Colleagues say retiring Don Hopkins’ experience, energy will be missed

Sean C. Morgan

When Don Hopkins tendered his resignation to the Sweet Home Fire and Ambulance District Board of Directors earlier this month, it marked the end of more than 50 years of public service in the Sweet Home community.

Hopkins began serving on the Sweet Home Rural Fire District Board of Directors a little more than 50 years ago, and he continued to serve after the formation of the new Fire and Ambulance District on Jan. 1, 2001.

“I have enjoyed my 50 years on the board and working with the fellow board members over the years,” Hopkins said in his letter of resignation during the board’s regular meeting on March 16.

“In the 30-plus years that I served as president, we grew substantially from a stucco two-bay building next to the old City Hall to a beautiful new station and substations at Foster, Cascadia, Crawfordsville and a draft site on the Calapooia River.”

Hopkins moved to Sweet Home in 1967 to work as principal at Cascadia School. His wife, Glenda, taught there; and together they became deeply rooted in the community. Cascadia School closed in November that year, and Hopkins went on to work at Sweet Home Junior High, Crawfordsville and Holley schools.

He eventually left the district to be assistant superintendent at Coquille before serving as superintendent at Adrian and then Marcola.

During that time, he remained active in Sweet Home, moving from an Old Holley Road home to his present home off McQueen Drive on the banks of the Upper Calapooia River with his family. Don and Glenda Hopkins have three daughters, Jennifer Maynard, Kathleen Cochran and Kim Armstrong; six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Hopkins remained in public service long after retiring professionally, and it is difficult for him to recall what year it even was.

He went on to serve on the Sweet Home School Board, serving six years as chairman.

He was a member and chairman of the Linn-Benton-Lincoln Education Service District Board of Directors.

He served on the Linn County Budget Committee and was chairman, resigning just two years ago.

He was president of the Sweet Home Ambassadors for 13 years, welcoming new businesses to the Sweet Home community.

Hopkins continues to serve on the Sweet Home School District Budget Committee and will continue to do so at least through the upcoming spring budget season, he said.

Joining in the vision to bring seniors and children together under the same roof, Hopkins joined with former City Manager Dan Dean and Jim Riggs to raise funds and apply for a $600,000 block grant to build the Jim Riggs Community Center, now home to the Sweet Home Senior Center, Linn Shuttle and the Sweet Home branch of the Boys and Girls Club of the Greater Santiam.

“I’ve worked with him for the last seven years as the chief,” said Fire Chief Dave Barringer. “He always has well-thought-out questions and contemplation.”

As the secretary-treasurer in recent years, Hopkins has brought a close attention to detail, serving as another check and balance and ensure the district’s finances are in order and “clear to the taxpayers and the people who work there,” Barringer said. He also communicates well.

He doesn’t just say, “yes,” Barringer said. He asks for details. “He wants to know why and how it affects people in the district. I’ll miss that.”

But Hopkins has left his own mark as others in the district have learned from him over the years, Barringer said.

“He should be applauded for 50 years of service,” Barringer said. “He’s been through a lot of transitions. With that history, it’s super valuable.”

It’s not just Don Hopkins, the fire chief noted.

Glenda Hopkins has been a long-time volunteer at the East Linn Museum. She was able to pull together a detailed history of the fire service in Sweet Home. The book she created sits beside Barringer’s desk as an invaluable tool to understanding how the past has led to and impacts the present.

Dawn Mitchell, who has served with Hopkins on the fire board, said she appreciated his 50 years of service to SHFAD.

“There aren’t many people who willing give that many years to a single employer, let alone freely give their spare time to serve in a capacity to their community and local fire and ambulance service,” said Mitchell, who is also executive director of operations for the Senior Center and Linn Shuttle.

“I am aware that some of those years were spent in one discipline and not the other, since they weren’t combined until the merger in the 2000s. I have valued the knowledge and insight that Don has, that having a long, involved history brings to the table. He definitely deserves to enjoy his retirement and golden years with Glenda.  I wish them well.” 

Retired schools Supt. Larry Horton noted Hopkins’ ability to serve effectively in widely varied roles.

“He served as an educator, school board member and fire department board member, to mention just a few of his roles over time,” Horton said. “He also served on numerous county and state committees.”

“As a school board member, Don was most instrumental in bringing me to Sweet Home. I will always be indebted to him for his support. He served countless terms as the president of the Sweet Home School Board.

“His dedication to the children of Sweet Home was always in the forefront of the decisions that were made by the board. I always appreciated my educational conversations with Don. His experience as a teacher and a school administrator were a great help in leading the educational system in our community.

“One of the things that most impressed me was his knowledge of Oregon’s school law. He could quote not only the text of almost all education codes, but he could tell you the citation numbers from memory.

“I personally want to thank Don for his willingness to serve the citizens and specially the children of Sweet Home. I know his service to the fire department was most important to him. He may be retiring from the fire board, but my guess is that he will continue to be involved in some way. Happy retirement, Don.”

Alex Paul, longtime local journalist and publisher of The New Era for 20 years when Hopkins was engaged in many of his public activities, said small towns depend on people like him, who volunteer in a myriad of ways.

“In Sweet Home, one of those key volunteers has been Don Hopkins, who, over many decades, has dedicated thousands of hours in volunteer service,” Paul said. “If it was good for Sweet Home, Don was there.

“During my years as publisher of The New Era I worked with and wrote about Don in many ways. He was always upbeat and had a positive attitude about the task at hand. We worked on numerous fun projects together for the Chamber of Commerce and for several years served on the Linn-Benton Community College Foundation Board of Directors to help raise funds that benefited students and staff alike.”

He said Hopkins’ volunteerism will be missed, not just in Sweet Home but countywide.

“Congratulations and thank you,” Paul said.

“It’s been an interesting 50 years,” Hopkins told the Fire and Ambulance District board at the March meeting. “It’s been rewarding. It’s truly been great, but I turned 84 on Dec. 31.”

As a result, he said, he’s slowing down, and “I just think that 50 years is a good time to leave.

“We currently have a very fine board and chief. Dave has been a very progressive leader, who has always put the needs of the community foremost in his decision-making. He has done an outstanding job in obtaining vehicles, supplies and personnel.

“The personnel we have currently are exceptional in training, and I would put them up against any fire district in Oregon without any hesitancy.”

According to his letter, Hopkins will attend his final Fire and Ambulance District board meeting on April 20. For information about applying to serve on the board of directors, call the Fire Hall at (541) 367-5882.