WINCHESTER BAY — Two decades ago, Salmon Harbor Marina hired a young harbormaster who had a strong passion, a commitment to success and a full head of hair.
Twenty-four years later, that same passion and commitment to success can be found in Jeff Vander Kley, who will be retiring in June. The Salmon Harbor Management Committee has set up a search team to recruit candidates to fill Vander Kley’s position. Donna Train, Jim Bruce and Jerry Noel are charged with selecting candidates to be interviewed, and said it will be a challenge to replace Vander Kley, who has been with the marina since 1988.
“Jeff’s legacy and the job he’s done here has been a bright spot in my 30 years of government,” Bruce said. “Jeff has been an outstanding employee and he’ll be very difficult to replace.”
Under Vander Kley’s leadership, Salmon Harbor has grown to what it is today. Train and Bruce said he was instrumental in securing the structure of the West Spit for building and for bringing back the fuel tanks. The creation of the RV resort began as one of Vander Kley’s visions as well.
“He was visionary. He dreamed of having the RV park part of the marina,” Train said. “He was very proactive for all the needs of Salmon Harbor becoming self sufficient.”
But getting there was a challenge.
Within the first five years of Vander Kley’s tenure, he was faced with devastating budget restraints and was told to find a way to make the marina self-sustaining.
“The toughest thing I faced, was when we were told we needed to be self-sufficient, that we weren’t going to be getting any tax support,” Vander Kley said. “We were able to get some revenue enhancement projects under our belt and that helped a lot but we needed to get strong support behind us.”
He made that happen.
“The city of Reedsport and the Chamber of Commerce came to help us,” Vander Kley said. “We got a grant for our infrastructure and for Coho Point and things began to turn around.”
The RV park was next, and the rest is history.
Vander Kley’s coworkers said one of the things they will miss most about him is his sense of humor.
Patti Dunlap has worked with Vander Kley from his start. She said he always was positive and was up for a joke.
“One afternoon Jeff noticed a customer out on the sidewalk who he wanted to talk to so he removed the safety pin from the top of the sliding glass door and walked out to talk to him,” Dunlap said. “I decided that he needed a little jolt of excitement so I crawled under his desk and waited. He sat down in his chair, slid his chair in and that is when I grabbed both of his ankles. He slid his chair back so fast against the wall, threw the safety pin that he still had in his hand against the other wall and just about passed out. Finally, he slid his chair back up to his desk; put his head in his hands, all the while mumbling things I’d rather not repeat.”
It may have been his fun-loving personality that made him and his wife, Pam, so many good friends in the area.
He said he will miss the community and those friends the most.
“I’ve been able to work with a lot of interesting people,” he said. “The people that come and go from our community, the different community groups that I’ve had the pleasure to work with. This community is really number one. It’s where I raised my family.”
When he retires, he plans to spend some quality time with his family, including his first grandson. He said he’ll take some time to fly fish the high lakes in the Cascades and Steens Mountains and improve his golf game.
“If that gets boring, I have a few hundred fence posts to replace and a lot of wood to chop,” he said.
Although the harbor is in good shape right now, Vander Kley said he expects some rough waters ahead.
“We are the only public marina on the Oregon Coast that does not receive tax support to help maintain facilities and construct new projects. Like any private business, we have to operate off revenues we generate,” he said. “Over the past 12 years, we’ve operated in a self-sustaining manner and reinvested over $4 million back to county assets without any support from its general fund. We are now experiencing compression in our budget as the result of reduced camping and moorage revenue and an increase in expenses.
“Although Salmon Harbor will always be here, largely because of the Winchester Bay RV Resort, as expenses increase and revenues stagnate I have concerns about future capital outlay projects and maintaining the current level of services,” he said. “Whoever takes over the helm will challenged by this.”
The search for a new harbormaster will begin this month, and Bruce said he expects the process to take several months.