SEASIDE — It was a night of celebration, laughter and, at times, serious moments during the “All About Mary” roast Sunday.

Dressed in a one-piece body suit decorated with the planets of the universe and wearing a skull cap with plastic yellow and blue tubes emerging from it, Mary Blake celebrated the occasion held in her honor in her “Diva” costume.

“Diva,” her more flamboyant alter ego, was attending the party, Blake said, while the “real” Mary Blake was swimming at the Sunset Empire Park and Recreation District pool, where she has been general manager for 28 years.

Blake is retiring from the district in June.

The dinner and roast capped a day of well wishes from district patrons and friends of Blake who stopped by the Seaside Civic and Convention in the afternoon to say good-bye.

City Councilor Jay Barber, who emceed the program, noted that the roast was well-timed to coincide with “International Laughter Day.”

“Mary has not retired on the job,” Barber said. “She doesn’t know the meaning of ‘lunch time,’ ‘quitting’ or ‘no.’ We bought her a dictionary so she knows the meanings of those words.”

Blake, who worked as the aquatics director in Portland, moved to Seaside in 1984 for what she described then as the “unbelievable opportunity to build a community around a pool.”

But times were difficult in Seaside then, Barber said. The aquatics center had a limited budget, a facility needing repairs and a community in conflict. But Blake, who was the first woman in Oregon to serve as the top administrator of a special park and recreation district, turned the district around, he said.

In her 28 years, Blake has:

• Grown the district budget from $100,000 to over $2 million

• Established the Bob Chisholm Senior and Community Center and the youth center

• Led a $1 million aquatics center expansion and improvement project

• Organized public programs, including “Where The Stars Play” and two community gardens

• Assisted in acquiring a Youth Legacy Grant for Broadway Park improvements

• Arranged for renovation of the Boy Scout Hut

• Worked with the city of Seaside to make a site available for a new library

• Helped to finance improvements for Broadway Park fields

• Assisted in acquiring playground equipment for Goodman Park

Speakers included Seaside Mayor Don Larson, who read a proclamation declaring “Mary Blake Day” and listing her job requirements.

“She is supposed to establish and maintain cooperative planning and work relationships with other agencies,” Larson said. “And what has she done? She’s asked for money.”

While noting that Blake was among the first women to join the Seaside Rotary in 1986, the audience heard the accidental breaking of glass at the no-host bar.

“Mary, that was the president of the Rotary,” Larson said. “What did you do to him?”

Larson focused on Blake’s willingness to sell to the city the Abel House, which was bequeathed to the park district and later became the site of the new library. He also described her involvement in developing the city’s skate park.

Other speakers talked about the personal interest she took in their lives and goals and how she had helped them to grow.

“There were a lot of tears and lots of laughter, and I will treasure every single moment,” said Dana Phillips, a former district board member and current city councilor.

Former City Manager Larry Lehman mentioned Blake’s persuasiveness when he said, “We ended up doing it her way, and her way ended up being the great way.”

Kelly Punteney, who worked in the Vancouver, Wash., park district when Blake worked in Portland, said Blake was quite different then.

“She knew how to party then,” he said, to a round of laughter from an audience that knew all too well that “play” is Blake’s middle name.

But the laughter turned somewhat solemn for a moment when local radio personality John Chapman said that when he thought about Blake, he thought of three words: “heart,” “body” and “soul.”

“Mary has not always been about play,” Chapman said. “We have lost personal friends and family members, and we have shared our losses with each other. We have gone five minutes, sitting on a bench together, saying nothing.”

Chapman also recalled how Blake encouraged him to mentor a young man who was rapidly heading into trouble. Years later, Chapman ran into the man, now grown and a mountain skier and instructor.

He said he was gratified when the young man introduced Chapman to his friends and they said they had heard all about him. They told him, “You have got to be an amazing guy.”

Chapman turned to the audience. “That’s the work that Mary has created,” he said.

Local activist Angela Fairless echoed Chapman’s comments when she told how she and Blake worked together on the skate park and Blake became an example for her to follow in life.

“She is a mother to far more people than she knows about. She is an amazing role model,” Fairless said, turning to Blake. “You are the best role model I’ve ever had.”

        

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