MONMOUTH — Marshall Guthrie rides his bike everywhere.
He enjoys taking loops around country roads, stopping in at Rogue Hop Farms for a craft beer — at least when he has time in between his work as director of Western Oregon’s Student Enrichment Program and attending seemingly endless meetings as a Monmouth city councilman.
Long rides in the country also take a backseat to him helping define WOU’s future as a member of the institution’s first independent governing board.
In just 12 months, Guthrie has gone from a moderately involved citizen of Monmouth to having his hands in a little bit of everything in town.
“I’ve officially said my plate’s full, unless it’s replacing something or it’s something I have a personal passion for,” he said.
For Guthrie, 35, community involvement started by moving to Monmouth five years ago from New York, just outside of New York City. It was the first time he had lived in the same community he worked in, and it gave him a sense of ownership.
Back East, Guthrie worked a stressful job with long, odd hours. When he got to Monmouth, he was unemployed. Even after he got his job at WOU, he felt bored.
“It’s close to an 8-to-5 job,” he said. “I had too much free time on my hands. I was like, ‘All right, let’s see what would happen if I actually try and get involved.’”
A chance meeting with Cec Koontz, a Monmouth community leader, at Crush Wine Bar in downtown Monmouth led to Guthrie’s participation in the Ford Institute Leadership Program.
“From there, it spiraled out of control,” Guthrie said.
His first appointment to a government committee was to work on the city of Monmouth budget.
Guthrie said he enjoyed learning how government works from a fiduciary viewpoint, finding out how parks are planned and paid for, and where the money comes from to pay the street sweepers.
“It’s something, as a citizen, you get to be blissfully ignorant about because it just happens that your taxes take care of that,” Guthrie said. “But if you get more involved, you appreciate (city services) more.”
And get more involved he did.
Guthrie was promoted to director of the TRIO program, or the student enrichment program that helps students with documented disabilities or those who are like Guthrie was himself: from low-income families and first generation college students.
In November, he was elected to the Monmouth City Council after having been appointed Aug. 6 to fill a vacancy. Around the same time, he was nominated for and appointed to the new board of trustees for Western, charged with organizing the new form of government and hiring a new president of the college.
Being so involved is satisfying for Guthrie.
“I’m so much happier about where I live because I understand what goes into it (the community) and what my investment — time, energy, tax dollars, generally being a positive person in the community — I understand how I benefit from it and how I provide for other people,” Guthrie said.
It isn’t purely altruistic, he noted.
“Anybody who does crap like this and tells you it’s not about ego is a big fat liar,” Guthrie said. “On some level, people get involved because they want to feel they are valued, or they are good at something, or people will miss them when they’re gone.”
With so many hats, his biggest focus is on the Western board.
“This is a major sea change for the entire university system and Western,” Guthrie said. “The confluence of a new funding structure, a new government, a new president – this is a make or break moment.”
The dramatic shift at Western trickles out to its community in Monmouth, Guthrie said.
“My biggest goal with the board is to take this moment … and redefine how Western operates for its students, for its staff and for its faculty, but also redefine who Western works for the larger community,” he said. “I’d like us better defining the relationships with our own city that we live in.”
At the end of the day, his work on all these boards is self-serving, Guthrie insists.
“I want to live in a city with high employment,” he said. “I want to live in a city that’s safe. I want to live in a city where people have opportunity regardless of how much money their family started with. I want to live in the best city that I can possibly live in. There’s a reason I live in Monmouth, because I think it has huge potential.”
Name: Marshall Guthrie.
Employment: Western Oregon University TRIO program, Student Enrichment Program.
Family: Megan Habermann, partner for 10 years.
Origins: He is from Iowa, but his ancestors are from Scotland. One of his ancestors allegedly gutted three fish, so his name is Guthrie, sounding like “gut three.”
Favorite pastime: Bike riding – also his main form of transportation – closely followed by a love for movies and music.
Did you know? Marshall and Megan have no children or pets, but once upon a time they had three sibling kittens in their care. They were foster parents for strays while living on the East Coast, and these little kittens made such an impression, their photo remains on the couple’s refrigerator.
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