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Closing the capsule

Former Molalla Chief of Police Roger Roth didnt think he would live to see the time capsule opened.


A time capsule is an odd thing. A container full of trinkets, documents, whatever best captures the present moment, buried in the ground, covered with a plaque, and then forgot about it.

Days flicker past. Sun and rain, seasons zip by, blending into each other, becoming years. People come and go. Lives happen.

Then one day someone grabs a shovel and sees what’s inside.

Molalla’s time capsule was buried 25 years ago at the base of the flag pole by City Hall. A few weeks ago, it was dug up, exposing a little bubble of 1989.

It contained an assortment of items: some phonebooks and a copy of the Pioneer, a few T-shirts and a hat, about ten inches of cable and a circuit board, pamphlets and magazines—all items that gave an overall impression of Molalla at the time but didn’t capture any specific people.

One item was a little different, though, a letter from Roger Roth, the police chief in 1989, addressed to the chief of police in the year 2013.

The letter begins simply, if not a bit formally. He describes an attached photograph of the 1988 police officers and gives some general information about the department, including things like the mileage put on the police cruisers the previous year and budget information. Pixels that help form a picture of the town.

by: CORY MIMMS - Former Molalla Chief of Police Roger Roth, at his home in Damascus, Ore.

Father time

However, Roth varied in the letter’s third paragraph. His tone changed. What came through was more than information helping to build a snapshot of Molalla. Instead it helped to build a snapshot of an individual.

It reads:

“I hope your tenure with Molalla is as pleasant as mine has been thus far (12 years to date). I am very proud of the Department and what we have been able to do. I would like very much to be present when the capsule is opened, but as I write this I am 52 years old with high blood pressure, and I doubt that father time will smile on me for another 25 years.”

Before putting the letter in the capsule, Roth passed it around the department, letting his officers look over the information. One of them, a mustachioed man with black hair, still works in the department, though he now sports a shaved head and a goatee.

“I remember that letter,” Sgt. Gordon White said. “I remember thinking, ‘I might still be alive then and might be here when they open it.’”

Sacred cows

White worked with Roth from 1979 until Roth left the department in 1991 to take a chief’s job in St. Helens. White recalls that Roth had a reputation for being strict and fair. “He was one of the best bosses I ever had,” White said.

When White was hired, Roth gave him two primary rules. “He told me,” White said, “number one, ‘there are no sacred cows in this town.’”

What Roth meant by “sacred cows” was that no one is favored by the police. White said if Roth found out that you stopped his wife and chose not to cite her because she was married to the chief, he’d send you home for a day without pay.

The second piece of advice was, “Investigate every case to the end, as far as humanly possible,” White said.

According to White, the amount of cases the Molalla Police Department gets has increased a lot since the 1980s, but the biggest change in Molalla from then to now is the amount and type of cases.

“Back in the ’70s and ’80s you had a lot of bar fights,” White said. “Lots of domestic violence.”

Though the department still gets called for those, much more they are dealing with identity theft, Internet-based crimes and drugs.

“Technology has benefited investigation dramatically,” White said, but it’s also a two sided coin. “It’s a conduit for criminal activity.”

White has carried Roth’s two pieces of advice with him for more than 25 years, far after Roth left Molalla.

His carreer isn’t the only affected by Roth either. One of Molalla’s reserve officers in 1988, Terry Moss, followed Roth to St. Helens. He was the only person Roth ever hired twice.

Moss did well on the force. This year, he took over as chief of the St. Helen’s Police Department.

“I have only fond memories of being on the Molalla P.D.,” Moss said.

Six bypasses

Roth, who in 1989 thought his health was crumbling, is alive and well. Though eight years ago he had heart surgery with six bypasses.

“Two were so close together the doctor said he only charged me for five,” Roth said, laughing.

He lives on 10 acres of manicured land in Damascas, Ore.

A few rows of ornamental trees cover a portion of the property. Roth and his wife, Marsha, sell them. Flowers and a pond are behind his home. Marsha said she feeds about 500 ducks during the winter, when the water is high.

Inside, Roth sat at his kitchen table, which had a vase full of pink spider dahlias on it. He looked at the photo of the 1988 police officers.

“It’s fun to remember,” he said, after naming off the officers in the photo.

When he put the photo in the time capsule, he didn’t count on seeing it again.

Much changed in Molalla during and after his time here, Roth said, adding that when he took over as chief, the police department was two rooms and a doorway into City Hall. They built a new department before he left.

“The mayor at the time vowed to bring Molalla into the 20th century,” Roth said. “She did a very good job as mayor.”

The last time Roth was in Molalla was a couple years ago. “I drove through the town and looked around a little bit,” he said.

He recalls his time in Molalla as being “very interesting.” The town had a “rough and rowdy reputation,” he said, and a couple of the taverns were “very rambunctious.”

After a moment of silence, he laughed, recalling some memories he wouldn’t share, instead just adding, “It was a good time to be a police officer in Molalla.”

High hopes

Last week, Police Chief Rod Lucich called Roth. They plan to get a cup of coffee sometime and talk a bit about Molalla.

Lucich wasn’t sure what the police department would put in the capsule this year. Whatever it ends up being, it could be longer than 25 years before anyone sees it. Mayor Debbie Rogge said that ideally the capsule wouldn’t be opened until 2113, on Molalla’s 200th birthday.

“It’s great that [Roth] took the time and gave some thought to leaving his mark,” Lucich said. “[The letter] gives a pretty good comparison of how little and significantly things have changed—there was a little bit of sadness in there at the end.”

In 1989 the department was eight officers, including the chief and three civilians. Now, they have 11 officers and two civilians on staff.

Molalla’s population then was 3,220. Now it’s closer to 8,200. As the town grew, the police department’s budget grew with it.

“We’re a lot better off now,” Lucich said. “The important thing is that the town is still the same wholesome and great place it was. It’s a little bigger, but just as Roth once did, I have really high hopes.”



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