Seattle City (spot)Light: Mark VanOss

Mark VanOss has worked for the City of Seattle for 28 years and is currently in the utility’s communications department as a senior public relations specialist within the community outreach team. In his role, Mark updates the public on various projects occurring in neighborhoods throughout City Light’s service territory. “Construction projects often involve excavation in front of a business or a power outage to a home,” Mark explained. “We need to care for our customers in the way that we’d like to be cared for.”

Mark grew up in a rural part of Ohio that evoked a small-town feel – his dad was his high school principal! He attended Miami University and received a Bachelor of Science in Biological Science Education and later received a Master’s degree from the College of Forest Resources in Outdoor Recreation from the University of Washington. His early dream at the UW was to alternate seasons between national parks – working summers in Mt. Rainier and winters at Joshua Tree.

Mark lives with his wife Jean in north Seattle and together they have three children, all of whom were City Light Employee Association scholarship recipients. They recently welcomed a grandchild, Elsie. “She was named after my mother who would have celebrated her 100th birthday this year,” Mark shared. In this week’s (spot)Light, Mark talks about parks, birds and nature.


Mark with his wife Jean on the Golden Gate Trail at Mt. Rainier

“My interest in parks and education has followed me throughout my career. I think it stems from my biological science background and the dual jobs my dad held: school principal and summer maintenance worker at a state park. Various seasonal park jobs led to me to Jewel Cave National Monument in South Dakota. A friend of mine passed through on his way to Seattle and I impulsively followed him when the season ended. My first job in Seattle was working as a tour guide at the Ballard Locks.”

“I started my career with the City of Seattle in the Parks department as a park naturalist at Camp Long. It made sense to me since I was always interested in becoming a park ranger. Along the way great things continued to happen. We had our first child and I also transitioned into a new role with City Light as a Public Education Program Specialist. The interview panel had me teach a lesson to 40 fourth graders!”

“I still explore nature through birding. In college, I took a class in ornithology. It just connected with me. Jean and I like to visit Juanita Bay Park to birdwatch. My favorite birds are the roseate spoonbill and any warbler. They’re full of vibrant, bright colors. That yellow is amazing. My birding dream is to kiss a puffin on its beak. Carefully, of course.”

“I also have the nature element in my job as I oversee the marketing for Skagit Tours. We promote the tours and make sure that this fun, amazing place spills over with exuberance to the folks we encourage to travel up there. It’s a beautiful place – North Cascades is one of my favorite national parks.  My bucket list park would be Glacier Bay in Alaska. I want to get to it someday!”