Third-term Creswell mayor remembered for his dedication.
CRESWELL - For a guy who spent less than a third of his life here, Mayor Ron Petitti made quite a mark on this city.
And there's no doubt the quiet Petitti's impact will reverberate years beyond his death Sunday from lung cancer.
"At our last (city) council meeting, new information came forward about some further park improvements that were the result of his work," acting Mayor Tim Demanett said Tuesday. "We will be getting some bridges that will let people access further parts of Garden Lake Park. He'd also been working with a group of high school kids to secure funding for a skate park there."
Demanett was among Petitti's elected colleagues and City Hall staff members stunned by news of his death. The 62-year-old mortgage broker had requested a leave of absence from his mayoral duties last fall so he could pursue treatment of a lung tumor. The City Council voted just last week to extend that leave through Dec. 31, the end of his term, if need be.
"That's about as high a confidence vote as you can give somebody," Demanett said, calling the soft-spoken Petitti "fair, goal-oriented and focused.
"He didn't say anything unless he had something intelligent to say. He just really cared about the community."
Petitti hadn't resigned, his wife, Carrie, said, because he loved serving his city and intended to return to the unpaid post after completing his treatment. But it was not to be.
"His surgery was Dec. 7 when they removed his lung," she said. "He had four chemotherapy treatments three weeks apart, but his recovery didn't progress as planned. ... He was re-X-rayed afterward, and the cancer had metastasized to his liver, all during the chemo."
City Recorder Layli Nichols said many Creswell residents - including most of the city's 12 employees - had worked with Petitti as a volunteer in community projects as well as in his official capacity as mayor.
"He was a Kiwanis member, he volunteered for `read in the classroom' programs, and he helped with our downtown tree-lighting and Fourth of July celebrations even prior to being elected," she said.
He was in his third two-year term as mayor, easily winning re-election in a contested race in 2006. He led Creswell's efforts to upgrade its water treatment plant, to adopt a downtown enhancement plan and "saw to fruition" upgrades to the city's main street, Oregon Avenue, Nichols said.
Petitti also spent hours representing the city's interests with groups such as the Lane County Board of Commissioners, the League of Oregon Cities and the Lane Transit District. He worked particularly closely with the Coast Fork Willamette Watershed Council to secure funds to enhance what had been largely inaccessible Garden Lake Park.
"He was definitely a parks enthusiast," Nichols added. "He was very instrumental in reviving our parks master plan, including improvements to Garden Lake Park and Harry Holt Park."
Petitti's efforts didn't stop with policy - on many a Saturday, he took up a shovel alongside the Boy Scouts and other volunteer groups he organized, she said.
"They rebuilt trails, replanted native vegetation, added park benches, built the (fishing) dock that's out there," she said.
"Garden Lake Park was pretty much his baby," Demanett agreed.
Helping other residents enjoy Creswell's natural beauty was a high priority for Petitti, his wife said.
His late father, Jack Petitti, was a county commissioner in Las Vegas, Nev., where both Ron and Carrie grew up. The couple met in elementary school - "I always said he was the cutest kid in class" - but didn't wed until 1974, when both were divorced with children from previous marriages.
"His dad was always involved in the parks and recreation part of government," Carrie recalled. "Ron said, `I will never follow in my father's footsteps,' but then he fell in love with Creswell and had a vision in his heart of what it could be."
The couple came here in 1988 when he was hired as CEO of Emerald Valley Resort.
"He loved the quality of life here - the air, the birds, the water - he loved white-water rafting," Carrie said. But he was dismayed by what he saw as an "us vs. them" relationship between Creswell residents living on the east and west sides of Interstate 5.
"His main goal was to unify the city," she said.
Petitti is the second local mayor felled by cancer in less than a year. Longtime Junction City Mayor Larry Crowley died of bladder cancer July 16. Both cancers are linked to smoking. Like Crowley's wife, Linda, Carrie Petitti wanted her husband's early death to serve as a warning.
Ron Petitti had not been a heavy smoker, she added, and had quit altogether by the time his lung cancer was diagnosed last fall.
"I don't want to preach - I used to smoke, myself," she said. But she also doesn't want people to live under the false assumption that an annual physical will catch any tumors before they become fatal.
Petitti's colleagues are "still kind of in a state of shock" at the swiftness of his death, Demanett said.
"He had a lot of drive and energy," Nichols said. "We're going to miss him."
The Petittis had five adult children between them: Brandon Petitti of Eugene, Elyse Morey of Orting, Wash., Becci Stanton of Clackamas and Bridgette Jain of Portland.A son, Brett Petitti, died in 2006.
Public memorial for Creswell's late mayor
When: 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Monday
Where: Brindiamo Catering & Events Center, 600 Dale Kuni Road, Creswell.
Donations: Garden Lake Park Fund, c/o City of Creswell, P.O. Box 276, Creswell, OR 97426