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Monmouth mayor John Oberst received the M-I Chamber of Commerce's Distinguished Service Award.
March 05, 2013
MONMOUTH -- It wasn't long after the birth of his first child that John Oberst was invited by a neighbor to volunteer in his community.
It was a modest commitment, joining his city's library board. A spot on Monmouth's traffic safety commission followed. Then planning commission.
In 2006, a friend convinced him to run for mayor. Seven years later, Oberst's volunteer resume could fill a book. Many of those activities came about by invitation, which begs the question:
Can John Oberst say "no?"
"I have a couple of times," Oberst assured, chuckling. "I have a friend who told me when you run out of fingers and thumbs to count your volunteer activities on, maybe you've gone too far.
"I just ran out of toes the other day."
Oberst, now in his fourth term as Monmouth mayor, is the recipient of the Monmouth-Independence Chamber of Commerce's Distinguished Service Award. Oberst and otherswill be honored at the 48th annual Monmouth-Independence Community Awards Banquet at Central High School Friday.
While appreciation is always welcome, Oberst, 54, said a key motivation for his volunteerism is simply knowing more about the place he calls home.
"Being so close to Salem and Corvallis, it's no big secret that there are a lot of people who sleep here but don't necessarily live here," Oberst said.
"Being involved, you start to get a different perspective," he continued. "You meet more people, you gain an appreciation for things or people you might not otherwise have known about."
Oberst grew up in Lexington, Ky., the son of two civic-minded law professionals. His father, the late Paul Oberst, helped pen Kentucky's first civil rights bill -- and the first one south of the Mason-Dixon Line -- in 1966.
Monmouth mayor John Oberst will receive the M-I Chamber of Commerce's Distinguished Service Award on Friday.
"Dad was an inductee into the Kentucky Civil Rights Hall of Fame; he was involved with the NAACP," Oberst said. "He and mom, thoroughly Catholic, were very involved in the Catholic Newman Center at the University of Kentucky."
Oberst attended Transylvania University in Lexington, where he walked on to the school's basketball team and earned a degree in biology. Summer visits to Eugene to see his sister prompted him to relocate to the Pacific Northwest.
He attended the University of Oregon -- where he met his wife, Sharon -- got his teaching credentials and taught science in middle and high school for several years in the Mid-Willamette Valley.
The couple moved to Monmouth in 1990 after Sharon became a professor in the dance department at then Western Oregon State College. When the two decided to start a family, Oberst became a stay-at-home-dad while running a small rental business.
Oberst said he thought Monmouth was "a cute little town," though one of his first impressions was going to the city's old Marketplace grocery store to buy red cooking wine -- when Monmouth's dry law was still in effect.
"I couldn't buy it, it had too much alcohol," he said. "The idea of this little city, in the middle of everything, being dry really stuck out."
With a few years of civic involvement under his belt and encouragement by friends, Oberst became the chief petitioner to repeal a more than 140-year prohibition. Monmouth went "wet" in 2003.
"I was interested in the issue and it was something I wanted to take on," he said.
Since becoming mayor, Oberst's volunteer activities have taken on a statewide scope. He's helping shape sustainable transportation policies as part of a planning group for the Oregon Department of Transportation and was recently named to the Governor's Urban Growth Advisory Committee.
And there's still evidence of the local stuff. He was heavily involved in building an interpretive kiosk near the banks of Ash Creek at Talmadge Middle School and mowed lawns for Central Youth Sports.
"You find those opportunities to make the community better," Oberst said. "There are wonderful people here who tell you they appreciate your efforts ... that makes it easy."
Honoring the Best of MI Town
The Monmouth-Independence Chamber of Commerce will host the 2013 Community Awards Banquet on Friday at Central High School. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. Tickets are no longer available.
Winners in the 48th edition of the event, which honors businesses, volunteers, students, community and education leaders, are:
* Distinguished Service -- John Oberst.
* First Citizen -- Nancy Lodge.
* Nonprofit of the Year -- The Ron Wilson Center.
* New Business of the Year -- Yeasty Beasty Pizza.
* Small Business of the Year -- Sing Fay Chinese Restaurant.
* Large Business of the Year -- Monmouth-Independence Network (MINET).
* Central Education Association Elementary Teacher of the Year -- Holly Sims, Independence Elementary School.
* Central Education Association Secondary Teacher of the Year -- Van Holstad, Central High School.