HERMISTON - More people were gathered in McKenzie Park Tuesday night to celebrate Hermiston's centennial than resided in the town when it was first incorporated.
City Manager Ed Brookshier said McKenzie Park, named after F.C. McKenzie, who served as mayor from 1915-1922 and 1933-1946, was the appropriate site for the celebration and the centennial bell tower and plaza.
"The ground on which we now stand was part of the original township," he said.
Irene Van Patten, one of a handful of early pioneers still alive, expressed amazement in the city's growth.
"I couldn't imagine there would be this many people in Hermiston,"
she said. "There were only 600 people when I was born here."
Van Patten, who rode to the celebration with a group from a local assisted living facility, remembers a far different form of transportation from her younger years.
"We used to come into town on a horse and cart," she recalled.
Betty Wilkins, whose birthday coincided with the centennial celebration, traveled from Boise back to the town where her first husband, William Belt, served as mayor in 1959-1960.
"He hired Tom Harper as the city manager," she said. "He introduced the city manager-type of government to Hermiston."
Mayor Bob Severson attributed Hermiston's success to strong leadership.
"Growth hasn't always been easy," he said. "But through the foresight and thoughtful planning of city administrators, city councils, the Hermiston Development Corporation and the community business leaders, past and present, we have been positioned for positive things to happen for many years to come."
Severson said the city's parks, the library, conference center, aquatic center and economic development all are projects the community has worked together to achieve.
"We celebrate our 100-year anniversary because each of you has contributed to this community," Severson concluded.
Hermiston has always embraced concepts central to what liberty stands for, according to Brookshier. He cited opportunity, optimism for the future and welcoming new people and new ideas, even from the beginning.
Brookshier said the early pioneers who founded Hermiston were optimists because the only things in large supply were sand, sagebrush and jackrabbits. He said that positive outlook still rings true now.
"If you can't look at sand and sagebrush and see a little corner of paradise here, then you may be a little low on the Hermiston optimism scale," he said.
Mark Douglass, a music teacher at Sunset Elementary School, wrote a song, performed by choir students.
"Sagebrush and tumbleweeds, goat heads on the ground. Desert dust is in the air, and in the house, and all around. sagebrush and tumbleweeds, friendly folks abound. I love Hermiston - she's my hometown," the group sang.
Of course, a birthday celebration wouldn't be complete without the singing of "Happy Birthday" and eating cake and ice cream.
Severson and Erma Neilson, who headed up the baking crew, ceremoniously fed each other the first bites of the 4-foot-by-12-foot Centennial Cake.
Members of Altrusa International of Hermiston served cake to the crowd and Schwan's provided ice cream, while the Sidewalk Stompers, a band from the Tri-Cities, played Dixieland music.
Before the U.S. Army Band performed an evening concert, the Centennial Clock and Bell Tower was dedicated with a minute-long ringing of the bell.
"If this place symbolizes and links us with our past, then the granite globe beneath the bell tower surely symbolizes our future," Brookshier said. "For day by day, we are never more connected in our jobs and our daily lives to people and places around the world."
The evening also included a brief history of Hermiston; reading of essays written by Centennial Essay contest winners Ashlynn Beenblossom and Chelsey Sharp; laying of the wreath at the Veterans Memorial; the playing of "Taps," by Rolly Cassens of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 4750; and the dedication of the Peace Pole by High Desert Girl Scouts.
"I do believe we pulled it off," said Jackie Myers, chairwoman for the Centennial Committee. "We know how to throw a birthday party - yes we do."