James Conrod still remembers the day he moved to Longview.
It was the fall of 1959, and the then 36-year-old Chicago native was driving along what is now Interstate 5. His first glimpse of his new home included a vibrant double rainbow in the sky.
“I was like, ‘Wow, I know I’m supposed to be here,’ “ Conrod recalled. “The funny thing is, the rainbow came right down over Longview.”
He didn’t know much about Longview when he first moved. He just knew that it was then the 10th largest city in the state, it had evergreen trees and it lacked a Baptist church — a void he intended to fill.
Conrod moved to Longview to start Northlake Baptist Church, where he worked alongside his future wife, Darlene. Darlene, an Iowa native, moved to Longview with her then husband to work on the church’s staff. When Conrod and Darlene lost their spouses, however, the pair got together and later married. They’ve been together about 11 years, Conrod said.
“She’s a farm girl that married a city slicker,” Conrod said with a laugh.
Over the years, Conrod said a lot has changed in Longview, much of it for the better.
Lake Sacajawea, for instance, is frequented far more often, he said. He credits the summer concert series and Fourth of July Go 4th Festival. There’s also more interest in the well-being of the city, he added.
The city also has expanded over the years. He remembers the construction of the Triangle Mall (now the Triangle Center), much to the chagrin of shop owners on Commerce Avenue. During his early years in Longview, his favorite restaurant was Henri’s, a west Longview eatery where he could order a nice steak dinner. And the only pizza place Longview had at the time was Pietro’s.
Longview has since expanded and welcomed numerous chain restaurants. But that expansion has come with a price. In the process of creating new business, the city has lost some of its “small-town” feel, Conrod said.
“At that time, you know, Commerce Avenue was our main commercial center of stores, and it had a small-town atmosphere, which for me was so different than Chicago,” he said.
Over the years, Conrod said he’s also seen an increase in certain problems, namely drug use and homelessness.
“I wish we didn’t have all the drugs we have now,” he said. “We didn’t have that when I first came out here, and of course homelessness is a big problem.”
Still, Conrod said Longview has been a great place to raise a family. He especially enjoys Longview’s proximity to big cities and outdoor venues. He frequented museums in Portland and took trips to the beach with the church’s youth program.
“I thought, ‘Wow, we’re situated right in the middle of all this marvelous, marvelous country,’” he recalled thinking when he initially moved to Longview. “I was thrilled and impressed and excited.”
Conrod briefly returned to the Midwest upon retirement in 1984. In 1991, though, Conrod and his wife came back to Longview, where they’ve remained since.
“Longview is home,” he said.