HARRISBURG — Bobby Duncan’s mother died when he was 4 and his dad led a troubled life, so he bounced around as a child, attending 15 schools in 12 years. As a result, he yearned for someplace to call his own, a real hometown.
He found what he needed in Harrisburg — and the feeling appears to be mutual. Duncan, 65, is running unopposed in the November general election for his 10th consecutive two-year term as the mayor of this small city along the Willamette River.
“I belong here. This town is who I am,” Duncan said as he stood on his front porch, an American flag waving in the background.
“There’s such a great spirit here. It’s almost palpable. This is an amazing place,” Duncan added. Linn County officials, he noted, sometimes jokingly call the town “Mayberry” for its idyllic feel.
Duncan credited his longevity in leading the city to the quality of Harrisburg’s employees and to the volunteers, including City Council members, he’s worked with over the years.
“The councilors, they operate on the premise that they are servants first. It’s not about them. It’s about everyone else,” Duncan said.
Duncan and his wife, Donna Duncan, moved into a Victorian house in Harrisburg about 25 years ago. The structure needed repairs, but that fell right into Duncan’s wheelhouse since he worked as a finish carpenter.
Shortly after moving, he had problems with a sewer line, so he went to City Hall. “They were friendly and helped me out. We got to talking, and I got corralled onto the Planning Commission,” Duncan said.
A few months later, a vacancy came up on the City Council, and he was appointed. Jerry Buckles, the mayor at the time, took Duncan under his wing, and he was named council president. When Buckles retired for health reasons, Duncan became mayor pro tem.
“Most of the time in Harrisburg, you run unopposed unless you do something goofy,” Duncan said.
Sometimes keeping a low profile is a good thing, and Duncan said he can go shopping and not get recognized in town.
He said he doesn’t really have much power most of the time, as he only breaks tie votes by the City Council. But he tries to let people speak when he runs the city’s monthly meetings. “Public comment sometimes goes on for a half-hour,” Duncan said.
Moving away from Harrisburg has never crossed Duncan’s mind.
“I always promised my kids that they would go to the same school for 12 years,” he said.
His children — Aaron Duncan, now of Junction City, and Claire Ranit, now of The Dalles — both excelled academically and in athletics for the Harrisburg High School Eagles.
Duncan and his wife attend Hughes Grace Fellowship in Junction City, and the mayor said that his Christianity has played a major role in his success. “We visit other churches in Harrisburg, too. … It’s good to be amongst the people and let them meet their civic leaders, and let them know I care,” Duncan said.
Over the years, Harrisburg has modernized, of course. There’s a new fire station, a school bond just passed and another bond is leading to water system improvements. “I always heard, ‘When are you going to fix the water?’” Duncan said.
Harrisburg has grown from 1,400 people to about 3,600 residents during his tenure, Duncan said. But the feel of the town remains the same, he added.
“People that move here bring the same values,” Duncan said. “I’m not sure much has changed.”
Kyle Odegard can be contacted at 541-812-6077 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter via @KyleOdegard.
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