Meet Your PUD Board
Howard Gonser and Wayne Jacobson are two of Northern Wasco County PUD’s five directors
By Rodger Nichols
Howard Gonser has been on the Northern Wasco County PUD board for 35 years. That’s more than a third of the PUD’s 82-year history.
Howard is from Longview, Washington. He was a member of Mark Morris High School’s third graduating class.
“It was built for 1,500 to 1,800 kids, and we had 400 kids rolling around there,” he says. “It had an Olympic-style swimming pool and one of the biggest gyms in the Northwest.”
Howard got involved in wrestling, and that continued in college. After graduation, his college wrestling coach recommended The Dalles as a good location for Howard to teach and coach wrestling.
Howard spent three years teaching biology and coaching wrestling and football at The Dalles High School. One day, an Oregon State University student came to observe him as a teacher. Her name was Kathy. They have been married for more than 52 years.
Following his stint in The Dalles, where Howard worked under head coach Dennis Radford, he moved to the former Wahtonka High School to take over its wrestling program. He also coached football and did drug and alcohol counseling, establishing support groups with parental permission.
His interest in counseling led him to a master’s degree in health education and drug and alcohol counseling.
Longtime The Dalles High School baseball coach and umpire Ron Sutherland was asked to work with a national alcohol and drug prevention program. He asked Howard to join him.
“It was one of the top three programs in the United States,” Howard says.
The program emphasized communication skills to avoid peer pressure. Program leaders visited smaller districts in Eastern Oregon that could not afford to provide such programs on their own.
Howard’s tenure at the PUD can be traced to a racquetball court. One of his racquetball partners prodded him until he agreed to run for the board. Howard defeated an incumbent and has been reelected eight times.
“I’m pretty proud of that and the things that have happened while I’ve been on the board,” Howard says. “That doesn’t mean I was instrumental, but I was in there and was a part of it.”
In his time on the board, the PUD has had three general managers: Harold Haake, Dwight Langer, and Roger Kline, each of whom Howard says played a key part in the development of the utility.
“Every manager has added a new dimension, and our staffs improved all the time,” he says. “I’ve had several of the staff members in school, so I know them personally. It’s just a real positive thing. In some of the hires that we’ve had, I’m thinking, ‘Wow, this is pretty impressive that in The Dalles, Oregon, we’ve got this quality of person or people doing these things.’”
Howard has a bright outlook for the PUD’s future.
“An outstanding staff has been a big part of the success of this organization,” he says. “I think the utility is just going to get bigger and better.”
Northern Wasco County PUD board member Wayne Jacobson is a good listener. That’s a natural inclination, enhanced by 22 years of operating Hear’s the Answer hearing center in The Dalles and consulting for similar businesses.
Wayne grew up in Wisconsin. His first job after college was in the portrait business. It put him on the road 50 weeks out of the year, but he also met his future wife, Gayle, on one of those trips.
Wayne was eventually promoted to the company’s home office in St. Louis, but the couple decided after a year that they would rather live somewhere else. That turned out to be in Portland, where Wayne got into the hearing business. They stayed six and a half years before leaving the city.
The couple narrowed their choices for a new home to the Oregon Coast or The Dalles. Wayne had a once-a-month service center in The Dalles, so he already knew some people.
“We chose the sun over the clouds and rain,” he says.
Wayne opened Hear’s the Answer in February 1983 and sold the practice to Keith Howe in March 2005. He stayed active in the business for three years to ensure a smooth transition, and somehow just couldn’t retire.
“I started consulting with the largest hearing aid manufacturer in the world,” Wayne says. “I got to travel around the country and work in different practices and see how they did things. I always say that I saw the good, the bad, and the ugly of people in the hearing business. I did that for eight years.”
He says most people don’t know about his past swimming success.
“When I was a sophomore in college, I was the fourth-fastest man in the butterfly and the backstroke in our college conference,” he says. “I enjoyed swimming a lot and had a modicum of success at it.”
Wayne’s interest in the PUD began when he bought 16 acres in Rowena and built a house. He and Gayle did most of the work.
“It was the first house to be built under the new Super Good Cents program for the PUD,” Wayne says. “I got to go to the contractor meetings and see what all the contractors were learning.”
Former board member Milt Skov tried to get Wayne to run for the PUD board at the time, but he was busy building the business and his house.
“But that kind of stuck with me,” Wayne says. “And now I’ve got the time.”
Wayne joined the board in 2020. He says he has enjoyed his time, although there is a steep learning curve.
“If you ever wanted to see a list of acronyms, we’ve got a book that’s about 3/8 of an inch thick,” he says. “But it’s fascinating stuff.”
When not attending meetings or working his way through his acronym book, Wayne enjoys woodworking and metalworking.