Twenty-five years ago, then Sweet Home Mayor Ruth Ganta challenged Steve Druckenmiller for the Linn County Clerk’s job.
Today, Ruth Ganta-Deal, 72, will retire after five years in elections and recording and has the highest of praise for her boss and former opponent.
“Steve is the most frugal, trustworthy and honest politician I have ever known,” Ganta-Deal said. “I mean that. I’m retiring, so I won’t get any extra money for saying that.”
The respect is mutual.
Druckenmiller said he and Ganta-Deal “share old school personalities when it comes to work. She’s very good for other employees to be around. In this office, you have to be flexible, especially when it comes election time. We might work 24 hours straight. Ruth is definitely a special lady.”
Lettie Sankey was Sweet Home’s first female mayor, elected in 1929. Ganta-Deal served on the council from 1979 to 1988 and was mayor from January 1983 until December 1986. There have been no female mayors since that time.
“It wasn’t easy,” Ganta-Deal said of her early days on the council. “There was a good old boys mentality, but I figured out how things were done and worked around it.”
Ganta-Deal and her first husband, Gregg, moved to the mid-valley in 1970 after vacationing here the summer before.
“Gregg loved Sweet Home and said it reminded him of where he grew up in Wisconsin,” Ganta-Deal said. “He was working for McDonald-Douglas in Long Beach and there were layoffs. When he got a pink slip, we decided it was time to move.”
The family lived in Brownsille for awhile, where she served on the planning commission. After they moved to Sweet Home, she realized there were no women on the council, and tossed her hat into the ring.
“I’ve always been interested in politics. It was during the time of the Foster-Midway annexation,” Ganta-Deal said. “I went around knocking on hundreds of doors and passing out flyers. I went to one house where their dog just had pups and it bit me.”
The city was also facing extreme economic times, as the timber industry began its decline and tax revenues shrank.
Voters turned down a new tax base in May 1984 and a $485,000 levy in September, forcing the city council to make plans to close the library and city parks, eliminate street sweeping and animal control programs and reduce police protection.
“Sweet Home was and is a diamond in the rough,” Ganta-Deal said. “What other town has a lake within its city limits and has beautiful parks and recreation just minutes away? It was starting to come along and then the recession hit. I still believe it’s going to come into its own, but maybe not in my lifetime.”
Gregg Ganta suffered from severe asthma and emphysema and the couple moved to Arizona in 1988. He underwent a lung transplant in 1994 and died in 2003.
Ruth dealt blackjack at a casino for a couple years and then spent 15 years as a supervisor with the Arizona Department of Transportation.
In 2007, she married Harold Deal, a retired heavy equipment operator, whom she has known since the age of 12.
They plan to make a road trip to Arizona in February to celebrate their birthdays — he will be 75 on the 17th and she will be 73 on the 27th — and then move there in the summer.
Her three children, Julie, Phillip and Jerry, all live in Albany. She also has seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
“I have loved my job here,” Ganta-Deal said. “But I decided I should try this retirement thing before I get too old to enjoy it.”