City leaders remember councilman of ‘rare soul’

Roger Thordarson. COURTESY PHOTO

Nancy Backus will remember his impish grin, miss it perhaps most of all.

When it was on his face, no doubt about it, something was up.

“You knew there was something a brewing,” Auburn’s mayor recalled fondly of her friend, Roger Thordarson, at Monday’s City Council meeting at City Hall before an audience filled with friends and coworkers. “You wanted to be around to watch whatever was going on, but you didn’t want to be on the receiving end of it.”

Thordarson, who served on numerous local and regional boards and commissions over his long life, most related to transportation, and with Backus on the City Council from January 2004 through Dec. 31, 2007, died on May 27 at 84.

“The world got a little less bright with Roger’s passing, because he was one of those rare souls who you always knew where you stood with him. There was never a question of that,” Backus said.

“He had the greatest sense of humor … and if something really struck him as funny, he had the greatest laugh, something that was so infectious,” Backus said. “And you wanted to be involved in whatever it was he was laughing at and enjoying so much.”

Although Thordarson was born in Centralia, when he came to Auburn he was for his adopted city all the way.

For many years, Thordarson was in charge of the Auburn School District’s bus system.

In keeping his eye on King County Metro, Backus said, Thordarson brought additional bus stops to the 180 line and services to residents of Lakeland Hills. Backus described the pride Thordarson took in riding the bus to King County Metro board meetings, where he’d ask of every member: “How’d you get here? I took the bus.’ ”

In 2004 Thordarson received a Hometown Hero award for his work with the Auburn Optimists Club, for his many years as a member of the board of the Auburn Good Ol’ Days Committee and his work with the school district.

“First time I met him was 40 years ago when he was running the parade for Auburn Days … and I showed up late, but he managed to find a place for me in the parade,” Councilman Rich Wagner said in a video. “That was typical of how he could just get the job done, and when he joined the council he was that way, too. From his long experience running the school district bus system, he knew every corner of the city, and much around the city because the school district’s bigger. I will miss Roger, mostly for his ability to get the job done.”

Connie Henke became fast friends with Thordarson from the day he first sat on the committee for the Good Ol’ Days festival and said he would chair the parade.

“His report was always … ‘There will be a parade,’ ” Henke said of the man who called her Sparkplug. “I’m not even sure why he came to the meetings, other than to see what was going on.”

Thordarson and his late wife, Margaret, had three daughters, Henke said. Years after Margaret died, he married Marcia.

“I loved the guy. He was a brat, but I loved him,” Henke said of the man she called ‘Roger Stop It,’ because he was always finding ways to get her in trouble.

“He was a great guy, and he had that schmoopy grin. And he always hung up on you, he never finished saying goodbye. He always had my back, and he would be my champion if I needed it. That’s who he was – if it was right, he was in it,” Henke said.