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Revered park district manager dies at 83

Howard Terpenning remembered as visionary leader


The term “vision” gets thrown around a lot these days, but for many who worked with Howard M. Terpenning, the former Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District general manager personified the concept.

“He had a real visionary knack,” said Ron Willoughby, who succeeded Terpenning as the district’s general manager in 1993. “Even if we were to attempt to purchase some property, he’d take a hard look at it. He knew that in some time, there would be some value to it. He had a knack of looking out to the future and saying, ‘In time.’”

Terpenning died on Saturday following an extended illness. He was 83 years old.by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - This photo was taken while Howard Terpenning served as general manager of the Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District.

Terpenning was just 29 when he was named general manager in June 1959, three-and-a-half years after a public initiative formed the district to improve recreational, natural and fitness opportunities in the Beaverton-Aloha area. He served in the role for 33 years — leading the district through a period of extensive growth — before retiring on Dec. 31, 1992.

The next year, the district’s headquarters and 92-acre recreation complex at 158th Avenue and Walker Road was named for Terpenning, who directed the effort to acquire land for the complex in the 1970s and ’80s. Around 8 million people visit the Howard M. Terpenning Recreation Complex annually to compete in or watch a wide variety of sports and other recreational activities, noted Doug Menke, the district’s general manager for the past seven years.

“Howard’s vision, managerial skills and focus on customers and community helped shape the park district into what it is today — one of the premier park and recreation agencies in the Northwest,” Menke said on Tuesday. “We will always be grateful for his extraordinary contributions.”

Menke, who started with the district in 1984, remembers Terpenning getting plenty of flak for his decisions in the 1960s and ‘70s to buy then-isolated parcels on the outskirts of Beaverton that would later contain the busy complex bearing his name.

“Even in the day it was built, it was still out in the middle of nowhere,” Menke said of the days before Fred Meyer and numerous other developments surrounded the complex. “Howard saw the future well before the future had been planned or had arrived. That set the stage for the district and paid off immensely.”

In her 40-year history of the district published in 1995, Elsie Stuhr, park district co-founder described Terpenning as a man who “maintained credibility, built cooperation between agencies, listened to people in the area, (and made) certain that programs would meet the needs and desires of all ages.”

Stuhr further praised Terpenning’s “very fine public relations skills” as someone who wanted people to develop lifelong interests in recreational activities.

“He wanted parents and children to enjoy activities together,” she wrote.

In addition to the park district, Terpenning was active in the Oregon Parks and Recreation Association and the Special Districts Association of Oregon. In a coincidence with the day Terpenning died, the latter organization announced on Saturday it would name its lifetime achievement award for him.

Willoughby worked with Terpenning at the district for 21 years, starting in 1971. He recalls his early mentor as having a “great sense of humor” and an uncanny ability to build relationships between different agencies and community groups.

“That was very important in those formative years when the district was attempting to build services to the community,” he said. “He was very good at striking those relationships with the city of Beaverton, the Beaverton School District, the water district. The list goes on and on.”

Willoughby, who kept in touch with Terpenning well after their respective retirements, said he’ll never forget the advice the outgoing manager shared with him as he prepared to take on the district’s managerial role in 1992.

“He said, ‘I know you won’t manage the park district

the way I have,’ ” Willoughby recalled. “ ‘If you don’t manage it differently, I’ll be disappointed in you.’

“That was a mark of the man,” he said.



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