Ontario’s Man of the Year keeps finding ways to help others

Robert Metzger talks about the food pantry he runs for Veterans Advocates of Ore-Ida, one of many tasks he’s volunteered to do over the years in Ontario. (The Enterprise/PAT CALDWELL)

ONTARIO – Robert Metzger was putting in another volunteer stint at Veterans Advocates of Ore-Ida recently when a familiar face walked into office.

The visitor was John Breidenbach, president of the Ontario Area Chamber of Commerce, and Metzger presumed he was there to see an official at the organization.

“No, I’m here to see you,” Breidenbach said.

He had news to deliver – Metzger had been selected the chamber’s Man of the Year.

“Apparently everybody there knew about it,” Metzger said. “They did a good job of keeping a secret.”

What’s not a secret is why Metzger was selected. His resume of volunteer service in the community trails through one organization after another.

“I do not like sitting around doing nothing,” Metzger said.

His association with the Ontario veterans organization started with dropping in on coffee klatches. He then put his experience with computers to work to help with technical issues and “it just sort of grew from there.”

He now manages the food pantry hosted by Veterans Advocates.

“We’re now doing over 1,300 food boxes a year,” Metzger said. “There really is quite a need out there. It’s very satisfying to see the help it’s providing the community.”

Through his life, Metzger said, doors opened to provide him opportunities that to this day amaze him.

“I went from being a farm boy from Idaho to being an IT project manager for the state of Oregon,” he said. “It’s quite an adventure.”

He grew up on a farm at Meridian and enlisted in the U.S. Army when he was 17 because “I needed to move on from home.”

While in the service, he met his future wife, Janet.

“On our first date, I spilled Coke on her. That didn’t put her off,” he said.

They’ve been married 50 years.

His career in computer technology started in a basement after he was laid off from his job.

He was playing games on a Commodore 64, an early home computer introduced in 1982.

“I broke into the game cartridge, figured out how it worked, and started teaching myself computer programming,” he said.

As he developed that skill, he and his wife established and operated Atherton Kennels in 1987. They ran the shelter for 10 years before selling.

At one point, he volunteered to help the Onion Skin Players, a local theater group based in Weiser.

“They moved me from behind the stage to on stage,” Metzger said.

Getting an acting part wasn’t something he imagined because “I was a true introvert.”

He found that the stage work “let me know I could do things like that. It gave me more confidence for everything I did.”

Metzger went to work for the state Corrections Department in 1998, working from Snake River Correctional Institution. But his job and responsibilities grew. He said he helped consolidate expensive prison law libraries, providing access for inmates by CD and added technology for prison classrooms.

“I was on the road at least every other week” traveling to Oregon’s prisons, he said.

On his 67th birthday – 50 years after joining the Army – he retired from his state job. That was in 2015.

“I was ready to retire,” he said. “I felt good to leave.”

Area organizations have benefited from the extra time. He’s served the American Red Cross, the local housing authority among others. Besides Veterans Advocates, Metzger also recently has been part of the Ontario Firefighters Association, a group that supports local firefighters.

He took the stage again recently – this time at the chamber’s annual banquet on Jan. 14, where Metzger accepted his honor as Man of the Year.

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