By Melissa Wagoner
Arlene Harris is a Silvertonian through and through.
Born at Silverton Hospital, Harris spent the majority of her life in her hometown, only leaving when it came time to attend the University of Washington, where she earned her degree as a Physical Therapist before returning home to get married and start her career.
“My fiancé at that time, he was a farmer, and so he planted me here,” she joked, adding, “I didn’t get very far in my life.”
It’s a statement that, in all seriousness, couldn’t be further from the truth. While it is accurate that Harris’ geographic wanderings were few, her personal accomplishments knew few bounds.
“I could write a book on all of Arlene’s contributions to this community,” Angela Fischer wrote in a nomination to the Silverton Chamber of Commerce – who recently presented Harris with the 2022 Lifetime Achievement Award.
The list of Harris’ community service roles is indeed lengthy, and nearly all of them stem from her nearly 50 year career in physical therapy.
“When I started people didn’t know what physical therapy was,” Harris recalled. “They thought I was some kind of nurse, which was all right.”
In fact, the field of Physical Therapy was so new when Harris got her license that the number she received was 123 – indicating the number of physical therapists in the entire state at that time.
“There [weren’t] any therapists in the Silverton, Woodburn and Molalla areas,” Harris confirmed.
Which meant opening clinics of her own – one serving the Silverton and Mount Angel areas, the other serving Woodburn.
“I employed maybe 15 people in my two different clinics and then we had a contract with the hospital,” Harris said. “I started at the hospital at the request of some doctors right when Medicare was starting because they didn’t have any services for Physical Therapy…and it grew from there. It was a good experience.”
But it wasn’t the only unique partnership she formed.
“She set up rehab programs at Silverton Health, the Benedictine [Nursing Center], and a nursing home in Woodburn,” Fischer wrote. “Arlene also started the fitness screenings that are done before the annual Silverton Health Fun Run.”
Kept busy by these commitments, her work and the raising of three children, Harris nevertheless found time to volunteer in other areas as well, including the taskforce to rebuild the community pool, the St. Mary’s outreach programs to homebound individuals and prisons and the Silverton Rotary Club – which she discovered when she was still at university.
“When I was in college I had to do research on polio and do a presentation…It was on new techniques for polio victims,” Harris recalled. “I was invited to Rotary because they were doing the push for polio eradication in the world and that’s why I joined – because of the polio connection… then I was Director of Community Service for I don’t know how many years.”
Spearheading the Rotary’s “Clothes for Kids” and “First Reader” programs as well as the annual Daddy Daughter Dance, the Hops and Vine Auction and the Strawberry Festival, Harris does not shy away from commitment.
“In this busy day and age, it’s rare to find an individual who is willing to donate their time and efforts,” Fischer wrote. “But it’s even harder to find one that is willing to assume the leadership role to coordinate those efforts and put in the extra time to see the project through.”
“Arlene has always been very community minded and very supportive of local nonprofit organizations…” Dodie Brockamp, Executive Director of the Silverton Senior Center, echoed. “I appreciate her in so many ways; her kind spirit, her giving nature and her dedication to the community, both as a business owner and community volunteer.”
“She is the consummate professional and civic servant,” former Rotary President Dixon Bledsoe pointed out, “humble as a human being can be.”
Which is perhaps why, when Harris herself was asked how it felt to receive community recognition for all her hard work she said, “This achievement award isn’t just me, it’s everybody I worked with, whether on a project with the community or in my profession. It really was people and not just me.”