Longtime Tribal friend Mike Propes walks on

03.31.2011 Ron Karten People, Walking On

Smoke Signals editor

When the Grand Ronde Tribe officially dedicated the $6.4 million Grand Ronde Road improvement project in November 2009, the only elected official to attend the ceremony was Polk County Commissioner Mike Propes.

His attendance not only honored the Tribe's effort to make Grand Ronde Road safer, but was symbolic of his decades-long relationship with the Tribe and its members, as well as his concern for the West Valley area.

Sadly, Propes walked on Saturday, March 19, at the age of 56.

Polk County Sheriff Bob Wolfe said deputies were called just after 7 a.m. to Propes' home on Gooseneck Road in the Sheridan-Willamina area.

Propes was in his sixth term on the three-member Polk County Board of Commissioners. He had served since 1988 with a brief break in 2003-04 after heart surgery.

Propes reportedly had battled through health issues, including joint pain and diabetes, but ran successful election campaigns in 2004 and 2008.

He was a familiar face at the Tribal Governance Center, often meeting with Tribal Council to officially, and sometimes unofficially, discuss the county's government-to-government relationship with the Tribe.

But many Tribal members remember Propes before he became an elected official.

"Having gone to school with his older sister, Sheri," recalls Tribal Council member Steve Bobb Sr., "Mike's leadership abilities became apparent from an early age, from on the football field of the Willamina Bulldogs to being a favorite teacher of my son's in the forestry classes at Willamina High to just being an all-around friend to everyone."

Bobb said that Propes would not succumb to prejudice against the Tribe or its members.

"Mike would not have any of it," Bobb says. "When he eventually evolved to becoming a commissioner for Polk County, he stayed true to his values and his friends. He remained a close part of the Grand Ronde people, standing shoulder to shoulder with us on many occasions."

Tribal Council Vice Chair Reyn Leno said that Propes' support in 2010 for the Tribe's Reservation Land Act amendment helped garner unanimous support from both Polk and Yamhill counties.

"Mike went to bat for the Tribe," Leno said. "It didn't take Mike long to understand the Reservation Land Act amendment. He provided information to his county commission in the Tribe's behalf that listed all that the Tribe has given back to Polk County in terms of improvements to land, road projects, Community Fund support and charitable giving.

"He impressed on his fellow commissioners that the Tribe actually added value to the community when we acquired land. And that our giving far outweighed any perceived loss in tax revenue to the tune of millions of dollars."

Former Tribal Engineer Eric Scott said the Propes was involved in many Tribal projects and efforts to improve the Grand Ronde community.

He worked closely for Polk County with the Tribe and Oregon Department of Transportation on the Van Duzer corridor refinement and worked to bring the state Highway 22 realignment project to fruition.

Propes' support of the Grand Ronde Road improvement project helped allocate $50,000 in bond funds towards the project.

He also helped the Tribe on water rights transfers, on incorporating a small triangle of county-owned land into Fort Yamhill State Park and encouraging joint Tribal-county planning for emergency management.

Besides sitting on the Board of Commissioners, Propes served on the Chemeketa Community College board of directors and many other boards and commissions.

"In working on the Council of Governments board, I always found Mike to be very professional, willing to listen and understanding of the value of intergovernmental relationships," said Tribal Council member Chris Mercier. "I think he was a good partner for the Tribe."

"With Mike, it wasn't about the business end of it," Leno said. "It was what the land meant to the Tribe. He had that communication with all of the Tribal Councils that have been here, not just this current council. He came and sat at the table across from you and told you about what he could do."

"He leaves a giant hole in the hearts of many of us and shoes that can't be filled," Bobb said.