Ben Boswell's family - both sides of it - has been in Wallowa County for generations.
In fact his great-grandfather and namesake, Ben Boswell, started setting down family roots here in 1872, the year the first white settlers moved in.
Boswell, 61, points to his name, B. Boswell, under the year 1876 on the Pioneer Arch in front of the Wallowa County Courthouse. "I'm not sure why they didn't have him listed in 1872," he said.
The historic courthouse has been Boswell's workplace for the past 16 years during his four-term tenure on the Wallowa County Board of Commissioners, which was still called the Wallowa County Court when he was first elected into office. He has served as a commissioner as long or longer than anyone in the county's history. Boswell is retiring when his term ends this year. He lost a primary election race this spring.
While the first Ben wasn't a county official - he ran a livery stable - Boswell's maternal grandfather George Dawson was a commissioner in the 1950s, and his grandfather Charlie Boswell was a deputy sheriff and "dog master."
"One of my big regrets is that I wasn't able to get a county animal control program going," Boswell said, no doubt thinking of his dog catcher ancestor.
The change of name of the county's governing body to reflect the modern era (it used to act as the juvenile court) is only one of many ways Boswell has put his mark on the county he loves.
For example, he is proud of his user-friendly county budget - complete with such amenities as color pie charts, a landfill coupon and county department information - which is now annually printed in tabloid format in the Chieftain to replace the hard-to-decipher budget summary still used by everyone else.
Boswell learned early on that the decisions that affected Wallowa County most weren't made in the county, but at the state and federal levels, so he found himself traveling more often than he'd like to Salem or Washington, D.C., making sure Wallowa County's voice was heard, loud and clear. Then he'd return home and work just as hard on his home turf.
"One of my main accomplishments, and it's not mine alone, is that the county will be participating in writing the new national forest plan. It took 16 years to get the Forest Service to do that," he said.
He's also happy with a change of emphasis with the state of Oregon's relationship with its counties, pointing to the current state budget's reference to "shared services" rather than "aid to counties."
"Before it sounded like we were Third World countries, when, in fact, we contribute a great deal," he said
Former president of the Oregon Association of Counties (OAC), Boswell recently had a chance to say farewell to his many friends in the organization at its annual meeting. The high esteem in which Boswell is held was evidenced by the amount one of "The Little Book of Benisms," published in 2006 to benefit Parkinson's Resources of Oregon, brought at auction at the event - $1,000.
Boswell admitted that it was hard to say farewell to his OAC colleges, and it will no doubt be even harder to say farewell to his little cubicle in the courthouse.
He will be the guest of honor at a retirement party Thursday, Dec. 18, from 3 to 5 p.m., at the Community Connection center in Enterprise, when he'll have a chance to formally good-bye as commissioner to Wallowa County. However, while he's not exactly sure what his future will bring - except for writing another, longer book - he is ready to start the next chapter of an already-eventful life.
A graduate of Joseph High School and University of Oregon, before becoming a commissioner, Boswell was the science teacher at Joseph High School for 12 years and had served on the county planning commission for eight years.
When he leaves office, Boswell will leave most of his many other leadership positions. They include serving on the board of directors of the Western Interstate Region of National Association of Counties Organization, for which he recently re-wrote a public lands policy; the governor's advisory council for Department of Human Services; and the state as well as the Land Conservation Development Commission advisory committee. Locally, he serves on the Wallowa County Commission of Children and Families and the TEC (Training and Employment Consortium) board.
He is also legislative director of Oregon State Grange, state chaplain of the Masons, chairman of the administrative council of the United Methodist Church in Joseph, activities he plans to continue
This month Boswell has been cleaning out his desk this month for his successor, Susan Roberts, former mayor of Enterprise. Boswell voluntarily left his current position to run for the chairman post in the primary, and came out second to his longtime working partner on the board, incumbent Mike Hayward. Four years ago both Hayward and Boswell were reelected in a landslide.
Ironically, Boswell had voluntarily given up the top seat to Hayward (they switched positions they ran for) eight years ago in order to free up some time to work part-time for Eastern Oregon University.
"There are no regrets. It was a poorly calculated move," he said about the election. "It's bittersweet. On the one hand it's hard to give up, and on the other hand it's time to move on."
His fellow commissioners, Hayward and Dan DeBoie, both praise Boswell's long service to the county. "I think he's served longer than any other commissioner, and no one has been more dedicated to the people of Wallowa County," Hayward said. He said that Boswell's expertise in the area of human services will especially be missed, and his responsibilities will be divided among all three new commissioners next year.
"We'll miss his institutional memory," DeBoie said. "A lot of times we know where we're at on an issue, but only Ben knows how we got there."
"Ben has very big footsteps to fill," said Roberts. "It will take years, but I'll do my best."
When asked what gave him the most satisfaction in his years as a public official, Boswell thought a moment and said, "When someone asks me where I'm from, and I can say, 'I'm proud to be from Wallowa County.'"