In the community

Hart, Ontario Man of the Year, believes in small-town lifestyle

ONTARIO – In the early 1990s, Ken Hart was ready to devote his life to politics.
As part of U.S. Sen. Mark Hatfield’s staff in Washington, D.C., Hart was already familiar with big-time politics.
Hatfield, one of the most influential politicians in the Congress at that time, was preparing to retire. Hart met with his boss in a final interview. Hatfield asked what Hart’s plans were and the southern Californian native turned Oregonian told the senator he was going to make a life out of politics.
“He said that was not a good idea,” said Hart.
Hart was surprised.
“I was hurt. I thought, this is my idol and he’s telling me not to go into the profession I want to,” said Hart.
Hatfield gave Hart other advice.
“You don’t want to start a family here (in Washington, D.C.). You need to go back home and raise your family,” Hatfield told Hart.
Hart pondered the Hatfield’s guidance. Then he decided the senator was right.
“So, I took his advice and moved back to Portland,” said Hart.
More than 30 years later, Hart established his family, moved to Ontario and succeeded as an accountant and local civic leader.
On Friday, Jan. 19, the Ontario Area Chamber of Commerce honored Hart as Man of the Year at Four Rivers Cultural Center.
“It’s awesome. A great honor,” said Hart.
Hart and his wife Shelia came to Ontario in 2004 when Hart was hired as the Treasure Valley Community College’s comptroller.
“Best decision we ever made,” he said.
Since he arrived, Hart’s career flourished and so has his service to the community. After a stint at the college, he became the chief financial officer for the Gentry Auto Group in Ontario and then worked as the vice president of Saint Alphonsus Medical Center-Ontario. Hart was selected to be the president and chief executive officer at the Ontario hospital in 2017.
In 2020, Hart left Saint Alphonsus to become the chief financial officer for Valley Family Health Care, based in Payette.
In early 2023 he was named its chief executive officer.
Hart didn’t totally leave politics. He was appointed to a vacancy on the Ontario City Council in 2020 and then elected to the council in 2022.
Hart is also a member of the board of Malheur County Poverty to Prosperity and recently spearheaded the Ontario Promise program. The program is designed to set aside money for Ontario youth to fund higher education.
Hart is also a member of the Treasure Valley Community College Board.
Hart, 55, believes in Ontario and in the small-town life. As a kid in southern California, his family moved a lot as his father, a banking executive, switched jobs. Hart said that when he became an adult, he wanted to find a place where he could put down roots for the long term. Ontario fit the bill and it was also Sheila’s hometown.
“That was one of the huge positives of moving to Ontario – the idea we could land and stay in a home for 20 years. That’s a great gift if you can give it to your kids,” he said.
Promoting Ontario is a big part of Hart’s job at Valley Family.
“I am selling the community as much as I am selling Valley Family. So, having lived in the community now more than 20 years, says a lot. When I can say all my kids took classes at TVCC and graduated from Ontario High School, it shows a commitment of leadership when it comes to the community,” said Hart.
Recruiting and retaining qualified medical professionals to work at Valley Family is one of Hart’s biggest challenges.
“There is such a scarcity of nurses, doctors, front-line staff. To get them to even consider us is usually one of our biggest hurdles,” said Hart.
Hart said he’s become a “pretty good sales guy.”
“My favorite part of my job is taking someone to lunch and selling Valley Family. Once they visit our staff and see our facilities, we have a pretty good chance of getting them,” he said.
At Valley Hart oversees hundreds of employees and 12 clinics scattered from Emmett to Ontario and Nyssa.
“My job is to make sure everyone has the support they need to be successful. A big part of my job is building partnerships and getting out of the way of my staff,” he said.
Hart likes to get an early start during the work week. He devotes his early morning hours to reading and preparing for the work day. He is usually the first one in the door at work so he can “get my stuff done for the day.”
He arrives to work “to get my stuff done for the day.”
“The rest of the day is associated with meetings,” he said.
Hart said the daily challenges that crop up at Valley Family motivate him.
“I just like business. I like to help figure out stuff,” he said.
Hart, who has a bachelor’s degree in accounting and a master’s degree in political science, said he believes his educational background plays a crucial role in his success.
“Part of my job is to find out the needs of the organization and then figure out how do I provide that. I view my role on the (TVCC) board or the city council is to try to bring a little bit of a financial background to those two groups,” he said.
Hart said as a young man he wanted to work for the FBI but now, if he could be anything else, he’d opt to be a teacher.
“I had a brief (teaching) stint at TVCC when I was the comptroller. I really enjoyed it,” he said.
Hart said highlights of his career were his time working for Hatfield and when he was named president of Saint Alphonsus. Another high point was when Saint Alphonsus received a five-star rating for its care services from the federal government.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected].

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