Lon Imel, a retired executive secretary treasurer of the Northwest Oregon Labor Council and former congressional labor liaison, died Feb. 13 after collapsing in his home in Wilsonville, Oregon. He was 87.
Imel was a longtime member of what is now the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Union. He joined Food and Drug Clerks Local 1092 in 1951 while employed as a supermarket clerk.
The local hired him as a business agent in 1965.
Local 1092 merged with the Meat Cutters and other unions in to form UFCW in 1979. [In 1985, the UFCW locals in Oregon and Southwest Washington consolidated to form UFCW Local 555.]
Imel served as president of the then-Multnomah County Labor Council from 1978 to 1980, when he was elected to the full time post of executive secretary-treasurer. Under his leadership the council merged with labor councils in Washington, Clackamas and Columbia counties to create the Northwest Oregon Labor Council (NOLC), making it a political and community powerhouse.
Imel hired Judy O’Connor as his office secretary at the labor council in 1982. O’Connor later served four terms as executive secretary-treasurer of NOLC — the first woman to hold the post.
Imel stepped down in 1985 to take care of his wife, Diane, who had muscular dystrophy. Diane’s doctor recommended they relocate to Hawaii, where the climate might be beneficial.
They returned to Portland several years later, which is when Imel began working as a labor liaison. He worked for U.S. Rep. Les AuCoin from 1988 to 1992, and for U.S. Rep Elizabeth Furse throughout her three-term career from 1993 to 1998.
In his years as a congressional labor, liaison Imel from time to time took leaves of absence to assist in political campaigns, including Bill Clinton’s 1992 and ’96 successful runs for president.
Lon Imel graduated from Portland’s Roosevelt High School and served in the U.S. Coast Guard. He attended the University of Portland and Portland State University.
During his union career he served on many labor, civic and government boards and commissions. He served 10 years on the Oregon AFL-CIO Executive Board and chaired its Finance Review Committee. Gov. Vic Atiyeh appointed him to the Oregon Economic Development Commission and to the Governor’s Labor Advisory Committee. He spent six years on the United Way of the Columbia-Willamette board of directors, and on its executive committee. And he also was president of Labor’s Community Service Agency while head of NOLC.
On the J P Finley & Son Funeral Home web page ‘guest book,’ former Oregon governor Neil Goldschmidt posted: “Everything that Lon touched got a little better. He fought for the needs of Oregon’s working citizens and likely never got the credit he deserved for helping engineer improvements to all of our lives. Count me among the lucky Oregonians who knew Lon and got his help on many occasions.”
Imel is survived by his wife of 56 years, Diane; daughter Jodi Imel, son-in law Robert Babcock, and two granddaughters.
A celebration of life was held March 2 at Bethel Congregational UCC Church in Beaverton.