Local Commentary

Guest Commentary: After 14 Years as Clerk, I’ve Collected a Lot of ‘Stuff’

By Kathy Clarken Buschow

The Sunday night hoarder marathon is one of my guilty pleasures, featuring people who have collected “stuff” well beyond the space they have to contain it. The objects are meaningless to anyone but the hoarder. You can’t watch how these people live without it affecting you. So you begin to assess your surroundings, looking for what has real meaning and what you can discard.

Over the course of 14 years as the Falls Church City Clerk I collected a lot of “stuff.” From a variety of Virginia localities I have a drawer of candy dishes, little desk clocks, solar calculators and even some pocket knives. These were tokens from localities hosting the annual Virginia Municipal Clerks Association (VMCA) conference that year. The Star of Roanoke etched into a candy dish reminds me of our trip up the mountain to the star and a beautiful view of the valley below. In Staunton we toured the redeveloped downtown area where the facades of the old buildings were maintained while the interiors were reclaimed for attractive shops and boutiques. Each visit to a different part of Virginia was an opportunity to see how that community dealt with economic hardship, development, tourism, and creation of their “main street.”

Anyone who visited the City Clerk’s office in City Hall observed its abundance of dog paintings, photos and tchotchkes. Like the “stuff” of hoarders, it was meaningless to everyone but me. Their purpose was to make visitors comfortable and smile, and more often than not, they would share a story about a favorite dog or cat as they looked around.

Cherished visitors to my office were my “three wise men” who, for whatever reason, usually showed up on the same day, sometimes simultaneously. Harry English, Len Michalowski, and Lou Olom are my most valuable treasures from my time at City Hall.

Harry English was the unofficial caretaker of West End Park, and influenced the creation of this little oasis next to the W&OD trail. He would meticulously survey the plants in the park and tell you the Latin name of each. His oral histories of the region always surprised me, and his charming stories of farm animals, pet chickens, and a dog that could climb a tree always made me laugh.

Leonard (Len) Michalowski was determined that our veterans would be remembered and he lovingly oversaw Veterans Common along the W&OD Trail. Len regularly arrived at my office with collage messages for Council, and he never lost his focus on patriotism and honoring veterans. On Memorial Day and Veterans Day, Len made sure that Scouts and the Volunteer Fire Department – along with Members of City Council and other citizens – showed up at Veterans Common for a 7 a.m. Flag Salute to honor soldiers past and present. He was also known as “Santa Len” at the News-Press annual community holiday party. If he arrived at my office upset about something, his mood would immediately brighten when asked about his beloved dog Jasmine.

Lou Olom is my all-knowing “City Sage.” He played an instrumental role in the creation of the City’s independent school system and International Baccalaureate (IB) program, and was part of the City’s birth from the beginning. Lou’s stories inspire and make you proud of Falls Church. Even as Lou slows down, he periodically makes his way to City Hall to address the Council, eloquent as usual, on issues that move him. Council listens, for they too know Lou as a wise City Father who speaks from the heart.

These “three wise men” are my very special treasures, each with a different interest and perspective on City issues. My time with these unique individuals will always be cherished.

Some of my visitors were unexpected. At 1 a.m., after a long Council meeting, I was still working and heard someone running up and down the stairs just outside the door adjacent to my office. I peeked into the stairwell just as “Darth Vader” in full SWAT gear came face to face with me through the window. I let loose some expletives and was so shocked that even after I got home my chest still ached. That was an “OMG” moment!

At the end of June, I hauled away a surprising amount of “stuff” from the space I occupied for more than 14 years. The majority of my life was spent at City Hall during those years. While my office hoard is gone, the stories and memories will never be discarded. What a wonderful opportunity to learn, grow professionally, share life moments with co-workers, and experience some of our local “characters” I was afforded as City Clerk. Local Government may not be exciting, but it impacts people at the most basic and personal level. Thank you, Falls Church, for the “treasures” I can hoard in my mind.


Former Falls Church City Clerk Kathleen Clarken Buschow retired July 1 after more than 14 years of service with the City of F.C.