The New Era - All about Sweet Home since 1929

Ranger District’s ‘senior’ employee Lupe Wilson retiring


January 3, 2017

LUPE WILSON holds up a map of the base camp for the 2009 Canal Creek Fire, which burned 283 acres about 8 miles southwest of Detroit Lake. The base camp was located at Lewis Creek Park, and Wilson was part of the incident management team.

Lupe Wilson started work at the Sweet Home Ranger District as a receptionist in 1976.

She didn’t stay in that position long, but she never really stopped being a receptionist or perhaps the “unofficial district ranger,” the way Jean Burger has been dubbed “unofficial mayor of Cascadia.”

Over her 40-year career, nearly all of it in Sweet Home, residents of the Sweet Home community have constantly contacted her with questions related to the Forest Service.

“They call me,” Wilson said. “They stop me at the store.”

She’s enjoyed it, but she’s calling it quits this week. Wilson was scheduled to retire and work her last day Tuesday, Jan. 3.

“Don’t call me,” Wilson said, laughing. “I don’t work there.”

Wilson, 61, was born and raised in Sweet Home. She graduated from Sweet Home High School in 1973 and earned a secretarial degree from Linn-Benton Community College in 1975.

She went to work for the Sweet Home Ranger District Sept. 13, 1976, at a wage of $3.41 per hour in the current Ranger District office building at 4431 Hwy. 20. She remembered using a teletype and the introduction of electric typewriters at the office.

“People smoked at their desks,” Wilson said. “People could bring their guns to work on racks in their pickups. It was just a different type of thing.”

Since then, she has been all over the country and spent 800 days working on fires and another 150 to 200 in fire training.

“This last year, I got to go to Alaska,” Wilson said. She got home just in time to attend the Oregon Jamboree. She has been to the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, to Crater Lake three times, and to Yellowstone National Park to help fight fires.

Before going to work for the Ranger District, Wilson had worked for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during summers from 1973 to 1975. While attending LBCC, she went to a mock interview with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and was instantly offered a job. She worked for the EPA during the school year for two years.

She took an extra year of classes after finishing her degree, and the EPA had offered to give her a permanent job in Corvallis. She had just married Larry Wilson when she heard the Ranger District was hiring. She applied there so she could live and work in Sweet Home.

She left the Ranger District in 1981 for five years to stay at home with her children, Craig Wilson, who is now a health teacher at Sweet Home Junior High School, and Sarah Fountain, a teacher at Oak Heights Elementary. Larry Wilson worked for Willamette Industries.

In those days, the Forest Service was male-dominated, and part time was not an option, Lupe Wilson said. “Now you can bring your baby to work, tele-work. Things have changed.”

She returned to the Forest Service in 1986 when mill workers were preparing to strike, and Larry anticipated a pay cut at work. She decided she should get a job. She started in May, just before her daughter was to start kindergarten.

She worked as receptionist until 1988, when she became a forestry technician, and worked in fire prevention.

That position lasted until a reduction in force took place in 1993, Wilson said, and she took a position as receptionist in the McKenzie Ranger District in March 1993, driving 65 miles one way up Highway 20 to work or 78 miles via Marcola Road.

Wilson jumped at the chance to return to Sweet Home in June 1994 for a position in recreation, fire prevention and silviculture. By 1996, she was focused on recreation and fire prevention.

Among her duties, she patrolled the forest, collecting fees and working with concessionaires, and she worked with the Oregon Department of Forestry and schools on teaching fire prevention in the local community.

Wilson gave up the school program in 2000, and in 2012, she continued working in recreation and became the Ranger District’s fleet manager – jobs she held until her retirement this week.

With accrued sick leave, her career is counted as 39 years, she said.

Starting in 1988, she began working on fire teams in accounting and finances, tracking money, calculating hours and processing claims, with responsibilities increasing during her career.

“With money tight, it wasn’t the greatest money, but it was steady,” Wilson said. Working on fires gave her family a shot of extra income each summer.

She was gone a lot, missing eight wedding anniversaries; but her children knew that’s why they could take a trips to Disneyland, she said.

In retirement, she plans to continue working the summer fire season, and she is training now as a finance chief, she said.

“I still want to do that, but I want to spend more time with my grandkids, clear out my closets – things I’ve put off.”

Prior to her retirement, she’s been the most senior staff member at the Sweet Home Ranger District.

“I really felt like I gave 110 percent,” Wilson said. “I watched the taxpayer’s dollars.”

That’s something she can continue doing during fire season, she said. When a community like Sweet Home has so many people in need, “I get tired of people in high positions taking advantage. It’s my job (in finance) to make sure we’ve put down hours correctly. I just feel like I can be a watchdog.”

Wilson said she enjoyed the variety the job offered.

“My husband had to stand in a mill all those years,” she said. “I have paperwork, but I also can go out in the field.”

She enjoyed patrolling the campgrounds, being in the forest, seeing wildlife and visiting with people, she said.

“It’s been a good career,” Wilson said. “I’ve gotten to see so much country. I’ve had opportunities to see a lot of things that I’ve never seen.”

She plans to stay busy in the community as well.

She joined the Elks Lodge last week, and she plans to be involved in the Sweet Home community, she said. The Elks do a lot of good in the community, she said, and she wants to do projects that help Sweet Home’s people.

She remembers when her father was hurt working in the woods in 1958. Firefighters brought Christmas presents to her house that year.

LUPE WILSON stands outside the Sweet Home Ranger Station where she went to work in 1976. She officially retired Tuesday.

That’s the kind of town Sweet Home is, Wilson said. “Everybody steps up if there’s a need. I remember that, and I’m in a position to where I can give back.”

She will celebrate her career and retirement Jan. 14 at the Sweet Home Elks Lodge, 440 Osage St. A social hour is scheduled for 5 to 6 p.m. A buffet runs from 6 to 7 p.m. followed by a program from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. and live music by local country musician Trevor Tagle, who worked for Wilson at the Ranger District.

Buffet and a drink ticket cost $10. To attend, send a check or money order to Wendy Smith, 608 Third Ave., Sweet Home, OR 97386 by Jan. 6.

For more information, contact Smith at (541) 974-0883 or the Ranger District at (541) 367-5168.


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