the experience.

“It was long and dirty work, but I loved that people had so much fun that they would sign up for a single shift and then stay all day or come back the next day,” Freeman said.

It was a joyous moment to see so many families turn out to clean-up at the civic center two weeks ago and listen to the chatter as people caught up after a long, difficult year, she added.

As far as work that felt a bit unfinished during her time on council, Freeman said the two most challenging conversations will be how to handle growth and how to act on a recently-adopted statement of values addressing issues of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).

“We don’t have a lot of room to grow so the main questions will be whether we go up or out. I think we have a good development code already and that will make certain that, whatever the answer is, it will look nice,” Freeman said.

Despite the arduous road and frequently uncomfortable conversations that led to the city council adopting a statement of values, Freeman was pleased that it happened on her watch.

“I think it would be beneficial to hire someone to help with the work and help ask the right questions in conscientious ways,” she said. “There has to be a safe place to have those conversations and it takes a willingness to learn, we’re all learning how to get better about [DEI] all the time.”

While city council duties went well beyond anything she expected at the outset, Freeman said the journey was worth it.

“I met so many great people along the way and developed friendships I never imagined having,” she said.