By Andy Rathbun Herald Writer
MONROE — As far as she knew, Donnetta Walser was headed to a Christmas ornament exchange.
Instead, city staff surprised her with a retirement party in mid- December. They gave her farewell gifts: a hand-blown vase, a little trophy, some cash.
The money got to her. As mayor, she presided over some rough budgets. Last year, staff took furlough days. This year, the city budget only has room for barely noticed raises.
Yet they passed the hat around for her.
“That almost brought tears to my eyes, because I knew this was all donated by staff, and just before Christmas,” she said. “It really meant a lot.”
Walser left elected office Thursday. Some locals might feel the day marks the end of an era. She and her husband, Fred Walser, have been active players in Monroe for decades.
Those who know the Walsers, however, said the couple won’t sing their swan song yet.
“People who care and love their city — they’re always there,” state Rep. Kirk Pearson, R-Monroe, said. “They’ll always be there, helping others.”
Donnetta Walser lost her bid for a third term in November. Mayor-elect Robert Zimmerman took 60 percent of the vote. He’s scheduled to be sworn into office at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.
The loss was a blow to Walser, but it also was an opportunity.
“It told me it was time to move on, and I think like I said, I deserve to do something I want to do,” she said. “I’m just trying to find that niche.”
During her eight years as mayor, Walser treated the part-time position as a full-time job. She often worked 50-hour weeks, she said.
She traveled to Olympia and Washington, D.C., with her husband.
The couple said they spent their own money on the trips, campaigning for a variety of local causes: funding for safety improvements on U.S. 2, adjusting water rates at the Monroe Correctional Complex, building the Monroe Miracle League Field.
Walser counts those three issues among her chief accomplishments as mayor.
She said she still is choosing a direction now that she has left office.
“I look at it as a new adventure,” she said.
She may work with children. She has experience with that. Along with raising her two boys, she taught in the Monroe School District for 27 years.
Then again, she may join a nonprofit board. She avoided sitting on those during her time in office because of conflicts of interest.
Neil Watkins, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce and a member of several other boards, said Walser supported the nonprofit community during her time in office. He expects her to remain active.
“One door closes and another one opens, and I hope a great one opens for her,” he said.
Her husband, meanwhile, has found his groove since retiring two years ago.
He spent 28 years with the Washington State Patrol and 11 more as Sultan police chief, a position he left amid a scandal relating to mishandling of public records.
Looking ahead, Fred Walser plans to continue volunteering four days a week at the Sky Valley Food Bank.
However, his chief love remains public safety.
He serves as the chairman of the U.S. 2 Safety Coalition. His wife also is a member.
“We worked really well — and still do — as a team,” he said. “I have no intention of stopping.”
Neither does Donnetta Walser, now free of political concerns.
“My big problem is I have a lot of interests,” she said.
Andy Rathbun: 425-339-3455, email@example.com.