A builder of community
Kathy Schilling didn't plan on spending 18 years with the City of Lake Oswego. She had no idea that the events she created would build a sense of community and have a lasting impact on residents. And she wasn't aware of how close she'd grow to her co-workers — or how they'd come to adore her in return.
But all of those things did happen to Schilling, who retired this week as the City's director of special events after nearly two decades spent improving the quality of life in Lake Oswego.
"My goal was always to bring the community together, and I often thought of what I would have wanted the City to provide when I was raising my kids," Schilling says. "I think people have a lot of choices of where to live, and there's a lot of beautiful areas. But what stands out to me is to give people a sense of community. That's why people move to small towns like Lake Oswego."
When former City Manager Doug Schmitz asked Schilling to join his office as an administrative assistant in 1999, she thought it was going to be a temporary position. But after being asked to help create programming for the newly constructed Millennium Plaza Park, her public service career ignited like wildfire.
Today, you'd be hard-pressed to find a local event that Schilling didn't have a hand in. But her crowning achievement, without a doubt, is the Lake Oswego Farmers Market. By the time it was started in 2001, Schilling had spent more than a year preparing and researching other farmers markets — of which there were only three in the Portland area.
"If you mess it up the first year, that would have been it. It would have been done," Schilling says. "It was like if you've ever thrown a party — you do all this planning and you're really excited, but if you don't ask people to RSVP, you have no idea if anyone's going to show up. So I was beside myself worried that it would just be a flop. But what I found in Lake Oswego is that if you give people an opportunity to come together, they'll come."
Now, the Lake Oswego Farmers Market is one of the most successful in the area, with dozens of vendors coming back year after year and a rapidly growing number of market patrons. It's an event that has come to symbolize summertime in Millennium Plaza Park.
One of Schilling's other achievements early in her career was establishing Lake Oswego's Fourth of July Parade and the accompanying Star Spangled Celebration. The idea was to allow families to stay in town for Fourth of July rather than having to travel somewhere to share in a patriotic celebration with friends and family. She recalls the first year the parade took place, when Judie Hammerstad served as mayor of Lake Oswego.
"No joke, there were more people in the parade that first year than people who were watching it," Schilling says. "Judie asked me if I had paid kids to come walk in the parade."
Schilling's co-workers describe her as energetic, resourceful and empowering. For Parks & Recreation employees Dawn Grunwald, Jamie Inglis and Mary Kelly, Schilling served as a booster of sorts, always providing encouragement and support in the face of large tasks that seemed impossible to conquer.
With the help of fellow Parks employees, the three women recently threw a party celebrating Schilling's career and highlighting the "3,892 reasons" they will miss Schilling in retirement — a play on Schilling's oft-quoted favorite number.
"Kathy has been absolutely instrumental in building community in Lake Oswego," Inglis says. "She's warm, positive and has really enriched the city with all the events she implemented."
Despite the impact Schilling has had, her co-workers say one of her most endearing traits is humility.
"The thing is, she really doesn't want all this attention," Mary Kelly says.
"No, she would hate it," Inglis adds with a smile.
Sitting around a table at On a Whim Studios, Grunwald, Inglis and Kelly can recall memory after memory of moments where Schilling made them laugh until their sides hurt, or quirky stories of using a bug-filled scarecrow for a barn dance that prompted some quick thinking. It's easy to understand why they'll miss Schilling's presence in the workplace.
"(Kathy) gave me an opportunity to pursue a career in events. It's something I truly love in a community I truly love, so for that I will always be grateful," Inglis says.
That appreciation is almost a mirror image of the thankfulness Schilling expresses as she reflects on her career.
"It was Doug Schmitz deciding to give me a try, and his wise decision made a whole difference in my world," she says. "I'm so grateful for the opportunities that have been given to me."