‘Where the community comes together’: Gary Locke speaks to Edmonds Waterfront Center supporters

Gary Locke — former Washington governor, U.S. Secretary of Commerce and U.S. Ambassador to China — speaks during Friday’s Edmonds Waterfront Center breakfast.

The Edmonds Waterfront Center main ballroom was filled to capacity Friday morning for the center’s annual fundraiser — this year a breakfast featuring former King County Executive, Washington Governor, U.S. Secretary of Commerce, U.S. Ambassador to China, and interim President of Bellevue College Gary Locke.

Waterfront Center Board President Karen Barnes opened the program by acknowledging the staff and more than 200 volunteers who keep the center running.

Waterfront Center Board President Karen Barnes welcomes attendees.

“We can have as many events as we want, but it doesn’t matter unless people come in,” she explained.  “And looking over this room, I know that you are coming and you are engaged with us as a community.”

Barnes then called on Diana White, an Edmonds resident and member of the Prairie Band of Potawatomi Indians, to deliver the land acknowledgment.

Diana White gives the land acknowledgement, including the story of the cedar tree that became the Waterfront Center’s welcoming figure.

As part of this, White related the story of a cedar sapling that began its life 500 year ago, ultimately growing into the tree that now stands as the welcoming figure at the Waterfront Center door “where she came to life again, standing strong and tall.”

Next was Edmonds Waterfront Center CEO Daniel Johnson.

Waterfront Center CEO Daniel Johnson spoke of the accomplishments since the center’s last in-person fundraiser in 2019.

“OK, so who here is a morning person?” he quipped as he began his message to the more than 200 attendees at the early morning event. “I don’t see a lot of hands – so I want to especially thank all of you for setting your alarms and coming out this morning to support us in our first post-COVID in-person fundraiser.”

“Since our last event like this, we’ve raised $17 million, spent two years building the center and have survived the pandemic,” he continued. “I think that deserves a round of applause!”

He characterized the Waterfront Center as a “55-year-old startup,” explaining how when the old building was demolished, supporters decided to not simply replace it, but to build something new, better, innovative – something that hadn’t been done before.

“We decided to create a new model of service that would engage the entire community, and we did,” he continued. “Social innovation is what’s happening here. We are committed to bringing generations together where they create, connect, find purpose, heal and thrive. We are a hub for health programs, education, art, life celebrations, people connecting with people and so much more.”

To underscore this, he then provided a video overview of activities and milestones that characterize the Waterfront Center and its role in the community.

An additional video underscoring the center’s spirit of community, connections and belonging celebrated the 100th birthday of center regular Joannie Schendel. It was dropped from the agenda due to time constraints but is viewable here.

“At the end of last year we passed a major milestone with the completion of our $17 million capital campaign,” he said. “This is a big deal, but it doesn’t mean we’re done. Now we’re faced with the obligation to continue to grow, and leverage what we have into more. It’s like now that we’ve bought the car, we need to keep filling it with gas and take it to exciting new places and destinations.”

Gary Locke and retired State Rep. Phyllis Gutierrez Kenney.

He then yielded the podium to former 46th District Washington State Rep. Phyllis Gutierrez Kenney to introduce event keynote speaker Gary Locke.

Kenney spoke of her longtime connections with Locke that started when she was a newly elected representative in the early 1980s, noting that she benefitted from his tutelage, advice and example when Locke was also serving as a state representative.

Taking the podium, Locke spoke of growing up in the family home built by his father in the Rainier Valley.

“It was a three-bedroom, and there were five kids,” he added with a laugh. “I was the oldest and wanted my own room, so I took it on myself to remodel the basement. I learned a lot doing that, and I guess that’s what got me started on becoming a DIY handyman.

“My go-to place for supplies was Stewart’s Hardware, a family-run operation where you bought nails by the pound – not pre-packaged and shrink-wrapped — got help picking out the best pieces of lumber, and they’d even cut them to size,” he explained. “The store was part of the community, run by folks we knew  and who knew us. It’s part of the community fabric. This is the kind of business we need to continue to support.

Gary Locke speaks to the Edmonds Waterfront Center crowd Friday.

“And this is what’s happening here at the Waterfront Center,” he added. “It’s a place where the community comes together, we know each other, and the theme is supporting and helping each other. It takes a village to support people, and that’s what you’re doing at this center. Government can never do it all, and that’s where the community steps up, chips in and helps each other. And at this center it’s not only happening, but it’s multicultural and across the age spectrum.”

He went on to relate his own family story: His grandfather came to the U.S. from a little village in China and worked as a houseboy in exchange for English lessons, and his father worked for Virginia Mason Hospital as a cook. His father traveled back to China to get married and returned to the U.S. – but he always sent money home to support his family in the little village, never forgetting that it was the village that donated the money that brought him to the U.S. in the first place.

“As a child, I wondered why my grandfather and my parents – who were also married in China — kept sending money back to the village,” he explained. “It was because it was the village that made it possible for him to come to the U.S. in the first place. And I realized that my success in politics was not just built on the sacrifices of my mom and dad, but also of that village in China.”

In 1997, then-Gov. Locke and his family went to China as part of a trade mission, and at the end he met his parents and took a riverboat to visit the family village. It was the first time his parents had been there since their wedding in 1946.

“It was like stepping back into the 1800s,” Locke said. “They cooked over wood chips, there were no toilets, water came from a hand pump in the living room, the floors were dirt. This is how 40% of the population of China lives – and this village was a 15-minute drive from a major city of 3.5 million people.  Seeing this first-hand gave me a deep appreciation of the sacrifices that village made to get my family here and the debt I owe to them for my own success.

Waterfront Center CEO Daniel Johnson with keynote speaker Gary Locke.

“And this is what you have happening right here,” he concluded. “This is a place to come together, support each other, have conversations – sometimes difficult conversations – but in a loving and respectful way.  In a larger sense, this center is a microcosm of what America is about – we need to rise to the occasion and come together over issues like climate change, how to respond to the next pandemic – and there will be one – and global tensions like those festering now between the U.S. and China. I believe that America’s greatness is in our diversity, but we are drawn together by our belief in the essential goodness, dynamism and faith in the future of America. You have an incredible community here as epitomized by this center – and as long as we talk and come together as a community, we will survive.”

Locke was followed by Edmonds resident Donnie Griffin, founder and president of the Lift Every Voice Legacy (LEVL), who characterized the Waterfront Center as Edmonds’ living room, where the door is always open and the community is invited in.

Lift Every Voice Legacy founder and president Donnie Griffin asked attendees to be generous in their support.

“You come here not just because you’re welcome, but because you belong here,” he said. “It’s a good place to be. It’s a place where you see folks who look like you. But this doesn’t happen without support. I know many of you came this morning with a number in mind – what you’d write on that check – and I’m asking you now to double that.

“Remember this is your commitment to the kind of community you want to build,” Griffin added.

According to Johnson, the event raised $47,000 of its $75,000 goal, with more coming in.

“We are inspired by how the community has embraced the EWC,” he said. “Through follow up with our supporters we are confident we will reach our goal.”

You can add your support by visiting the Waterfront Center donation link here.

See the center’s annual report here.

— Story and photos by Larry Vogel

  1. Again, Larry– such a fine job in the writeup of the event– not to mention the photos. And, you’re welcome to nibble from our breakfast table anytime you like.

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