News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Lon Kellstrom embodies hard work, integrity, and perseverance

Former Sisters mayor and City Council member for 14 years, Lon Kellstrom has been described by family, friends, and those who worked with him as humble, a man of integrity who lives according to his principles, supportive, decisive, knowledgeable, and gracious.

He has weathered a number of life-changing events and persevered.

Born in Seattle, spending a few years in Portland, and finally settling with his family in Klamath Falls, where his dad was an insurance adjuster. Kellstrom went through the Klamath Falls schools. He was the oldest of three boys. His youngest brother, Todd, served as mayor of Klamath Falls at the same time Kellstrom was mayor in Sisters. In summers during college, he worked in the mills.

Kellstrom is now a father of two grown children, Slater and Sloane, who have, in Kellstrom’s words, “gifted him with grandchildren who are so special.” Kellstrom’s own father died too early, at 55, and never got to see his children married or his grandchildren, something for which Kellstrom feels sadness.

“Grandchildren are someone else for us to love and be loved by,” he said.

Kellstrom regrets not having the benefit of his dad’s counsel, when at age 24 he left home to begin his first career in the hospitality field as a management trainee for Western International Hotels (later Westin Hotels) at the Benson Hotel in Portland.

He started out on the front desk, working his way up to assistant manager in less than two years. It was there he met his future wife, Diane, when she recognized him from several encounters years earlier in Klamath Falls when their fathers were both involved in Shriners activities. Diane was a flight attendant for United Airlines based in Seattle and her flight crew overnighted at the Benson.

After that chance meeting, I-5 between Portland and Seattle was well-traveled by Kellstrom for a year-and-a-half and on August 26, 1972 they were married in Klamath Falls, just as Lon was being transferred to the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco as assistant manager. Diane transferred her home base to San Francisco where they lived for a year before being transferred to Copenhagen for six months to help open the 550-room Hotel Scandinavia owned by SAS Airlines, where Lon’s frequent response was, “Sorry, I only speak English.”

Kellstrom’s evolving career demanded regular moves and long commutes, which took their toll. He was working as an executive manger with Westin Hotels back again in the San Francisco Bay Area when, as he put it, “I got a wild hair and decided to resign from Westin and start a hotel consulting business with Basel Miaullis, former manager of the Benson Hotel.”

The family moved again to West Linn, Oregon, where daughter Sloane was born in 1982 and instantly became the apple of her daddy’s eye. For three years the consulting business’s biggest client was Kahneeta Hot Springs Resort on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation. Kellstrom was responsible for training the first tribal member to be manager of the resort.

Kellstrom found himself commuting again between West Linn and the reservation, spending some weeknights at the resort, so he took a job with a property management company in Vancouver that was managing a number of California properties that had gone through bankruptcy.

The San Francisco work required commuting again until they were able to sell their home and move to Half Moon Bay, California, where they lived from mid-1988 until 1993.

Kellstrom heard the general manager position at Black Butte Ranch was going to be open and he had always had an interest in the Ranch. He interviewed, was the only one called back for a second interview and was offered the job. Kellstrom likes to say he “was the general manager for 30 minutes.” Two homeowners and one board member threatened to recall the board over Kellstrom’s hiring. Eventually, Michael Jenkins, who came from a resort in Park City, Utah, was hired.

“That was a tough pill to swallow,” Kellstrom admitted. “I know I could have made a positive difference.”

The family moved to Central Oregon anyway in August 1993, in time for Slater to start daily doubles football practice at Sisters High School. They liked the small-town look and feel of Sisters with no stop lights, one phone prefix (549), and a population of 750-800. They rented a house at Black Butte Ranch from a former fraternity brother. They started building their house on Tyee Drive in October 1996.

A friend of Kellstrom’s suggested he join them in building homes and so began a new chapter. Dennis Arsenault of Bend was his mentor and acted as a subcontractor. Over more than a decade, Kellstrom Construction built 77 custom single-family homes and duplexes, one-third in Sisters and two-thirds in Redmond.

Then the Great Recession hit and building stopped. Kellstrom held on until 2012 when he built his last house.

At the age of 67, he was faced with the challenge of finding a job. And Kellstrom can attest that ageism is a real thing.

“I tortured Jeff McDonald (manager of Ray’s Food Place) enough that he finally agreed to hire me,” he said. “I owe Jeff a lot – he gave me a job.”

Kellstrom began in the produce department and ended working in all the different departments, restocking shelves, cleaning up, monitoring inventory. He enjoyed produce but lifting 50 pounds of potatoes and 40 pounds of fruit became daunting.

“I was worried I was going to fall and break something, so I switched to being a courtesy clerk, and working in dairy,” he explained.

That Kellstrom would be notable as one of Ray’s hardest-working employees is no surprise to his son Slater.

“I’ve never met anyone with a better work ethic, professionalism, or integrity,” he told The Nugget. “He always worked harder and complained less than anyone I’ve ever met. For me, the kind of “old school guy” he is, is more impressive the older I get… The ‘look people in the eye,’ strong handshake, honest, salt-of-the-earth type. The guy that can work both white- and blue- collar jobs with equal expertise and do so with honesty and integrity.”

Former Sisters City Manager Eileen Stein said, “He has gone from the perceived heights of hotel management to a career as a custom home builder and councilor/mayor, to his time at Ray’s. All throughout, he’s carried values of commitment to family, community service, humility, and faith. It has been a truly incredible story… It helps me to this day to reflect on the amount of change in Lon’s life and to know I’ll be okay in my own.”

Kellstrom worked at Ray’s from May 2013 to February 2021. He admitted he was surprised to earn a five-year pin, let alone work a total of eight years there. He actually turned in his letter of resignation in August 2020 after working 16 days straight and realizing he just couldn’t keep doing that anymore.

When he finally left six months later, Assistant Manager Del Kaufman told him, “We’ll need four of you.”

Lon’s public service started when City Manager Barbara Warren recruited him to run for City Council after getting to know him when he came to City Hall for building permits.

He won his first election to a two-year term by one vote, defeating Dave Moyer 151-150 in the November 1997 election. During his term in office, Kellstrom considers the installation of the City sewer system the most important project that Council worked on. Mayor Steve Wilson made two trips to Washington D.C. to lobby the U.S. Forest Service to allow the City to purchase the land for the sewage treatment plant. They chose the most expensive system to install — gravity fed — and it has proven to be the right choice.

Kellstrom worked closely with Stein when she became city manager.

“Lon and I had a strong relationship all throughout his time on the council and as the mayor,” she recalled. “He was always available to check in with and be supportive of staff, would take the time to listen to and understand the issues, had a good grasp of the budget, and was decisive.

“He would let us know when we fell short of expectations, but always did so graciously. He really understood the boundary lines between policy and management, and was respectful of those boundary lines,” Stein said. “And yet, I could always run something by him for his advice and counsel. I am not sure he enjoyed being mayor, at first, but understood his moment to take the helm of city leadership and executed it with conviction and humility.”

As Kellstrom enters retirement, he says he has no specific plans. He is trying to get back into a daily exercise routine and is finding it difficult. He is going to visit his brother in Gresham who is dealing with cancer and a cousin who recently suffered a stroke.

He wants to get back into attending church on a regular basis, something that wasn’t possible with his work schedule at Ray’s. His faith is very important to him.

Lon and Diane Kellstrom will celebrate their 49th wedding anniversary this August. Diane’s respect and admiration for her husband is evident after nearly half a century.

“He is a deeply devoted family man and a man of great integrity,” she told The Nugget. “Lon has always had the strength of his convictions. He does not back down when his principles are involved, yet is always willing to listen to others who may disagree.

“He is a voracious reader and as a result, is knowledgeable about many different topics. He has a deep faith in God, is proudly patriotic, takes great pride in being a hard worker, and is intensely loyal to friends and family. I feel so blessed to be married to this man of strong character who respects and supports me and would do anything to make sure his family is taken care of.”

Additional commentary from friends and family of Lon Kellstrom may be found with the online version of this story at http://www.nuggetnews.com.

 

Reader Comments(0)

 
 
Rendered 06/16/2024 15:21