The Rhubarb King: Silverton kind of grew on him, now he calls it home

October 2016 Posted in Community, People
Wood carving is one of Rick Bittner’s passions. Community service is another.

Wood carving is one of Rick Bittner’s passions. Community service is another.

By Nancy Jennings

Rick Bittner stands out by blending in.

After having seen all 50 states on personal vacations and travels over the years, he chose to retire in Silverton. He arrived in 2010 and wasted no time rolling up his sleeves to help in the community.

“I just volunteer around town. So that’s my life,” Bittner, 69, said.

Presently, he’s on the board of the Silverton Kiwanis Club, the Silver Chips Wood Carving Club, the Silverton Budget Committee, the Fallen Heroes Memorial Committee and the Silverton Fine Arts Festival committee. He also was a stage manager for a play at the Brush Creek Playhouse.

Having grown up in Fargo, N.D., Bittner was used to plentiful rhubarb patches and the promise of tangy desserts made from them.

He has a rhubarb patch at his home garden and terms himself the “Rhubarb King.”

“I’m the only one that I know in town that consistently only makes rhubarb desserts. So when I go to parties or get-togethers, people ask ‘bring the rhubarb pie,’” he quipped.

After high school, Bittner joined the U.S. Navy, then he went to college in Santa Monica, Calif., and San Diego, Calif., earning a first an associate arts and then a bachelor’s degree in business administration. He joined the San Diego Police Department.

Retired since 2001, he was a San Diego police officer for more than 27 years. Starting on patrol duty and working in various departments, he saw a lot of the seamier side of society.

“For 23 years, I was a detective. I had several offices I worked in. I was on a dignitary protection unit where I was a bodyguard for the mayor. I worked for vice administration for nearly 10 years,” Bittner said, adding that he found all of his assignments rewarding.

Bittner recalls his first visit to Silverton.

On his various travels, he enjoyed driving to towns “off the beaten path.” He said he saw many a ‘Silverton-type town’ so when he first visited Silverton, he wasn’t impressed.

But he returned many years later with some friends and spent more time taking in the local sites such as Silver Falls State Park and The Oregon Garden. Silverton’s charm deeply affected him.

“I found that every time I came to Silverton, it was better. When I came here one time, they built a new high school.  Another time, they had a hospital. A small town that still had a hospital? That impressed me,” Bittner said. “The next time I came, they put a wing on the hospital! It showed thought into the future.”

“When I travel to some towns, it’s basically the town is developed around the houses. Silverton has this downtown heart, this core of buildings — and the community is built around it.”

Bittner hopes growth is controlled “so we don’t get big box stores, and lose the flavor of this wonderful community.”

Silverton residents Dave Zehrung and Terry Thomas both met Bittner in church. They all work together on many Kiwanis Club and church projects.

Zehrung said he thinks the men get along because they have the same interests as far as wanting to contribute to their community and church.

“You know how most people when they move to a town it’s like ‘OK, what does this town have to offer me?’” Zehrung said. “Something I really learned about Rick was when I first got to know him, it was ‘OK, what can I do for this town?’ It really gave me a lot of respect for him in that sense.”

Bittner recently stumbled upon another need in the community, and he went on to fix it with the help of the Kiwanis Club.

While walking around the high school track, he noticed a memorial plaque on the ground behind overgrown bushes and covered with leaves.

“I looked down and there was something laying in the dirt. I scraped away the leaves and grass and there was this little memorial plaque. It said one kid’s name, born on this date and died on this date,” Bittner said.

As it turned out, there were more than 12 plaques of students who died during their high school years. After a few months coordinating with the school district, the plaques were moved forward for all to see.

Past Kiwanis Club President Terry Thomas found out that he and Bittner had lived in the same city.

“I found out he was from San Diego, and I worked there for 25 years. We struck up a friendship based on like backgrounds,” Thomas recalled.

“He seemed interested in people and kind of had an interesting background. I made it a point to seek him out and make him feel welcome,” he added.

A large part of Bittner’s life is his love for woodworking and woodcarving. In junior high school, he took the commonly offered woodworking and metalworking classes. He went on and took another woodworking class in ninth grade because he enjoyed it so much.

While in college, he started buying some hand tools for woodworking projects and he found his true passion.

“With a jigsaw, hammer, screwdriver and a sander in my living room in a one-bedroom apartment with shag carpet, I built a waterbed.”

“There was sawdust ankle-deep on that shag carpet,” he recalled laughing.

He is currently making a prayer bench for his pastor. It will be made from camphor wood brought back from from the pastor’s missionary trip to Africa nearly 15 years ago.

“He is so meticulous in what he does. His woodworking is just incredible,” Thomas said. “I’ve never met anybody else who can bake rhubarb pie like he does.”

Which is why his friends don’t mind calling him the “Rhubarb King.”

Sorry, comments for this entry are closed at this time.