It wouldn't be much of a stretch to call Clayton Wood "Mr. Millersburg." He might have taken some issue with a nickname like that — after all, as he reminded people, he initially had been opposed to incorporating the town. He was worried back then that his farm and his neighbors' rural properties might be harmed by incorporation.
But Wood, who died last week at the age of 82, followed that initial opposition with more than 40 years of service to the city of Millersburg and its residents. In 1974, the year Millersburg residents voted to become a city, Wood was appointed to the Planning Commission. He became mayor two years later and served in that position for the next four decades, retiring in 2016.
By the time he retired, Millersburg had emerged as the fastest growing town in the mid-valley. In fact, Millersburg's population has tripled during the time Wood served as mayor, from 562 in 1980 to an estimated 1,674 souls in 2016.
Wood's work over those decades helped to prepare his community for that growth.
It would have been easy for Millersburg to be dominated over the years by Albany, its considerably more populous neighbor immediately to the south. But, by all accounts, Wood worked hard to make sure that his town held its own.
"He was not afraid to stand up for the city," said Darrin Lane, who served on the Millersburg City Council for five years. "I know there were some rough times, but Clayton was able to work with folks at the city of Albany and forge a partnership that created the environment for the growth that we have in Millersburg right now."
In fact, Wood and Albany city officials worked together on what would become a joint water treatment plant, a joint wastewater plant and the Albany-Millersburg Talking Water Gardens, which cools treated wastewater while providing a wetlands area for people to enjoy.
Wood did all this with a quiet dignity that sometimes seems in short supply among today's political leaders.
"He was a gentle spirit," said John Pascone, president of the Albany-Millersburg Economic Development Corp. "I never saw him get cross with anybody."
And Albany Mayor Sharon Konopa joined the chorus: "He was just so pleasant to work with."
None of which is to suggest that the last four decades have been all smooth sailing and steady growth for Millersburg. The town took a hard blow when the International Paper mill closed in 2009, eliminating more than 200 well-paying jobs.
And the city was in the middle of a divisive political fight in 2015, when voters convincingly rejected a proposal to form a municipal utility district.
These days, though, the future is looking bright for Millersburg, especially if a proposal to develop a reloading facility on the site of the former International Paper mill continues to gather momentum. The idea is that tractor-trailer units could haul containers to the facility, where cargo would be reloaded onto trains for transport to other shipping sites in Portland, Tacoma and Seattle, and California. Although the door has not yet been closed on other potential sites for the mid-valley facility, the Millersburg proposal appears to have the inside track.
The hope is that the reloading facility would become a magnet for other business development in the area — and that notion doesn't seem far-fetched. If that happens, Millersburg will continue its remarkable growth.
And Wood helped to prepare his city for that day.
Elected officials in towns with populations of a couple of thousand people aren't doing the work to get rich. They're doing the work — and these jobs are real work — because they love their communities, because they want brighter futures for the people who live there. Clayton Wood helped to do that for his town, and that, we suspect, is the only legacy that ever interested "Mr. Millersburg." (mm)