Tree farmer files for George's seat
Willis joins a field that includes Dundee City Councilor David Russ and former Newberg City Councilor Brett Veatch, who filed after Willis. The race also is likely to include a pair of McMinnville civic leaders — public policy activist Sal Peralta and school board member Stan Primozich. They have opted to gather signatures rather than paying a filing fee, so have not yet formally completed the process.
George and colleague Mary Stern are both being term-limited out after 12-year runs. So far, Stern’s seat has drawn only two contenders — Debra Bridges, victim services director in the district attorney’s office, and Mary Starrett, a freelance media consultant who narrowly lost to Stern four years ago.
Willis said he’s running because he thinks things are going pretty well at the county level and he’d like to see that continue.
Another point of motivation is the lack of any West Valley representation on the board of commissioners. He said he can’t recall anyone from Sheridan, Willamina or Grand Ronde having ever served.
“I have a strong connection with the West Valley and Grand Ronde,” he said. “That’s my area of the county.”
His great-grandfather, Charles Morgan, traveled from Kansas by wagon train as a child, he said, and went on, in 1917, to become Willamina’s town butcher.
After graduating from Willamina High, Willis earned an associate’s degree from Chemeketa Community College in forest science. He promptly put that degree to work at Willamina’s Hampton Lumber, spending 13 years doing “anything and everything.”
When the federal prison opened in Sheridan in 1989, he became a member of its initial staff. He spent 15 years there, mostly helping oversee the prison wood shop, before retiring in 2010.
During his prison employment, he spent 13 years raising cattle and managing a family honey business — Yamhill Valley Beekeeping — on the side.
Since entering retirement, Willis said, he has been managing timber on his 41-acre spread. He said he enjoys the full cycle of falling, bucking, limbing, yarding and replanting. In the last three years alone, he said, he has planted 2,400 new seedlings.
“I’m doing what I love to do,” he said. “I love the environment and I believe I’m doing something good by keeping the forest taken care of. I have always had a love for forestry and forest management.”
Along the way, Willis served eight years on the Willamina School Board, four of them as chair.
“On a smaller scale, that was like being on the board of commissioners,” he said. “I learned a lot.”
He has also served 15 years helping run a Bible-quiz program and coaching Bible-quiz teams, two of which have won national championships.
“It’s one of the most fulfilling and most important things I do,” he said. “I feel strongly about God’s work being important in the lives of kids.”
Willis said his first goal as a county commissioner would be retaining existing jobs and creating new ones.
He and his wife of 40 years, Jeannie, raised three boys who all found work locally after graduating from Willamina High School and George Fox University. “I think it’s important for families to stay close together, and for that to be possible, we need good, family-wage jobs,” he said.
He described himself as a fiscal conservative.
“I believe in living within our means,” he said. “I also believe the backbone of our county is in the people and private enterprise.
“We have to make it easy for a business to start up. We can’t over-regulate people to the point where they can’t even get off the ground.”
But he also noted, “Of course, we have to have some regulations to keep our environment safe. We don’t want smokestacks or anything like that.”
Willis said he sees the county commissioners as a point of “contact for the community.”
“They’re there to interpret policy, and in some cases to develop policies in areas where problems may exist or where they are anticipated,” he said. “I see commissioners as being advocates for citizens.”
He summed up his case for joining their ranks this way: “I have a broad base in what qualifies me to become a commissioner. There won’t be many other candidates with as broad a base to relate to, and represent, the people of Yamhill County.
Willis has established a Facebook page under the heading, Bill Willis for Yamhill County Commissioner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 503-876-4764.