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Ron Willoughby leaves very healthy mark here

The retiring head of Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation will be missed
by: Mike Lucas,

Beaverton-area residents owe Ron Willoughby a great deal for guiding, over many decades, the continued enrichment of a parks and recreation district that is second to none in Oregon and certainly one of the nation's best.

Willoughby retired last Friday as the general manager of Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District ending a career that made him the park district's longest serving employee.

But time on the job is not what best defines Willoughby or his contributions. A quiet man with an old-school respectful-of-everyone style, Willoughby continued a tradition at Tualatin Hills that places quality programs, quality parks, community needs and partnerships above all else.

During Willoughby's tenure as the district's third general manager in its 51-year history, Tualatin Hills grew in numbers of parks, recreation centers and programs offered. The new Conestoga recreation center was built. Tualatin Hills Nature Park was expanded, and a world-class interpretive center was built. The district's main recreation facility at 158th and Walker Road was expanded to include sports activities for all ages and interests - from baseball and swimming to soccer and skateboarding.

Under Willoughby's guidance, Tualatin Hills flourished. But the district never lost sight of its legacy and the stated commandment of its citizen founder, Elsie Stuhr: Provide quality recreational activities, programs and parks within walking distance of every citizen.

Folks noticed. Citizens by the thousands each day enjoy the use of park facilities. Taxpayers a dozen years ago invested more than $26 million to expand park facilities. A year ago, Sports Illustrated honored the district with its 'Sportstown USA' award, calling Tualatin Hills, the best parks and recreation program in Oregon.

Looking forward, Willoughby has the left the district well positioned. Tualatin Hills and Portland Community College have agreed to develop a 32-acre parks and recreation complex on PCC'S Rock Creek Campus. This partnership is good for taxpayers and good for residents living north of Highway 26.

But there is more to do. Tualatin Hills - like every park district in the nation - will have to find even more and different ways to serve an increasing population of aging baby boomers.

New partnerships, such as the one with PCC, may prove to be the way that Tualatin Hills can best aid citizens north of Highway 26 who historically have chosen to remain outside of the district. Tualatin Hills' board can also serve as a convener and bring together Washington County, its many urban cities and special service districts to once and for all discuss and reconcile the future of urban services to unincorporated areas of the county.

It's clear that the county's focus is elsewhere in this matter. Cities, such as Beaverton and Tigard, have annexation matters distracting them. Meanwhile, some citizens enjoy fewer services than their neighbors who live nearby in cities and relationships between citizens, the county and some cities remains fragile at best.

But such matters won't be for Willoughby to consider and solve. He has earned a much-deserved retirement and our appreciation for countless contributions and his leadership in helping build a better, healthier community.