The Variety of Life
From welding to government affairs, PUD director has taken a diverse path to public power
By Roger Nichols
“You never know where your next decision will take you,” says Cyndi Gentry, corporate services director at Northern Wasco PUD. “I left retail work to become a welder at age 25 because my dad and brother were welders, and ended up in human resources.”
Cyndi’s decisions have taken her many places since her childhood in Lebanon, Oregon.
“By the time I was 12, I learned how to install insulation and hang sheetrock,” she says. “My dad wanted to make sure I had a practical education.”
When she was in her 30s and the mother of two, Cyndi graduated from Linfield College with a degree in social and behavioral science with a business focus.
Prior to that, she worked for the Foot Locker chain. She worked her way up to manager and opened a new store for the company, a job she describes as “an immense amount of work.”
Then came the desire to learn how to weld, which took her in 1995 to Gunderson’s LLC—a railcar builder in Portland—where she worked as a production welder.
“One day, I got called to the HR office,” she says. “That’s always a scary thing when you don’t know what it’s about. But they told me their recruiter was leaving to take a job elsewhere. Because of my retail experience and good work habits, they asked me if I’d like the job. That’s how I ended up in human resources.”
It turned out to be a good fit for Cyndi. She served as human resources director for several organizations in the following years, including Children’s Farm Home, Oberto Brands and SAIF Corp. While at SAIF, she held 6 different positions and managed a $13 million human resources budget.
She was consulting for HR Answers Inc., when she heard about an interesting opportunity at Northern Wasco County PUD.
“They wanted someone to come in and audit the whole HR program,” Cyndi says. “This was shortly after Roger Kline became the CEO.”
She came to the PUD in 2016 to do the audit but ended up taking a full-time job.
“Roger and I seemed to click,” Cyndi says. “We had the same business values and philosophies.”
At the time, her home was still in Lebanon. Her son was a junior in high school and her daughter a freshman. The family didn’t want to move to The Dalles, so Cyndi got an apartment in The Dalles and commuted.
She worked 3 to 4 days a week in The Dalles and the rest from Lebanon. She was home for long weekends and could attend her children’s sports games and other events.
When her daughter finished her junior year, she decided she wanted to attend high school in The Dalles.
“She loved it here,” Cyndi says. “She graduated with honors.”
Cyndi maintained both locations until the middle of 2021, when the PUD expanded the number of employees and ran out of office space. By then, Cyndi had shifted to head up government relations for the utility, and was spending much of her time on the road in Salem or Washington, D.C.
Cyndi now operates out of her home in Lebanon and drives to The Dalles a few days a month.
She says she loves her job, and having a foot in Lebanon and The Dalles gives her an advantage in Salem. For some issues, she has two sets of legislators she can call on, from personal and professional perspectives.
Cyndi says she was initially apprehensive about calling on national legislators in Washington, D.C.
“But I discovered that they are just people, too,” she says.
When Roger offered Cyndi the job, she told him she would stay until she was no longer needed or when the job was no longer fun.
“With so much happening in the energy sector, I don’t think public power will ever be boring,” she says.
Since joining the PUD, Cyndi has worked in human resources, customer service, energy management, public relations, IT and now government affairs.
She says the people at the PUD have been good to work with.
“This comes from the top down,” Cyndi says. “When Roger says it’s family first, he means it. Some people working here have had tragic things happen to them or their families. The rule is to take care of the people and sort the work out later.” In her position, Cyndi sometimes needs to coordinate with other public power utilities.
“They are people who share the same goals but may have different suggestions for how to go about it,” she says. “It’s very pleasant to work with them.”
When not driving down the road to Salem or flying to D.C., Cyndi has spent time as an American Youth Soccer Organization referee. Her son taught her to play paintball.
“A couple of my aunts found out, and now we have family paintball events when we have reunions,” she says.