Retirement just another walk in the park

Benny Westcott

He may be chairman of the Sweet Home Park and Tree Committee, but Wally Shreves’ days are anything but walks in the park. 

In his free time, he skis on snow and water, rides ATVs on sand dunes, scuba dives and wakeboards, in addition to more common outdoor pursuits, like mountain-biking, hiking and camping with his family.

He uses his passion for the outdoors, as well as his backgrounds in business and the military, to help give Sweet Home residents wide-open opportunities they can fall in love with too. 

Shreves began serving the Parks and Tree Committee a little more than four years ago, becoming its chairman within six months. 

“Of the city functions that were available for me to get into (Shreves lives outside city limits, making him ineligible for many positions), that was the only one I could see from my background and with my kids, that I could actually make an impact on,” he said. “I didn’t just want to get in and be dead weight. I wanted to get into something I could actually make a difference in.” 

His two sons, Joey and Roman, now 17 and 13, were in the city’s parks quite often when he joined the committee. Now they all play tennis at Northside Park, and the kids drive RC cars along the Sankey Park track. 

“I was just curious what it was like to be a volunteer in a government-type process, because I’d never had any governmental experience,” Shreves said of joining the committee. “I could see how things were going (in the parks) and I thought with my background I could help drive improvements.” 

Along with attending monthly meetings, where he helps formulate park budgets, Shreves spends a lot of time listening to community input. Additionally, he and fellow committee members meet and perform park walks to discuss future improvements. 

Shreves recently volunteered to pick up trees from a nursery near Corvallis and bring them to Evergreen Park. He does tree inventories in every city park, checking their conditions. 

“It is taking a long time to go through and specify and count each tree in the parks,” he said. “I’ll be very interested when I complete Sankey Park at the sheer number of trees that are there.” 

Shreves and the rest of the committee spent many hours last year walking through businesses and connecting with friends and relatives to raise funds for Sankey Park’s recent improvements. The committee is currently in the process of developing the size and scope of a new bandstand after a tree fell on the old one in 2018. 

As chair, Shreves has learned these things take time. 

“Very similar to the military, with all government processes, things take longer than they do in a civilian business, because there’s a lot of bureaucracy that it has to go through,” he explained. “But at the end of the day, it’s done correctly, and we’re not just willy-nilly making things up as we go.” 

He would like to see more feedback from the community about its parks. 

“It seems like a lot of people are really good at pointing out things, but I don’t get involvement when it comes to planning something,” he said. “When we ask for input, it’s limited. With 9,000 people, we don’t get a lot of input into what people want in different areas. That’s an area I would like to see improvement in.” 

Shreves, 59, was born in Yuba City, Calif., but his family immediately moved back to its home state of Iowa, where he grew up and graduated from high school in the small town of Missouri Valley, on the Missouri River. 

Shreves then attended Pierce College in Lakewood, Wash., graduating with an applied science degree in 1981. Upon graduation he joined the military.

By 1985, he qualified for the Army Special Forces at John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School. He stayed in Special Forces as a Green Beret until his 2001 retirement.

Shreves said he was a military advisor for the most part, traveling the world and working with foreign military. He often helped build schools, bridges, dams and park areas, while managing their funding. 

“It wasn’t just all combat-related functions,” he said. “There was a lot of community effort and living with the people and understanding what they wanted. It was also about winning the hearts and minds of the people so they agreed with what we were doing, and they wanted to support that.” 

After the military, Shreves worked for ATI Specialty Alloys and Components in Albany from 2001 to 2016, when he retired as the senior director of operations for the company’s Oregon plants. 

“I had oversight into every aspect of our production and production areas at the four different facilities,” he said. In that capacity he considered where people took breaks and their preferred activities. 

“I worked a lot with our recreation board on what people do for recreation and how they have fun with different things,” he said. “That stuff directly applies to the Park and Tree Committee here.” 

When Shreves came to Oregon with his wife, Adrianne, for the ATI job, they decided to settle in Sweet Home.  

“We were looking for a place that would provide recreational opportunities and would have a rural feel to it,” he said. “With Foster Lake right here and the river, the mountains, all the trails to go out on, not being far from the ski resort, not far from the ocean and the sand dunes, I was like, ‘This is the perfect place to live, because we’re right in the middle of all of it.'” 

“And I drive west in the morning, and the sun’s behind me. I drive east in the evening, when the sun’s behind me. So I never had to stare into the sun going to or coming from work,” he added, with a chuckle. 

As it happened, the Shreves moved on Sept. 11, 2001.  

“We got up that morning in Tacoma, Washington, and watched what was going on in the news,” he recalled. “Then we listened to it in our Ryder truck all the way to Sweet Home.” 

Since arriving, Shreves has been active in the community in many ways. He’s volunteered at the Community Chapel with the men’s group and youth group running events. In that capacity he’s helped with “gigantic barbecues” and breakfasts. He also went on several camping trips with the youth group when his boys were younger. He helped set up the Hero Half Marathon, which was formerly run by the Community Chapel, for several years. 

He volunteers for the Camp Tadmor Men’s Roundup in Lebanon, where some 1,500 men gather at the beginning of every September. Shreves works on the cooking team. “One night, we’ll cook between 1,000 and 1,300 steaks to order for people,” he said. “And there’s five of us cooking on the grills. It’s a very significant event and a very long weekend.” 

He was head coach for senior-level Boys & Girls Club of the Greater Santiam’s Sweet Home club baseball for four years. He recently joined the Sweet Home Fire & Ambulance District budget committee, citing his experience with Title 10 funds through the military, the budgeting process throughout ATI plants, and city budgeting for the Parks and Tree Committee. 

Shreves has stayed busy in other ways too. 

“It is nonstop for recreation,” he said. “We ski at Hoodoo in the winter every single day that it’s open and we’re available to get there. My boys love to ski.” 

The family also takes its small fleet of ATVs to the dunes to ride, and recently returned from a scuba trip to Playa del Carmen, Mexico. They’re heading to Cabo San Lucas in a couple of months for more scuba diving. The family also camps, fishes, wakeboards, and water skis.

But when you ask Shreves what he likes most about living in Sweet Home, his answer is simple.

“The thing that I love most are the links that we’ve made with the different teachers in the school system and the store owners,” he said. “I can walk in, and the people in the different stores, we know each other. There’s good respect back and forth. I see the community come together for great events like the Harvest Festival. I just really enjoy the people and the time shared with them.” 

Even though the Shreves aren’t originally from the area, they’ve found their crowd. 

“We have a core group of people we call the Misfits,” he said. “None of us are from here, and we get together for holidays because we don’t have family here. Christmas, New Year’s, Thanksgiving – those are our days together. It’s just been a real pleasure being around people like that.” 

Looking into the future, Shreves predicts he’ll serve another four years on the Park and Tree Committee. After that, when his youngest son is old enough to manage himself, Shreves thinks he and his wife will travel more, “enjoy the rest of the country, and continue doing all of the stuff we’ve been doing.”