Standing up, then stepping down

Before he retires from leading the Friends of the Forest Grove Library, Cornelius attorney Dick Ginsburg wants to spark a conversation about the 'i' word
by: Chase Allgood, Cornelius resident Dick Ginsburg, pictured above, has been active with the Friends of the Forest Grove Library for the last 10 years. The 61-year-old says he gets involved with causes he believes in, such as immigration reform.

Immigration attorney Dick Ginsburg says the most fulfilling thing about his job is the fact that he brings families together. He should know - his wife was his first client.

It's like the plot of a romance novel.

In 1970 Dick Ginsburg was working for the Peace Corps in a small village in Paraguay when he came down with a debilitating hepatitis infection.

He was sent off to the nearest hospital - a shaky 12-hour bus ride away - and while he was recuperating in bed, he fell in love with his Paraguayan nurse.

Four years and quite a few harrowing bus rides later, Dick and Rosalia negotiated a fiancee visa and flew 8,000 miles to his childhood home in Ohio to be married.

In 1978, the couple settled down in Cornelius, where they've been ever since. Dick Ginsburg established his law practice in Hillsboro and Rosalia began working as a nurse at the Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Clinic.

Ginsburg's belief in providing equal opportunities and protections was tested in 1993, when the Oregon Citizen's Alliance backed a group of Cornelius residents in an effort to pass an anti-gay ordinance.

Ginsburg became the reluctant voice of the opposition.

'I was not involved in that because I was involved in advocating for the gay community,' said the 61-year-old lawyer. 'It was more the issue that we should not single out any group and treat them any differently,'

The ordinance passed, but was ultimately struck down by the Oregon Legislature, an action held up by the courts. Asked today if he's ever considered running for political office, he laughs.

'No, no interest,' Ginsburg said. 'I see myself more as an advocate for things that I believe in and different causes - and I think there are too many compromises being elected.

'Raising money . . . that's not who I am,' Ginsburg said.

Instead, he's focused his energies on strengthening the Forest Grove library. Again, his experience as an immigration lawyer has informed his approach.

Ginsburg said that one of his struggles is teaching new immigrants about the tradition of free libraries - an anomaly south of the border.

'To us, a free library in every town is a tradition,' he said. 'They don't have that.'

He's spent the past 10 years as the head of Friends of the Forest Grove Library, a group which supports the city's library in a variety of ways. Last Saturday, for example, Ginsburg was inside the renovated west wing, welcoming new residents who'd been invited to learn about the library and the community it serves.

Ginsburg, however, will soon step down from his volunteer post to focus on what he thinks will be a whirlwind of a year in immigration law. But his tenure at the head of the library boosters is going out with a bang.

On Tuesday, the Friends will host a town hall on immigration, which Ginsburg hopes will spark a lively and meaningful discussion in a community that has seen a huge surge of Hispanic immigrants since he arrived in the mid-1970s.

'I think the immigration issue is going to bring out a lot of people with many views; it's a very difficult issue to deal with,' Ginsburg said. 'People have strong feelings on a policy level and a personal level.'

Perhaps no one knows that better than Ginsburg, who is married to an immigrant.

He and his Rosalia still visit Paraguay about once a year to see family, and while he said they might consider spending more of the year there once they retire, he can't see a day when he'll leave Cornelius for good.

Besides, he still enjoys the three-and-a-half mile commute to his Hillsboro office, whether riding his bike or driving either of his vintage Saabs. He's not retiring anytime soon.

'Haven't thought about it yet,' Ginsburg said, 'I'm not ready. I'm having too much fun.'