By Babs Suhr
My birthday is August 30. I suspect Sid Lasswell knew this because he regularly sweet-talked Gene into moving at the time of my birthday. Our first major move was to Seattle for a river basin study for Metro. At this time in the early ’70s the firm didn’t have a standard policy for movees, so the firm agreed to increase Gene’s salary by the amount of our Seattle rent costs, but required that we lease our Corvallis home to an employee selected by the firm with the lease proceeds going to the firm. The only problem with this was the extra federal income tax on the amount of the Seattle rent. Still, we quickly acclimated to the Seattle area and found good schools for our two boys. For the first month or so, Gene was home at a reasonable hour; then the firm heard of an exciting project on the East Coast. This developed into the Occoquan Project, and for the next 11 months Gene spent most of his time in Reston, Virginia. After this, we moved back to Corvallis, again in August so as to foil any birthday festivities.
A bit later, the East Coast again beckoned (naturally on my birthday) with a major AWT project for Montgomery County. This was supposed to be a short 4- or 5-month stint in Reston that would not require a move, so we packed up the kids and ensconced ourselves in a company-owned apartment. While we were hosting a Saturday evening dinner party for the Reston Regional Manager, Gordon Culp, he mentioned that he had just resigned and that Jim Howland wanted Gene to call him ASAP. To make a long story short, Gene was appointed Regional Manager, which required another cross country move. We rented a colonial home in Reston and bought inexpensive furniture and carpets as this was more economical than moving our household goods from Corvallis. This time we were fortunate to have Mike Fisher, a long time CH2M executive, to “house sit” our Corvallis home.
The Montgomery County Project was the largest single project the firm had ever undertaken and had a penalty clause if plans were not completed on time. It was a complex advanced waste treatment plant incorporating processes never before used in a wastewater plant. Design was being done in Seattle, Reston and Corvallis. Again, the birthday curse struck! Corvallis was running well behind schedule and Gene was needed there. This time the cross-country move wasn’t too difficult, because most of the furniture wasn’t involved. However, Gene had bought a sailboat at the Annapolis boat show and it needed to get to Corvallis with us. Our solution was to hire Jim Howland’s son to come to Reston and drive our car with boat trailer attached to Corvallis.
Another August rolled around and guess what? An opportunity appeared in Los Angeles! The Los Angeles-Orange County Metro area was running out of places to put their not inconsiderable daily volume of sewage sludge and wanted Gene to help figure out where to put it. For this birthday move, we took our beds, TV, stereo and washer-dryer and my Pinto automobile with us. All was fitted into a rented U-Haul truck and driven to Newport Beach, California by Vince, the Corvallis fleet car manager. We drove down in Gene’s company car. The rest of needed furniture we leased from Levitz. Our rented home in Newport Beach was located in an upscale neighborhood and I must confess that most of our neighbors were a bit non-plussed to see the Levitz truck delivering furniture. The neighbors’ driveways all sported Lincoln, Cadillac or Mercedes Benz autos so our Ford Pinto was conspicuous.
After a year, we returned to Corvallis where we stayed until it was time for Gene to move to Egypt to work on the Alexandria project. This time our eldest was in college at Gonzaga University so we only took Chris, our youngest with us. This trip was yet another birthday interrupter but we made up for it by celebrating in Alexandria.
We returned to Corvallis after Egypt and stayed until a crisis loomed with a major combined sewer overflow project in Boston for the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority. Harlan Moyer asked Gene to move to Boston and try to fix the problems. By this time, our youngest was in college, so we once again closed up the Corvallis homestead and moved into rented digs in Boston. Our first apartment was near the Christian Science Mother Church and was called The Greenhouse. At that time, rents in Boston were sky-high. We had two small bedrooms, a combination living-dining room, a tiny kitchen and a bath. Everything in the apartment was rented except for a TV and a boom box that we purchased. The apartment was close to several colleges and little did we know that most of its tenants were college students who would cram at least ten students in a unit similar to ours. After about a year and a half in the Greenhouse, we found a lovely condo for lease near the foot of the Harvard Bridge over the Charles River. This condo was part of a reconstruction of a famous church that had burned. The structure retained the church’s bell-tower and much of the outer brick walls. By then rents had fallen and this place was more economical. It really was a great place with large kitchen, twin bedrooms, two baths and a laundry. It was called Church Court and was featured as prize-winning architecture on a segment of “This Old House.” We found a little town west of Boston that had stores specializing in “seconds” furniture and were able to furnish the condo quite reasonably. We really enjoyed our year plus in Church Court but when the project finished, we moved back to Corvallis. Moving back was easy since we really only had a few things. These we combined by Les Wierson’s household goods as he was moving back to Portland from Boston at the same time. I think that this was only the second move that didn’t occur during my birthday.
We stayed in Corvallis until 1994 when the firm’s Occoquan client, Millard Robbins, requested that Gene come back to Virginia and be manager of their newest project, a $150-million expansion of their treatment plant. This time we sold our Corvallis home (during its lifespan, others occupied longer than we did) and made another birthday move to Virginia. This time we moved into a three-story townhouse in Fairfax County. There we stayed until the Occoquan design was finished and made one final cross-country move (this time in November) to a new home in Vancouver that we had built during our stay in Virginia.
Our career with CH2M took us all over the US and a few foreign countries as well. We treasure the memories and the friendship of the many, many neighbors we came to know as a result of our many moves. Many of our moves we videotaped and Gene and our boys as well as I enjoy reminiscing while watching “Suhrs on the Move.”