Thurston County Connection Newsletter
Thurston County Connection
Thurston County Connection
March, 2017
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Family Roots and a Passion for Public Service

It’s all about the people!

Sheriff Holds Recognition Ceremonies

Congratulations for Two Longtime Judges

County Permit Assistant Center Expands Hours

Mark Twain at Lighthouse Hall in New Whatcom

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 Family Roots and a Passion for Public Service

Getting to know new Commissioner Gary Edwards

Deep Roots in Thurston County

Gary Edwards is just settling in to his new position as Thurston County Commissioner. To understand Gary a little better, we might start with his family background. “My family came here in the 1800s. On my grandmother’s side the family came out with the James Longmire wagon train. They came west from Iowa on the Oregon Trail and ended up in what is now the Yelm Prairie area. Another related pioneer family is the Conines who had also come west about the same time. Eventually Jenny Conine married Frank Edwards, a latecomer to this area. They homesteaded in Palm Springs, California but apparently they had property here as well and they came up here around 1910. It took them 90 days to come up from Los Angeles by wagon trail.

Somewhere we have a picture of them from this period, and it might be the first selfie. You can see the cord from his hand running out of view but apparently hooked to some sort of box camera.”

Public Service

Service to the community runs deep in both the Conine and Edwards families. “J. C. Conine was one of first teachers in the Yelm prairie area. He was also a state representative. Joseph ran for county sheriff as a Populist in 1894 and lost. In 1896 he won the Populist Party’s nomination to represent the 27th legislative district in Olympia.”

“We also have his Civil War records. He always said he was where the bullets were the thickest at the Battle of Bull Run, because he was hiding under the ammunition wagon. He was discharged twice, once from being shot and once from illness. He was also captured but did not suffer too greatly as so many did.

Gary’s Family

Gary Lives in the Lawrence Lake area with his wife Debbie. “We’ve got three kids and nine grandkids. Two of the families live here and one is in Cody, Wyoming. My wife Debbie has served more than 30 years on the Yelm school board. Seems like we have always had a family member on the school board.”

Law Enforcement

Gary has worked for several law enforcement agencies over the years. “I worked as a police officer in Rock County, Wisconsin for 7 years. Then I served in the Douglas County, Oregon Sheriff’s Office for about two years. I then got out of law enforcement and came to Thurston County to work for my dad in some real estate and water company endeavors.

I was then recruited by Thurston County Sheriff Dan Montgomery for the Sheriff’s Office here in about 1978. I ran for Sheriff in 1986 and ran successfully for five terms altogether. One of the things that I am proud of, during my tenure with the office, was successful study and graduation from the 153rd session of the FBI Academy.”

After Retirement

After deciding not to run for reelection in 2006, Gary spent some extra time with his grandkids, going to school plays and basketball games and other school activities. “I dabbled in real estate some. One of the big activities during the 10 years was taking care of the original family home which is 120 years old. There’s always something to do around the house.”

Decision to run for Board of County Commissioners

Gary says he did not take the decision to run for the Board lightly. “Well, I think I have a broad understanding of what the county is all about and that there was a real need to change direction. I thought I could run for office and maybe see if I couldn’t contribute to the solution. I’ve been drafted twice; once by the Army in 1965 and then by members of the community who urged me to run for the commission. A lot of people were concerned and suggested that I run.

Getting into the job

The first months on the job have been eye opening. “I have lots of experience with county government, but work on the Board of County Commissioners is very different. I knew about county issues in general because of 30 years with the county- 20 years as the Sheriff and the top administrator of the office. In this new position I have more respect for past commissioners for what they dealt with. It’s quite overwhelming to try to get the grasp on as many issues as you can in the shortest period of time as you can manage. There is just the magnitude of the activities and all of the complex moving parts and how they all fit together. Also, you have to be careful in dealing with the public to ensure that everyone’s rights are valued and protected and that you remain impartial, because the issue might come back to the commission in the board’s role as a quasi-judicial body.”

Goals for 2017

Gary says his number one goal is to invigorate the economy in Thurston County. “We can’t protect the environment, we can’t provide much needed services, and we can’t meet the needs of the community adequately if we don’t have the proper resources to do it. The way I look at county government is as a team. We all work together to provide programs and services needed by the folks who live here. It all comes back to having the resources to be able to do all that needs to be done.”

What’s Important to know about Gary Edwards?

“I would like county residents and county employees to know that I’m in this game with them and I’m very interested in their input as to how we proceed. Now that I’m in the position and not just on the campaign trail, I want to continue to hear from others who have a variety of points of view; I’m always interested in what folks have to say.”

Welcome new Thurston County Commissioner Gary Edwards.

By John Tennis

Gary in his new office at the county courthouse. Gary in his new office at the county courthouse.

Gary as Sheriff at a county employee event. Gary as Sheriff at a county employee event.