The Dalles, with a current population just under 15,000 people, incorporated in 1857 (as The Dalles City) is one of Oregon’s most historic cities on the Columbia River. It was known earlier in its history as the town at the end of the Oregon Trail. Archeological evidence suggests the area has been inhabited more or less continuously for more than 10,000 years.
Steve Lawrence is now the Mayor of The Dalles and fits the ideal profile as a chief elected official – one you would expect of any of the towns listed in Small Town Gems of America which to illustrate, include Red Wing and Stillwater, Minnesota; Guthrie, Oklahoma and Cody, Wyoming.
He and his twin brother were born in 1945 and graduated from high school in The Dalles, where the future lawyer was a three-sport athlete – wrestling, track (held his high school’s pole-vault record twice) and football (he was a 146 pound starting center.)
Steve went to Boise Jr. College and ended up enlisting in the Army in 1967, which of course, meant a trip to the Republic of Viet Nam. He was selected for Officer Candidate School and because of his linguistic skills, was promised Russian Language School, and in a series of events that remind one of Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 – after training at Ft. Benning he ended up commanding an infantry platoon in Viet Nam where he was decorated for heroism in combat.
We were joined that day by another Viet Nam hero – Jud Blakely, awarded the Bronze Star (with Combat V) and recipient of the Purple Heart in 1967 as a Marine Corps 1st Lt. – described in Thebeerchaser’s post from October 2013.
While a Second Lieutenant, Steve recalls several “serious helicopter events” including two crashes nearby during fire-fights, and an Army pilot who made three passes firing on Steve’s troops and wounding half of his squad before the chopper was called off by radio.
His Silver Star was awarded for action in combat in July 1968 and Bronze Star (with Combat V) for “his display of personal bravery and devotion to duty” in February 1969. His Bronze Star has an Oak Leaf Cluster because he received a second one for meritorious service while still in Viet Nam. Excerpts from the text of the citations for these two medals is shown below:
Silver Star – “For gallantry in action while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an armed hostile force….2nd Lt. Lawrence distinguished himself while serving as a platoon leader……When his unit became heavily engaged with a large enemy force, (he) exposed himself to hostile fire as he moved to a forward fighting position to direct the fire of his men. When two men were wounded, and lying in an exposed area (he) maneuvered his men into position enabling the injured personnel to be recovered.” 14 October, 1968
Bronze Star with Combat V – “During an intense mortar and rocket attack, one of the billits in (his) unit took a direct rocket hit. With total disregard for his own safety (he)…moved through the rocket and mortar fire to the damaged building….and assisted in applying first aid and evacuating severely wounded men. Although the attack continued….,he repeatedly returned…in search of other missing individuals. 3 June 1969
After the Army, Steve attended Portland State College where he first met Jud Blakely – then a Marine Corps Officer Recruiter – while Steve was involved in student government and trying to mediate in the dispute with students, who tried to throw the Marines off campus after the Kent State University tragedy.
At Jud’s suggestion, both were going to take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), but after Jud purchased two of the massive prep manuals, he decided otherwise, although he still justifies the decision by quoting comedian, John Wing:
“And God said, ‘Let there be Satan, so people don’t blame everything on Me. And let there by lawyers, so people don’t blame everything on Satan…'”
Steve was admitted to Northwestern School of Law at Lewis and Clark College at night and Jud went on to work as the Asst. to General Manager Tom King at TriMet (newly formed in 1969 to replace five private bus companies in the Tri-County area). The two were reunited after Steve was selected as the Asst. Director of Marketing and then as Asst. Personnel Director. (Jud told him about the job opening) A major project was developing Tri-Met’s first handicap accessible policy.
During this time Blakely, Thebeerchaser and Lawrence (as a 146 pound center…) played basketball on Friday nights in the gym at Catlin-Gabel School with a group of Nike execs, and then Mayor Neil Goldschmidt with some of his key staff including Alan Webber (now an entrepreneur and candidate for Governor of New Mexico)
The two offered Steve a chance to write and manage a federal demonstration grant for the LIFT Project through the City of Portland. The LIFT became a permanent TriMet special transportation program and still exists.
After admission to the Oregon State Bar, he had a long legal career and established a reputation as a tough litigator first at the Hampson Bayless & Stiner labor law firm (Lon Stiner is the son of legendary Oregon State Football coach, Alonzo Stiner from 1933 to 1948), in his own practice in The Dalles, at the Williams &Troutwine firm and then as in-house counsel for both North Pacific Insurance Co. and Liberty Mutual.
The hometown boy retired in 2007 and returned to The Dalles where in 2008, he married the widow of the quarterback on his team. Donna, his new wife, was his high-school sweetheart and they had lost contact when Steve went to junior college. His civic work in the Dalles and beyond is notable including 25 years on the Board of United Cerebral Palsy of Oregon and SW Washington (3 terms as President).
His initial novel, First Light, based on his experience in Viet Nam, will be published on-line in the near future and his second novel, Amaton Field – an historical novel of The Dalles is about 3/4 finished.
He ran successfully for Mayor in 2012 and will be on the General Election ballot this November. One can see his energy, enthusiasm and leadership by reading one of his monthly reports. They chronicle his efforts to bring new industry, capitalize on recreational opportunities including cycling and promote the City’s agricultural legacy:
“In the movie, “Lincoln,” I witnessed three skills which Abraham Lincoln possessed. The first, was to listen more and blame less. The second, was to relax now and then and the third was not to hold grudges. He had a vision and he was persistent. If we exercise these skills, we can all help move The Dalles forward.”
Beerchasing in the Dalles
We kidded him about the safety of these eateries, harkening back to 1984, when 750 people were victims of the Rajneesh bio-terror attack through the deliberate contamination of salad bars at ten local restaurants with salmonella. This bizarre plot, according to some sources, was one of only two confirmed bio-terrorist attacks on humans in the US since 1945.
Clock Tower Ales and Brew Pub, where Steve had his election victory party, “is located in the second Wasco County Courthouse built in 1883 and home to the last public hanging in 1905….. Join us in Historic Downtown for fine pub grub, live entertainment and over 30 craft beers on tap (cider, local wines and a full bar also).”
Our waitress, Danny, from Wamic, was a wonderful server, the beer and food was excellent and they have a great patio.
We then trekked a short distance to River Tap – owned by Tom Wood, who has a similar bar in Hood River – in one of first new buildings in downtown, The Dalles, in about 20 years. We toasted over Braeval single-malt scotch shots.
Steve is a Renaissance guy, and he had mentioned to us that he reads poetry at “Open Microphone Night” at Zim’s Brau Haus – another bar with great ambiance just up the street. So we set out again – but it was closed since it was late on a Sunday afternoon. However, in deference to the Mayor, the owners, Bill and Connie Ford, readily answered his knock and gave us a walk-through of their establishment.
Zims is noted for its $2.50 breakfast and two steak nights – Tuesday and Friday “yum! The steak is cooked just as ordered…..better than Delicious!! They have Spatzel!! it’s absolutely wonderful!
Besides the Mayor reading poetry, there’s also some good entertainment: “Total forty-something and over place. Lively on a Tuesday night. Old guys with acoustic guitars crooning old country favorites–and giving a pretty professional performance to boot. (Trip Advisor)
As an aside, Steve is also a great fan and collector of Hemingway’s works as evidenced by the view of his home den below.
This summer beckons for a return trip to The Dalles. In one of his monthly Mayor’s report he states, “If interested in serving on a city committee or commission, please let me know….. My phone number is 503-807-0724 and my email is SeLawrence1963@yahoo.com.”
Even if you don’t reside in The Dalles, but are visiting, you should take him up on that offer. He might even buy you a micro-brew at Clock Tower, a shot of scotch at River Tap or read a poem at Zim’s!
And if you talk to him, thank him for his service to his country and community.