By Ray Linker
Observer Staff Writer
There are some who may have thought that when Di Lyn Larsen-Hill lost her seat on the La Grande City Council after a dozen years of service, she would drop from the local scene.
Not those who know her well.
Unlike an old soldier, she refuses to fade away. If anything, this Aberdeen, Idaho, native who came to La Grande on Memorial Day weekend in 1981, has become more active.
Since her failure to be re-elected in 1998, her many volunteer efforts have continued to spark interest in civic participation by other citizens.
"I don't miss being on city council," she said. "It was 12 years of enjoyable experience. I learned so much about my community and such things as budgeting. But it's so much easier to be a community activist without all the bureaucratic strings."
She has been busy.
She spearheaded the effort to get a $350,000 skateboard park for La Grande youngsters, which opened in May 2001.
"I worked two years on that project, and it was definitely worth it. It was my coup de grace."
The idea to seek a city-sponsored skate park began after she admonished a youngster for skateboarding in Max Square, the small, paved park across from City Hall.
"I told him to get out of there, and he yelled back, Lady, where am I supposed to skate?' I told him, If you'll help, we'll get a place.' "
A planning committee of youngsters and adults was formed and is still acting as a peer-review advisory group for the park.
Now she heads the local effort to bring about the reconstruction of the long-ago destroyed local monument known as Cast Iron Mary, including successfully raising $30,000 to pay for the project and getting an artist and foundry for the work. Look for a new rendition to rise in Max Square next year.
"We should be looking at a (clay) model for our approval next spring," she said.
Larsen-Hill long has been active as a senior citizens' advocate and has gotten to know several elderly people in the area.
"My grandmother died when I was 2 months old. Later, I'd go around the neighborhood and climb up on old ladies' laps and ask, Do you want to be my grandmother?'
"Older people have just been a special interest of mine. A lot of older people have families that don't live nearby. So I visit here and there and share my cooking with them. I do what I call old-fashioned cooking. I cook the way they remember soups, stews, bread, lots of desserts. They're so appreciative of my cooking," Larsen-Hill said.
"And they have such interesting stories, insight into our history. I'm just filling my heart with their stories, their tales."
One volunteer job came on an appointment from the governor, as a member of the state's ethics board, called the State Standards and Practices Commission. The travel back and forth to Salem began taking up too much of her time, so she is out of that now.
After all, she does have a husband and a full-time job, as a paralegal for the La Grande law firm of Mautz Baum & O'Hanlon. She has worked there since July 1, 1992, doing such things as legal research, preparing court documents, doing other trial preparation work and setting up witness interviews.
Her husband, Edward Hill, just retired as an art teacher in the Union school system after 20 years.
She is active in the local Democratic Party and is now chairman of the Union County Democratic Central Committee.
"I haven't been directly involved, but I had a little time to give. There are some projects I'd like to do," she said of her political work.
She spent her first year out of high school 1973-74 as a receptionist and secretary in the Pocatello, Idaho, offices of U.S. Sen. Frank Church. She has hosted Sen. Ron Wyden and others at her home on their visits to La Grande.
She's an avid reader and was on four different committees searching for a site for a new library.
One of the things she likes to do is organize events that bring people together, such as the Celebrate La Grande end-of-summer event. That event started seven years ago as a small gathering in Max Square. It attracts between 1,200 and 1,500 now. This year's event was Sept. 5.
She calls Celebrate La Grande a neighborhood block party, but it's more like an event for the whole town. It's an informal gathering of entire families who mingle at Max Square and enjoy free hot dogs, soft drinks and ice cream, along with fun, games and music.
A committee of seven "and a lot of volunteers" make it work, Larsen-Hill said.
Being from a family with 10 brothers and sisters, volunteerism to do various chores came early in her life. If you didn't do your share, the whole picture didn't come together, she said.
Larsen-Hill learned a lot from the late Maxine Cook, who was the city's administrative secretary for 20 years and served one term on the city council.
"She trained most of us," Larsen-Hill said, referring to other volunteers in the city. "She made volunteering fun. It was not a duty or a task."
Larsen-Hill's efforts have not gone unnoticed, although she hasn't sought praise and was hesitant to talk for this story. She doesn't do what she does for any publicity, she said.
One who has noted her activity is Wes Hare, who has been La Grande's city manager since 1995.
"Di Lyn has, particularly in the last couple of years, been a great community volunteer. She's been very effective in getting things accomplished.
"Celebrate La Grande and the skateboard park have been team efforts, and she would acknowledge this, but she has been a very key member of those committees. She's put a lot of energy into making La Grande a better place to live," Hare said.