Fairview resident Roger Albert Vonderharr, a two-term mayor and civic activist who presided over the city during significant population growth and development, died Sunday, May 22. He was 67.
A service with military honors will be held at 10 a.m. Tuesday, May 31, at Willamette National Cemetery, 11800 S.E. Mount Scott Blvd., Portland. A funeral Mass was held Friday, May 27, at St. Henry Catholic Church in Gresham.
During Roger's tenure as mayor from 1995 to 2002, the city of Fairview saw rapid residential growth, the construction of Fairview Village, the opening of a new post office and the Fairview-Columbia Library and the construction and dedication of the modern City Hall on Village Street. He also played a major role in the widening of the notoriously narrow 223rd Avenue passage connecting Fairview's Old Town with Blue Lake Park and the industrial corridor along Sandy Boulevard.
Roger is recognized for his volunteer leadership and dedication to the city with a plaque in the pavilion at Fairview Community Park.
Roger was born Dec. 9, 1943, in Madison, Minn., to Joseph and Estelle (Richard) Vonderharr, one of 11 children. Roger was raised and educated in Minnesota. After graduating from high school, Roger joined the Air Force in 1962 and served during the Vietnam War. After his honorable discharge in 1974, Roger moved to Oregon, where he worked for Honeywell for three years before enlisting with the Oregon Air National Guard. He retired in 1998 with the rank of master sergeant.
On Feb. 12, 1977, Roger married Vivian Ford Leveque in Portland. They had two sons.
Roger served on the Fairview Planning Commission from 1987 to 1991 and on the City Council from 1991 to 1994 before taking over as mayor in 1995.
Fairview City Councilor Steve Owen said his friendship with Roger began while their sons were involved in Boy Scouts Troop 588. When a vacancy on the City Council opened up in 1997, Roger encouraged him to apply.
'Roger did an excellent job of getting Fairview on the map,' Owen said, noting Roger felt Fairview was often overlooked in the Portland-metro area; he would correct local media that referenced Fairview as being north of Gresham or west of Troutdale.
Although Roger was very opinionated on the issues and would 'give you his political opinion in a minute, although it took him a lot longer than a minute to give his opinion,' he always listened to other people's ideas no matter how strongly he felt about something, Owen said.
'Roger was a very good consensus builder,' Owen said. 'He was very good at letting people express themselves. If someone had a very compelling argument, he would listen. You could change his mind.'
Even after Roger's retirement from politics, Owen said he and Roger kept in touch to discuss local happenings and political issues.
'They don't make them like Roger anymore,' he said.
Multnomah County Commissioner Diane McKeel said she met Roger while serving with the Troutdale Chamber of Commerce. The chamber board at the time was looking to expand to the other small cities of East Multnomah County, an idea that Roger supported. The Troutdale chamber eventually became the West Columbia Gorge Chamber of Commerce.
'He helped us with the organization of it, and he served on our chamber board as well,' McKeel said.
In addition to being a kind family man who was well liked and respected, Roger was a visionary and a true leader who understood how business and government could partner for economic development, McKeel remembered.
'He really wanted to see our area reach its maximum potential,' she said.
After his tenure as mayor, Roger took on the role of interim city administrator for a few months in 2006 after the previous city administrator resigned. The City Council at the time noted that Roger was a great candidate for the job because of his knowledge of the city and its inner workings, according to an Outlook article.
More recently, Roger was chairman of the Columbia-Cascade River District and served on the Fairview Rockwood Wilkes Historical Society board. Nancy Hoover, a longtime Fairview resident and historical society member, said Roger was a delight to work with.
'He loved to be busy in community affairs, so we were tickled pink when he said yes, he'd like to help us,' Hoover said.
Roger enjoyed cooking, gardening, fishing, hunting and camping. He was a member of the St. Henry Catholic Church Knights of Columbus.
Survivors include his wife; sons, Andre Leveque of Magnolia, Texas, Keith Vonderharr of Bothell, Wash., and Jacob Vonderharr of Vancouver, Wash.; one granddaughter; 10 brothers and sisters; and his beloved dog, Wolf.
The family suggests contributions be made in Roger's memory to St. Henry Catholic Church, 346 N.W. First St., Gresham, 97030; or to the Fairview Rockwood Wilkes Historical Society, P.O. Box 946, Fairview, 97024.
Gresham Memorial Chapel is handling arrangements.