STEADY IN HIS SERVICE
Tom McCall was governor of Oregon when Al Peters got involved in volunteering to help steer the economic development progress of this region.
Now, 33 years later, it's time to take life easy.
"I'm pulling back in my activities now because of age. I'm 78. My memory is not as good as it used to be," said the Union resident.
"I'm OK physically now, but I had an aneurism operation last February. That kind of threw me for a loop," he said in an interview.
He got out of his last economic development activity a couple of months ago.
"At the Sept. 16 or 17 meeting, I officially resigned from the board of the Northeast Oregon Economic Development District," he said.
"I was the oldest both in terms of age and in tenure on the board. Over the years, I've seen board members come and go."
But he was the steady one, said Lisa Lang, executive director of NEOEDD, which operates offices out of Enterprise.
"He's been involved in economic development since about 1970 and been on the NEOEDD board since its inception in 1985. That's 17 years. He's taken his work on the board seriously," Lang said.
"He's very active at our meetings. He's brought his banking skills and experiences to our board. He provides a conservative view when we're making loans and guides us in what to do if a loan goes bad," she said.
Peters began his 26-year banking career at First National Bank in Pendleton, which became First Interstate. He retired in 1992 before it became Wells Fargo.
He worked in Pendleton, then Prineville, then Ontario, and then moved to Union in 1966.
He admits he was careful to give away the state and federal government's money through the NEOEDD loan programs.
"My approach to giving out loans was too conservative because of my banking background. We were essentially making loans of last resort of the applicants. The businesses that came to us were risky."
He also kept his banker's eye on the NEOEDD books.
"He always reviewed our financial statements thoroughly, even though they're long," Lang said.
"He'd ask good questions about the 50-page documents at meetings," Lang said. "He'd be at a meeting, lean over the table in my direction and ask, Â‘Why is there so much deferred revenue in Fund 25?' This would send the other board members hurriedly flipping through their booklets while staff gave the answer."
Peters' fiscal competence is one reason the board was reluctant to see him go, Lang said.
Peters said his volunteer efforts in economic development began about 1969 or 1970.
"Gov. McCall divided the state into districts and ours was called the Blue Mountain Intergovernmental Council. Our duties were to prioritize the various projects in the area that were requesting state funding or help,'' he said.
"At that time, the counties had the Overall Economic Development Program, a committee that prioritized projects within each county. The counties sent their lists to us and we re-prioritized them as we felt were most important to the district."
In 1985, the Blue Mountain group decided to become more politically involved and NEOEDD was born to concentrate more on economic development, Peters said.
But he has done more than crunch numbers over the years. He's been actively involved in every community he's lived in.
"I've always felt that if an area was good to you, you should reciprocate, you should donate time to your community."
Just a recounting of his activities in Union is impressive.
He was mayor of Union from 1969-1972. He was treasurer of the Union County Cattlemen's Association for 17 years. He was on the board of the Eastern Oregon Livestock Show for 20 years, two as president. He was on the Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative board for nine years, two as president.
He was a charter member of the Union County Economic Development Corporation and volunteered on an Industrial Development group in the City of Union.
Peters twice was involved in the Cove-Union-North Powder group that eventually resulted in getting a medical clinic in Union.
"I was a charter member and chairman of the original board in the 1970s that got doctors to locate in Union. That board went defunct, but then we re-applied and got it started again. Then the (Oregon Health and Sciences University) nursing school and Dr. Peter Kohler came in and we got the clinic."
Peters' wife, Eldrid, died in 1989. They raised two children, a son, Dale, still on the family farm north of Pendleton and coaching at Weston-McEwen, and a daughter, Debbie, a nurse at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif. Debbie's daughter, Cindy, works for Lehman Brothers in New York. Her office is right across the street from where the World Trade Center stood.
Peters said he is now "taking life easy. I have no hobbies. My community work has always taken up all of my time."
He said he's enjoyed being on the NEOEDD board.
"But now it's time for some new blood," he said.