Todd Kellstrom has lived in Klamath Falls his entire life — nearly seven decades — but he’ll soon be moving over 1,000 miles away, to somewhere new and warm. Kellstrom served as mayor of Klamath Falls for 24 years. He said he recognizes that a new generation is coming up in the city and bringing new ideas about how they want their community to look and function. “We need to give them support,” he said.
Kellstrom was elected mayor of Klamath Falls in 1992 when he was 39 years old. He’d been involved in the community for about 20 years by that time through coaching baseball, T-ball and little league and through being a member of the city’s Downtown Redevelopment Advisory Board. Kellstrom and his brother also owned a local paint store at the time, which they continued to operate until 2006.
In September of 1993, only nine months after Kellstrom first took office, the first of the 1993 earthquakes hit Klamath Falls. He looked back on the catastrophic event in 2013 for a Herald and News special edition, which states, “Kellstrom was leading a city council meeting at the time of the first quake … When the second shock hit later that night, the building was evacuated, but true to Robert’s Rules of Order, Kellstrom made sure the meeting was officially adjourned before leaving.”
Asked why he decided to run for public office in the first place, Kellstrom mentioned the lessons impressed upon him by his father, Lyle Kellstrom, who served on the Klamath Falls City Council in the 1960s.
“My father always instilled in me the importance of giving back to one’s community and the importance of hard work and fiscal responsibility.” He added that, as his grandfather also served as a Klamath Falls city councilman and his great grandfather was a town marshal, “I can’t help but think there’s some connection.”
Kellstrom compared some of the skills he employed as mayor to those he used as a coach. There is “a lot of coaching” that comes with occupying a public office, he described, whether getting people to work as a team or determining how best to utilize the talents of those around you.
Kellstrom looks back with pride on many of the changes that were made in Klamath Falls during his tenure, including the redevelopment of downtown which began with the 800 block of Main Street and expanded further thanks to positive reception and the support of business owners.
“I’m very proud of [the redevelopment] because property owners had to join and buy into the financing … Once we finished the 800 block, people saw how nice it was and said, ‘We want to join,’” he recalled.
Installation of new, antique-style streetlights was part of the transformation. “There were 700 streetlights in the whole town when I started as mayor. There’s well over 3,000 now,” Kellstrom noted. He doesn’t doubt that the major increase in lighting on the city’s streets has meant less crime over the years. “It’s a matter of community safety,” he said.
Over 300 trees were planted in his early years as mayor, too, which he feels were a major contribution to a more inviting, aesthetically pleasing downtown.
Kellstrom said when he first ran for the office of mayor, he told the community, “I’ll serve as long as you want me,” and he stayed true to that statement, serving six terms of four years each.
He admitted “it stung” when he was finally ousted by current Klamath Falls Mayor Carol Westfall in 2016, but added, “I can accept defeat. I’m an old sports guy.”
Kellstrom will be moving to southern Arizona with his wife within the month, a decision that he said was spurred by two things: the weather and a desire to downsize. The couple currently resides in Kellstrom’s childhood home, where he’s lived since the age of three.
“We enjoyed working together [on the house] and developed the landscape, to a detriment, actually,” he said, explaining that the house and landscaping have become too much to take care of. The new home they’ve found in Arizona is about half the size of their current residence, which Kellstrom said is “about right, because we don’t use about half of our current house.”
He is looking forward to Arizona’s warm weather, noting simply, “I’m tired of being cold.” And he is excited to visit the many sights his new state has to offer, like the Grand Canyon and a replica of the O.K. Corral in Tombstone.
Kellstrom plans to get back into golfing and swimming — two of his favorite recreational activities. “There’s a golf course right by our [new] house,” he mentioned with a smile.
“People say, ‘You’re the last person I ever thought would leave,’” he said of the reactions he’s received to the news of his move from Klamath Falls. Still, Kellstrom said he has gotten “all positive responses” about the big change. “I’m very grateful for that,” he expressed.
Looking out his picture window and watching the diverse populations of birds along the Link River is one of the things he’ll miss most about Klamath Falls, Kellstrom shared. “Wildlife has become instrumental in my outlook on life … how wonderful nature can be, with all that life around you,” he reflected. In his new desert home, he plans to “put up birdhouses and maybe make little homes for lizards.”
Though he’ll be living in an entirely new place for the first time ever, Kellstrom said he’s not nervous. “I’m a fairly gregarious person. My wife is too. There’s a recreation district … and I want to see about serving on some kind of community board. I feel I still have something to offer.”
While enjoying a hot jasmine tea at The Daily Bagel, Kellstrom looked out the windows and pointed to various buildings. “I remember when the Piggly Wiggly was there … My dad’s first office was up there … I went to eighth grade in that brown building up two blocks.”
He concludes, “I guess it’s not that I don’t care about ‘the good ol’ days,’ but I’ve loved every day here. And now I’ll find some new memories.”