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DALLAS — Mike Ainsworth’s office walls have long displayed mementos, keepsakes and other nick-nacks marking the past decade in his position as Polk County Commissioner. All that remains is a calendar that doesn’t even have a big red X marking his last day in office, July 30, before he retires.

Ainsworth said he got a little sad when he was taking everything down.

“I’ll keep all the thank you cards I had from people, probably look through them every once in a while,” Ainsworth said. “I was looking at some of them as I was taking them down, thinking, well gee, I forgot about this, or forgot about that.”

But don’t let him fool you on what he remembers. Ainsworth has a tale behind every aspect of his tenure in office. In a long-ranging conversation, he shared his favorite memories and plans for the future.

His bio on the county website shows he never left the area after graduating from Central High School. Why?

“It’s home. There are people when I was a kid that were involved, they just did that,” Ainsworth said. “I remember that’s what I needed to do. Never really had a desire to leave the area. My family is here. I’m a Panther, true blue, well red, black and white, that’s our colors. It’s always been a way to keep me connected.”

One of the most recognizable ways he remained connected was announcing Panther football and basketball games. He was there, watching the head football coach’s kids grow up, or at the Panther Pit, the new gymnasium you couldn’t find a seat to sit in for the rivalry games between Central and Philomath.

He added announcing the games also lets him brag publicly that he actually married the homecoming queen.

“My wife, DeAnn, makes me look good. I married way up. I like to say when announcing games at homecoming, she was the homecoming queen. I’m a lucky guy. She’s the queen and I’m kinda like the court jester,” he said.

Ainsworth also kept involved through the Central Bond Committee, FFA and as President of the Boster Club. He also helped address concerns for the area’s youth as vice president of the Gate Youth Association in Independence.

“I’ve been on the board of directors at Gate in Independence for 15 years to build that facility. It’s been a huge asset for community kids to go someplace safe, to have mentoring and tutoring. To be kids when there hasn’t been anywhere else to go,” he explained.

Outside the school ties, Ainsworth touts his volunteering to ring the bell for Salvation Army collection at Bi-Mart during Christmas time, saying it allows him to explain all the money raised in the campaign stays within Polk County.

“That’s how I got elected, my community involvement,” he added. “The community’s been so good to me, my whole life. The place where we live is only as good as we make it. And the most valuable thing we have is not money, but time invested in it. And that’s contagious and people will see that you’re doing something.”

After the collapse of the timber industry, Ainsworth decided to simultaneously go back to college to finish his degree and run against 20-year incumbent Ron Dodge. After a win that surprised both him and the incumbent, Ainsworth said his job was not to put in a speed bump. It was to follow the leaders there before him.

“As I started my career here as a commissioner, there were a lot of good people here before me. And the county had been run extremely efficiently,” he said.

He added he believes he works for all 87,000 people in Polk County, regardless their party affiliation.

“Their taxes pay for my salary. I want to make sure they’re getting a good bargain for what they’re paying for,” he said.

The problem he quickly learned with being a people person in a wonderful place he equates to Marberry, RFD, is literally knowing everybody he passes on the way to the supermarket.

“Walking down the street to the grocery store, you see a lot of people you know and sometimes it takes me 45 minutes to get a loaf of bread,” Ainsworth said.

Ainsworth is also quick to give credit where it’s due, saying he couldn’t do his job without such outstanding managers heading key departments. He points to invaluable work from Todd Whitaker in public works to ensure Polk County roads are the best in the state, or Noelle Carroll heading Behavioral Health or Brent DeMore overseeing Family and Community Outreach.

“I feel comfortable they do a great job. I’m not a micro manager. They know their jobs better than I do. I’m just here to help them if they need something,” Ainsworth said.

Among his accomplishments, Ainsworth highlights picking Jennifer Wheeler to be the county’s first female commissioner to replace Mike Propes who passed away in 2011, and the improving the county’s access to mental health. Polk County redirected $700,000 annually to Marion County for Polk County residents to get aid there, to instead, go toward installing its own offices in West Salem, Monmouth, Independence and Dallas.

“I was also really excited what we’ve done here within the last couple years having a crisis worker riding along with police officers,” Ainsworth added. “Fifty percent of the calls our deputies go on are dealing with people who have mental and behavioral health issues. The counselors help talk them back off the ledge rather than them ending up in jail.”

He’s also proud of the little things, including the simple gesture of calling up every county employee and wishing them a happy birthday.

One of the most unexpected developments during his tenure was dealing with the pandemic.

“It was very challenging. It’s uncharted territory. Our health department director, Jaqui Umstead, gave us weekly updates. It’s always disappointing because things aren’t moving fast enough. It’s no fault of the department. It’s just we’ve never done this before. We’ve never had a pandemic like this in our lifetime. I think they’ve done a good job,” he said.

He was happy the Fourth of July Parade in was able to return to Independence this year.

“I’m very appreciative of Dawn (Roden) for getting that thing going. Everybody I talked to, I mean everybody, it just felt we’re back to normal a little bit.”

Looking back, Ainsworth said his tenure as county commissioner has been a lot of fun.

“I’ve never loved a job I’ve loved as much as I loved this job. I hope it shows when I’m out in public. I’ve met so many people I never would have before in this job. And that’s a huge bonus for me. And those friendships will last ‘til the end of my days,” he said.

He plans to spend more time with family in his days out office, whether it’s going to the grandkids’ activities or remaining close to his mom, who is 87.

“I want to come back full circle with my mom and be able to take her places. If we want, we can up and go out to the coast on a Wednesday and eat at Moe’s,” he said.

In addition, Ainsworth plans to keep busy at The Gate, announcing games and ringing the bell for Salvation Army the second Saturday in December.

In March, he and DeAnn will be married 47 years. Ainsworth added she has already had a taste of the retired life the past 2 ½ years and fully expects to drive her crazy in his retirement.

“She’s already called (County Administrator) Greg Hansen to allow me to come back and work with the county once a week to get me out of her hair,” he joked.

His replacement Jeremy Gordon, former Falls city mayor, will be sworn on Aug. 1

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