Secrets are hard to keep in a city of less than 2,000 people.

The news that South Cle Elum Way would be renamed “Hartwig Boulevard” after the man who helped plant around 70 Norwegian maple trees along either side of the road broke at a city council meeting a little more than a month ago. With the meeting being broadcast on local television, it wasn’t a great start.

Word got around, and eventually to Hartwig Vatheuer himself, but even he thought it wasn’t true.

“I heard it from a couple people but I thought they were joking,” Vatheuer said.

So when he was presented with the finished street sign at the Kiwanis meeting on Wednesday afternoon, he was still a little bit surprised, and quick to share the credit with the rest of the club.

“I took care of the trees for 25 years now and all that, but still it’s a Kiwanis project,” Vatheuer said.

Cle Elum Mayor Jay McGowan along with help from public works director Mike Engelhart presented the honor to Vatheuer.

“Anybody who’s going to help this city take care of something for 25 years deserves a little bit of recognition,” McGowan said to the room full of people at the Cle Elum Centennial Center. “That comes from the good of his heart. Hartwig brings us a worldview that we have to get out of our little small town and start thinking about what it’s like really to be a great city.”

Vatheuer is known for his motto, “Less talk, more action,” and shies away from the term “volunteer.”

“I just believe in being part of a community,” he said. “That means you’re going to do something worth while.”

He also believes that work should be continuous, hence the continued beautification of other downtown areas, like planting trees at Wye Park.

Kiwanis president Dawn Bass spoke on behalf of the club, including Kip Fox who spearheaded the effort to rename the street, in saying that they could not imagine Kiwanis, let alone Cle Elum without Vatheuer, his wife and their efforts.

“We love you very much,” Bass said. “I’ve never seen the city move faster on a project. It was passed on a Monday and by Wednesday the signs were made.”

Originally from Germany, Vatheuer moved to Cle Elum in 1967, after a return stint in Germany from 1961-64, he had seen how most of the damage from World War II had been repaired, and wondered why those kind of beautification projects couldn’t take place in Cle Elum.

“There wasn’t enough interest in improving your environment,” Vatheuer said. “I always say most of it is pretty easy and requires a lot of people with good ideas, but also quite a few with carrying out some ideas. … If you’ve ever been to Europe most places have lots and lots of trees. To me it’s natural.”


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