Hermiston has lost its biggest cheerleader.
Frank Harkenrider, 90, died in Hermiston Monday night. He served in Hermiston’s city chambers as a councilor or mayor for close to 50 years, before taking his last vote in December 2014.
Harkenrider was known for his intense loyalty to Hermiston, which grew from 800 residents to more than 17,000 in his lifetime. He faithfully lost bet after bet with Pendleton city officials on Hermiston High School’s football team during their growing years and his last few months on the city council were peppered with frequent references to the fact that the team had finally won a state championship.
“I’m still Hermiston fan number one,” he said during an interview the afternoon of his last city council meeting.
His tenure on the city council was not always without controversy. He survived a recall election in 2012 and kept his seat by just two votes in 1998. And there was spirited resistance by some members of the Hermiston Senior Center against naming the new building, scheduled to be complete in late 2017 or early 2018, the Harkenrider Center.
He also had many supporters, however, who voted “Harkie” back into office repeatedly through the decades.
Harkenrider always considered the vote to hire Hermiston’s first city manager the best thing he did for the city. It was a point he focused on even as other parts of his memory were slipping away.
“I love this town,” he said in 2014. “I’ve given my heart and soul to the city. I made a lot of mistakes but I made some good votes, too.”
Harkenrider’s professional career was mostly spent at Union Oil Distributorship, where he started working with his father George Harkenrider, who was also a Hermiston city councilor and mayor. He later worked for PGG before retiring. He served in the armed forces, deploying to Guam and the Philippines after World War II. In 1987 he was named the city’s Man of the Year.
Harkenrider was born in Hermiston and met his wife Beverly there while she was working for US Bank. The pair were married on Nov. 4, 1954 in a double ceremony with her sister and sister’s fiancé.
He is survived by Beverly, their three daughters and five granddaughters.
His youngest granddaughter, Kacie Jo Upperman, said he used to babysit her from the mayor’s desk and take her to everything from parades to a mayors’ convention in Seaside. As a kid she knew “everyone” at city hall from her time sitting at the press desk with coloring books and dolls.
“I definitely have fond memories of sitting coloring and waiting for grandpa to run the city and come up with his next wacky idea to make Hermiston grow,” she said.
Afterward they would go out for a grilled cheese sandwich and pickle at a downtown business known as the Cookie Tree.
He wasn’t afraid to be himself, she said, and worked tremendously hard for the city he loved. She said he loved sports and went to many Portland Trail Blazers games when Upperman’s sister Kelly Robinson became a Blazer Dancer.
“He loved supporting her and got to sneak in some basketball-watching on the side,” she said.
It was Harkenrider who took a truck full of watermelons to Portland in 1991 and handed them out on the street, beginning a tradition that lasted for 17 years and was revived two years ago. Harkenrider was there for the resurrection of the giveaway in 2015. He kept photos of the events — which put a media spotlight on Hermiston produce and promoted the city to the west side of the state — in a bookshelf full of scrapbooks in a small room of his home lined with Hermiston-related memorabilia. His knowledge of Hermiston’s history was extensive and he often served as the city council’s institutional memory.
As news of Harkenrider’s passing spread on Facebook, residents commented that he will be missed, calling him a “wonderful man,” a “huge part of our great town” and “the nicest man I ever met.”
“Harkie embodied the true spirit of Hermiston and of course was Hermiston’s BIGGEST FAN!” Kelly Schwirse wrote on the Hermiston Herald’s Facebook page. “He will be missed dearly.”
Mayor David Drotzmann offered up condolences as well in a statement on behalf of the city.
“We’re extremely saddened to hear about the passing of Frank Harkenrider; undeniably Hermiston’s ‘greatest cheerleader.’” he said in a written statement. “This community would not be where it is today without Frank’s nearly five decades of direct service to the city of Hermiston. I think naming the new Harkenrider Center after Frank was the least we could do to honor his unrivaled level of community service.”
Services are pending, with arrangements in care of Burns Mortuary.
Contact Jade McDowell at email@example.com or 541-564-4536.