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Carnation Fourth | Retired public worker Bob Gilbertson to lead grand parade

Retired Carnation city employee Bob Gilbertson keeps an eye on the community from his regular coffeeshop table. - Carol Ladwig/Staff Photo
Retired Carnation city employee Bob Gilbertson keeps an eye on the community from his regular coffeeshop table.
— image credit: Carol Ladwig/Staff Photo

When Bob Gilbertson started working for the city of Carnation 30 years ago, he says a car went down the main street, Tolt Avenue, every five minutes or so.

"Now, the cars don't stop," he said, watching the traffic from the deck of Sandy's Espresso.

He doesn't miss much from his perch. "There's the cop again, now he's going the other way," Gilbertson says, sipping his drink.

With his straight talk and his long history in the community, Gilbertson is the complete Carnation local, and a good choice to be the grand marshal of the Carnation 4th of July parade next week.

Gilbertson came to the city with his family in 1968, graduated from Tolt High School in 1970—"Yeah, I'm a Demon," he says—and found his way back to Carnation after a tour of duty in Germany and a few years working in Alaska and Oregon.

"There's nothing like home," he said, his explanation for how he came back to Carnation.

There, he raised two sons with his first wife, and after a stint as a riveter at Boeing, he joined the city of Carnation's Public Works Department.

"John Aronica was my old boss, and we worked together for 27 years," he said.

Gilbertson recalls that his work at Boeing was so interesting, he might have still been there if not for the cyclical rounds of layoffs and rehires. He is proud to have worked on various planes, mainly 727s, but also 707s, and AWACS planes, "just like I'm proud of my work at the city," he added. "I like the small town atmosphere, and the variety of jobs that you do."

Since starting with Carnation Public Works Oct. 6, 1980, Gilbertson has done pretty much everything there is to do in a two-man shop. "You name it, I've done it," he says. The city had its own garbage dump for a while, so he was a sanitation worker; it has its own water system, so he's maintained and mapped that; it added a wastewater treatment plant in 2008, so he's certified in running that plant, too. "I got all the bugs worked out of it, and then I retired," he jokes.  He's also been a drain installer, pipe-layer, tree-trimmer, park mower, curb painter, flower planter, and holiday light hanger.

Gilbertson was famous for his enthusiasm in decorating the city for the holidays. A city proclamation honoring him on his retirement last October made note of how "his annual arrangement of the holiday lights has added much festivity to the downtown area for the Christmas in Carnation celebrations," but he tries to downplay it.

"Oh, I always decorated the little park over there (by the city tree) and made it look nice," he said. "The rest of the crew was helping, but they seemed to spy me out," he added. Decorations took three or four days to finish, and they were different every year.

Last year was the first time in decades Gilbertson didn't decorate the park, and he admits that he misses that task, but he doesn't regret retiring.

"You work 30 years at one job, and it's time," he said. "I don't want to die working, I want to die retired."

Also, he's glad that his retirement gave another person, "The lady at the bank's son" a job.

So far, retirement has been pretty busy for Gilbertson and his wife, Ronnie, who retired a year earlier from the U.S. Postal Service. They've just returned from a road trip to visit family and friends, and hope to do a little  more travelling. Gilbertson also is an active volunteer at the Sno-Valley Senior Center, and continues to maintain the Tolt Cemetery, also as a volunteer.

"Both my parents are buried there, so you know, I try to at least make it look halfway decent. I've got a lot of friends in there, and it's something to do, since I've got spare time, now."

Over his years on the job, he's seen his small town do a lot of growing, and he doesn't begrudge the newcomers the "spot of land" he thinks everyone wants, but he is concerned about the costs of growth. New buildings, high sewer costs and the city's ongoing maintenance of its old landfill are part of his worries. He has strong opinions about the way things out to be -- "What's important is right's right, and wrong's wrong. And giving someone a helping hand is always nice," he says, but he's not interested in taking a leadership role to help build that world.

Asked if he'd consider running for office, he says no. Not even if he gets to be in the 4th of July parade every year?

"I am going to be in the parade this year, I believe," he grins.

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