By Marg Jackson
He wasn’t born here, but Don Riise arrived in the Cowboy Capital as a youngster and never wanted to leave.
“I came here in first grade,” Riise said. “I have lived here all my life … this is the only place I know. I love it.”
Riise was honored with the Oakdale Chamber of Commerce Lifetime Achievement Award, presented with the 2017 honor at the recent awards night ceremony hosted by the local chamber.
He is a past president of the Oakdale Chamber and continues to serve as one of the organization’s ambassadors, as well as leading historical tours of Oakdale and Knights Ferry.
Born in Oakland, he moved to Oakdale with his parents in 1950 and got involved in his community almost immediately, joining up with the Cub Scouts in 1951. That led to membership in Boy Scout Troop 43 in 1953.
He graduated from Oakdale High School in 1960 and married his wife Judith in 1966 – the couple has been married for over 51 years.
He said the recent recognition caught him a little off guard.
“It was kind of unexpected,” Riise admitted of being chosen as the recipient of this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award. “Mary Guardiola (Chamber CEO) contacted me and told me about it.”
It wasn’t a competition, Riise said, but rather recognition of a lifetime of being involved.
His list of activities spans decades, including serving as President of the Oakdale Jaycees – which established the first “Christmas Shopping Tour” for underprivileged local children – as well as working on the chain crew at Oakdale High football games for 35 years. He worked for various insurance agencies in town and eventually became the sole owner of Riise Insurance Agency.
He was also instrumental in planning the Oakdale Centennial and served as chairman of the Oakdale Western Festival back in the mid-1970s. He also has served on the board of Oakdale Youth Soccer and was a soccer coach for all five of his children.
“We had five kids, from the oldest to the youngest there is 18 years between,” Riise said of he and his wife Judith having multiple children involved in local schools and sports throughout the years.
“This was just a comfortable place for my family,” he added.
Riise was also involved in developing and implementing the Friends of Oakdale Heritage history organization that operates the local Oakdale Museum and said he enjoys teaching others about the community and its deep Western roots.
Membership in Oakdale Rotary, serving as board president for the non-profit Oakdale Citizens Cemetery and being involved in the local St. Mary’s Church are among other activities. Over the years, Riise hasn’t had much idle time. He did enjoy spending a few hours with the crowd at the Chamber event, however, honored to accept the Lifetime Achievement recognition.
“I just really felt all along that I wanted to repay the community,” he said of being involved in so many activities and organizations. “I’m a champion for Oakdale and the Oakdale way of life.”