Community, Creswell

Friendly face retiring from Creswell City Hall

CRESWELL – For over two decades, there has been one constant at Creswell City Hall – Roberta Tharp.

You’ve seen her sitting on the far right side of the council dais, keys clanking persistently through council proceedings, speaking out in hushed but confident tones when correcting council protocol, a steadfast handheld recorder in tow.

“I’ve been on the five-year retirement plan for 12 years,” Tharp, 66, said with a grin. On Sept. 30, those plans will come into true fruition, having spent 22 years with the City of Creswell.

Like many kids growing up in the Southern Willamette Valley, Tharp’s first gig was plucking vegetables on farms in Cottage Grove, her hometown.

“I started with being-picking in the summers – that’s how kids earned our school clothes,” she said. At 15, Tharp transitioned from the green bean fields to working at the Cottage Grove Dairy Queen in 1972. Two years later, she was off to the Creswell Dairy Queen, where she would meet her eventual husband, Gary. She now has three adult children and seven grandkids.

That particular Creswell Dairy Queen – located where the 76 Station is now – used to be a destination location, Tharp recalls.

“It was very famous,” she said. “It wasn’t a traditional Dairy Queen. The restaurant part had good, home-cooked food. We made everything from scratch, from salad dressings to pies … We had people who would schedule stops on trips while passing through to or from California. People would wait for an hour for a table. It was unbelievable.”

She worked there until the mid-’80s, then at Ralph’s Diner in Eugene, before landing at Traxler’s Insurance and Real Estate – where the Creswell Chamber office sits now – for 11 years as a bookkeeper, alongside Ron and Larry Heater. She also worked for a short stint at the Lane County Elections Office in 2000.

“Then Connie Dersham (a friend from Kiwanis) called one day  in 2001 and asked if I wanted a full-time job. She said ‘City Hall needs somebody so I want you there at 8 o’clock tomorrow morning,'” Tharp said. “I showed up at 8 o’clock and I’ve been here ever since.” 

She worked as a temporary employee before going full time three months later as a utility billing clerk, receptionist and court clerk.

“When I first started at City Hall there were three of us – the city manager, the finance and city recorder, and me. The three of us did it all. That’s when the town ended at the top of the hill,” she said, pointing toward Highway 99 and Front Streets. 

“Starting out with City Hall with a two-person office, she moved up through the ranks as the City grew,” said friend and City accounts payable clerk, Carolyn Allen, who you’d often see strolling with Tharp on their lunch breaks down Oregon Avenue. 

“Everything is new from there and beyond the freeway,” she said. “Ray’s Grocery Store was built in 2000 (on Melton Road), so when I started in 2001, there weren’t those houses over there. It’s all kind of just expanded. The City’s really grown.”

As the City grew, so did the City’s need for a bigger facility.

“We were in a little 900-square foot building when I first started working for the City,” she said. “City Hall has moved three times. We moved once to the Community Center, then we moved down to where Bahn Mi is, that’s when they tore down the old City Hall (on the property where it stands now) and built this one in 2009.”

While much of the work at is administrative-based, Tharp recalls some particularly interesting moments at council meetings.

“You can go along and not have anything really exciting happening and nobody shows up. But boy, something controversial comes along, and people will show up,” Tharp said.

“My very first time attending a city council meeting as the city recorder, people would say ‘oh, nobody ever comes to these; you’ll be fine.’ Well, it was that week that it came out that a ‘dirty’ bookstore was going to open and Creswell … we had over 100 people attending that meeting.”

The book store eventually opened, but it wasn’t long before the doors shut, she said.

“As the saying goes, she knows where the bodies are buried. A lot of City history is going to leave with her. There are some things that can’t be taught,” Allen said.

Aside from some accounting classes at Lane Community College, Tharp’s experience has been largely taught hands-on. “I think over the years, you just learn,” she said. “You find your niche and it works.”

“She … knows this organization inside and out,” said Michelle Amberg, city administrator. “When you have someone who has worked in a place for over 22 years, they are part of the fabric of the place. There are so many things we do a certain way because Roberta developed the system, method or practice.”

Allen said that Tharp has held the City together on more than one occasion because of sudden departures of mayors, council or administrators.

The cycling of council, staff and mayors is “like a restart,” Tharp said. “Everybody’s got their own ways and how they want to run things and you just have to change with them.”

A new “restart” is approaching for Tharp, as she designs her retirement life. She’s looking forward to traveling with her husband, hanging out with her kids, grandkids and parents, and cultivating the lavender, marigolds and clematis in her yard.

“I’m just looking forward to having more time to do things like that,” she said. “But the change of pace is going to be hard. I’ve worked since I was 15 years old and I’ve got to find things to do.”

Tharp said that her position is in good hands with the new city recorder, Grace McNeil, of Drain, who previously worked for Lane Council of Governments.

“I have big shoes to fill,” McNeil said. “Roberta is a kind and caring person who is fun-loving and likes to joke around. Roberta is also someone who takes her position very seriously and I respect her for that. As she passes on the baton, she will be greatly missed.”

Allen said Tharp has inspired her to be a better person. “Our walks have been a great stress reducer and we kind of use each other as a sounding board. She has been a good friend and co-worker; however, I do know where she lives so we’re not through by a long shot.”



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