- November 14, 2021
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Todd Kirnan poses with a bronze statue of his likeness, titled "Mr. Gresham," at the corner of Northeast 3rd Street and Main Avenue in downtown Gresham.Samantha Swindler/The Oregonian
You can ask anyone – literally, anyone who works or regularly visits downtown Gresham – and they will know Todd Kirnan.
“How can you not know Todd?” said Jen Braun, store manager of Shop Girl Consignment. “He’s always here, he’s always taking care of everybody. He stops by and says how much he loves us. Todd is the best.”
“He’s just the guy around town,” said Greg Grokett, who owns a goldsmith shop downtown.
His wife, Paula Grokett, added, “Todd is the smile behind Gresham.”
Like Cher or Beyoncé, Todd needs only a first name, and if he’s known by a more formal moniker, it’s usually “Mr. Gresham,” a nickname he earned back in high school. Kirnan, 49, is a 1991 graduate of Gresham High School, where he received the award for “Most Spirit” his senior year.
But for the past several decades, he’s become known not for cheering on the Gresham Gophers but for being a helping hand to downtown workers.
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“I go around and get people’s food and coffee, and I’ve been doing it for 30 years now,” Kirnan said. “When they need food, they call me and then I’m like ‘OK I’ll be right there.’”
His efforts are so appreciated, Mr. Gresham has been immortalized with a life-size bronze statue on the side of Café Delirium coffee shop at the corner of Northeast 3rd Street and Main Avenue.
Kirnan, who is autistic, does any number of helpful jobs around downtown, from putting out sandwich board signs to emptying out garbage cans.
“When we first opened, he grabbed a bunch of menus and delivered them to all the places around,” said Patricia Gutierrez, owner of Gresham Burrito Shop. “It’s nice to see him, he’s always got a smile. He’s sunshine in downtown Gresham.”
At Barber Starrs, barber Anthony Minjarez sees him multiple times a day.
“He’s coming in and out delivering, picking up food for us, whatever we need, we call him and he’s here,” he said.
But more than just doing deliveries, Kirnan brightens people’s day with a few kind words and, in pre-Covid times, a hug.
“Todd is the most genuine person I’ve ever met in my life,” said Kristi Farr, a stylist at Salon Ambiance. “He has probably given me more compliments than anyone times 100. He brings joy into the community daily.”
Judy Han, co-owner with her husband of Sunny Han’s Wok & Grill, has known Kirnan for more than 20 years.
“Todd is part of the fabric of the community,” Han said. “Everybody knows Todd.”
The delivery business began, Han said, when one of her employees asked Kirnan to get her some coffee from across the street. He happily obliged, and it gave her an idea.
“She got him a business card, he got a phone, and that’s where it started,” Han said. “And pretty soon, he started passing out his card. Most of the businesses in downtown Gresham are owner-occupied, and they can’t leave their place to go get food, so they just call Todd.”
The core of historic downtown Gresham has roughly a mile radius and is home to scores of long-time, locally owned businesses – hair salons and barber shops, jewelry and clothing stores, a toy store and candy shop, and dozens of restaurants.
Kirnan gets coffee and lunches, makes trips to the post office and runs other errands for the business owners and employees.
“I like helping people,” Kirnan said. “I don’t just do it for the money, I do it to serve people. I like being nice to people and help people out. That’s my job, to cheer people up.”
For years, Han had been involved in Gresham’s art scene. She helped create the annual Gresham Art Walk and founded the nonprofit group Gresham Outdoor Public Art. A few years ago, then-mayor Shane Bemis, who went to high school with Kirnan, approached Han about a new statue in downtown honoring Todd. Han loved the idea.
Money for the statue was raised entirely by members of the community. Often, the donations came in envelopes hand delivered by Kirnan himself to Sunny Han’s.
“Sometimes there would be 50 cents, five dollars, $50, hundreds of dollars, lots of dollars, and that’s how it happened,” Han said.
Bronze artist Heather Söderberg-Greene had already created several statues for downtown, including “Driscoll,” a likeness of a guide dog owned by a late mayor of Hood River that serves as a tribute to the guide dogs who train in downtown Gresham. When Han approached her about making this statue, Söderberg-Greene meet with Kirnan and was quickly on board with the project.
“Her gift to Gresham and to Todd and the community was all the labor. We paid for the foundry costs,” Han said. “This is a $50,000 statue. We raised $14,000 for it.”
The statue, aptly named “Mr. Gresham,” shows Kirnan holding a tray of coffees in one hand and carrying a paper bag of food in the other. He’s wearing his favorite No. 22 Clyde Drexler Portland Trail Blazers jersey.
“I’ve sculpted so many different famous people, and this was such a neat project to celebrate an amazing but just normal person in Gresham,” Söderberg-Greene said. “I like that it’s not just somebody with a lot of money or somebody really famous that deserves that kind of recognition.”
The completed statue was unveiled with great fanfare on Sept. 22, 2018. Kirnan arrived riding in a replica Batman car. Hundreds of people came out for the event, and a local dance academy invited Kirnan to be part of their routine. The whole event was featured in a national segment on CBS Evening News.
The date, Sept. 22, is known by city proclamation as “Mr. Gresham Day.”
“Here we’re making a bronze for an ordinary citizen who’s given so much back,” Han said. “Usually you’re making bronzes for a rich guy, a famous guy, a CEO. But here it’s for Todd.”
Kirnan has other tributes around town. At Uly’s Taco Bar, you can order the Todd burrito. Jazzy Bagels offers a Todd breakfast sandwich that comes with avocado, feta cheese, egg and tomato. Maggie Mae’s Kids Bookshop sells “Mr. Gresham” stickers with his likeness.
Downtown businesses recently had a scavenger hunt that involved spotting hidden “Where’s Waldo” inspired Todd figures at various shops and restaurants. Find all the Todds, and participants could enter to win raffle prizes.
“You can’t see Todd without smiling and being left in a good mood,” said Sho Roberts, the bookstore’s owner. “He’ll just come in to say hello, that he loves you, and be off and gone. He’s just a day brightener for anyone who sees him. I would say Todd is the heart and soul of the downtown community.”
Nearly every day (he takes off Sundays and Mondays), Kirnan can be found delivering food, talking with friends or sitting outside on one of the many patio spaces downtown. He works year-round, rain or shine, with no signs of slowing down any time soon.
“I don’t want to stay, home, I like getting out,” Kirnan said. “I like it here, it’s a nice town. People are nice, and they care about each other around here.”
— Samantha Swindler, firstname.lastname@example.org, @editorswindler
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