Rita Gassen is facilities coordinator for Sisters Park & Recreation District. photo by Sue Stafford
Rita Gassen is facilities coordinator for Sisters Park & Recreation District. photo by Sue Stafford
She began working at SPRD four years ago as a part-time building attendant and now works full-time overseeing the cleaning of the building, the landscaping around the building, plumbing issues and, perhaps most importantly, keeping the oil-fueled boilers operating properly.
In her four years at SPRD, she has worked for four different executive directors and is really happy with how everything has turned out.
“I’m proud of the employees and the organization as a whole for rising above past difficulties and keeping everything going. It shows dedication and love for SPRD,” Gassen said. “We have a really good group,” she added referring to the staff.
Born and raised in Torrance, California, this woman of Irish heritage is the mother of two daughters, 24 and 26, who live in Portland. One of the girls works for Comcast and the other is studying to become a veterinary technician.
When her daughters were younger, they all moved to Vicksburg, Mississippi to enable Gassen to care for her parents, who were both experiencing health issues. While in Vicksburg, she earned two associates degrees in network security and computer networking at Hinds Community College and subsequently worked as an IT tech at the college. She was in charge of IT responsibilities at the Vicksburg campus along with help desk duties for four satellite campuses for five years while also caring for her parents and daughters. Gassen’s IT abilities are an asset for SPRD, as she is able to troubleshoot problems with their computer network, providing a cost savings to the organization.
While in Mississippi Gassen developed thyroid cancer, necessitating two surgeries. After 10 years in Vicksburg and the death of both her parents, she and her daughters returned to the Pacific Northwest. Gassen came to Madras to live with and care for her older sister, Ann, who was ill. Gassen feels very fortunate to have had both her mother and sister die in her arms.
Gassen and her three-year old golden retriever, Boomer, live on the property of John and Vickie Hornbeck of Sisters, who she says are like family to her. When they are out of town, Gassen takes care of their horses, dogs, and cats.
“I have a family life because of the Hornbecks. I celebrate holidays with them and several times a week we have dinner together,” said Gassen. “I really appreciate the Hornbecks for the opportunity they have given me.”
Gassen met Vickie when working in housekeeping at Metolius Lodges in Camp Sherman, a property owned by the Hornbecks. They developed a friendship leading to Gassen moving to their property in Sisters.
Living in Sisters agrees with Gassen, despite the fact her daughters are in Portland.
“I like the people and the fact it’s a small town. I seem to gravitate to small towns,” she explained.
When not working, Gassen enjoys walks with Boomer, although she admits to being tired after working all day. As of January 2020, SPRD terminated their contract with the crew who cleaned the Coffield Center as a cost savings, and now the daily cleaning is part of Gassen’s responsibilities.
Another area of interest for Gassen is researching her Irish roots and family genealogy. By having her DNA tested, she discovered a nephew, and her brother a son, that neither of them knew existed and they have established a nice relationship with him.
Gassen likes working at SPRD because, “I enjoy the other staff members and our clientele, especially the kids and seniors. I have made some friends here. What makes my day is the people.”
She also believes in SPRD’s mission and role in the community.
“SPRD is something we need in Sisters Country. We provide services from one end of the age spectrum to the other, and I’m glad to be here for them,” she said.