County’s voice of charity takes his last bid

It’s a stellar resume: Everett Community College president, Snohomish County executive and executive director of the Puget Sound Regional Council, his current job. Those are highlights of Bob Drewel’s bio.

Oh, and there’s begging.

“I’m not much of an auctioneer,” Drewel said Monday with characteristic humility. “I’m a professional beggar. I know that guilt works.”

If Drewel has his way — and can’t be coaxed to change his mind by local nonprofit agencies — his begging days are over.

“I think it’s time for a handoff,” he said after officiating at Thursday’s night’s “Dreams” fundraising auction for Work Opportunities. The Lynnwood-based agency helps adults with disabilities find jobs, training and other services.

Drewel helped the agency raise about $120,000 during the auction at Lynnwood Convention Center. It was a special occasion not just for Work Opportunities, but for Drewel’s family.

After decades of sharing her husband with the community, Cheryl Drewel was in the crowd for what Bob Drewel said was his last time as a charity auctioneer. The couple’s two daughters were there, too. Lindsay Drewel, 34, flew from Washington, D.C., for the event. And as she often does, Amy Drewel, 37, acted as her father’s auction helper.

The evening began with a song — “Happy Birthday To You.” Drewel said it didn’t dawn on him until after he accepted the auction invitation that it would be on his 66th birthday.

“He says yes to so many things. I don’t go to all his auctions,” Cheryl Drewel said with a laugh. “We all wanted to be there for this one, his last time.”

Amy Drewel, of Lynnwood, said her father is devoted to the notion of “the invisible friend.”

“If he can do something for somebody else, the whole pay-it-forward concept, it can brighten somebody’s day. I could never fill his shoes, but I have the best mentor,” she said of her dad.

Bob Drewel was elected county executive in 1991 and finished his third term in 2003. He said his auctioneering days began in the 1980s. As college president, he officiated at fundraisers for the Everett Community College Foundation.

He remembers auctioneering with his friend Gerry Andal at the first Festival of Trees, a Providence General Foundation fundraiser, when the event got its start years ago at Everett’s Forest Park. Andal, a country singer and businessman, died in 2011.

Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County, Little Red School House, Sherwood Community Services and Cocoon House are among other nonprofit organizations helped by Drewel’s auctioneering skills over the years. The Greater Everett Community Foundation oversees a Human Services Endowment Fund in Honor of Bob Drewel, which makes grants to agencies in need.

“He just could never say no. And he was so right; every cause is important. He has a very soft spot for anyone in need,” Cheryl Drewel said. Although her husband continues to work full-time for the Puget Sound Regional Council in Seattle, he looks forward to slowing down after years of community events.

“It’s a lot of good memories. I get to get up and ham it up,” said Drewel, who estimates he has volunteered for at least 100 auctions. “If you’ve got an opportunity to do something and believe you can make a difference, then you ought to do it.”

All that hamming it up has brought in millions of dollars over the years.

Phil McConnell, executive director of Work Opportunities, said Thursday’s auction raised more than $120,000. “This was our 10th auction. He did them all,” McConnell said.

Sad to be losing his charity pitchman, McConnell said he was writing Drewel a thank-you note that borrows a line from film and song: “To sir, with love.”

“What a blessing that man is,” said Vicci Hilty, executive director of Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County. Drewel was auctioneer at many of the agency’s Chocolate Lovers’ Gala fundraisers, dating to the nonprofit’s early years. Drewel is always sincere in asking others to help causes he supports, Hilty said.

“I think too, it’s his uncanny gift of gab,” she said. “He did such a great job. There was not an unknown face in the audience. He just knew everybody.”

She understands why Drewel wants to pass the baton. “It’s grueling,” Hilty said. “I’ve stood up that whole time at an auction. I am just worn out by the end of the night. And it’s being away from your family.

“We’ll so miss him,” Hilty added. “What a gift — just a precious man.”

He’s giving up the auction microphone, but Drewel isn’t done with public appearances. Amy Drewel said her father is scheduled to be the announcer at Everett’s July 4 parade.

“He loves this community so much,” Cheryl Drewel said. “Bob has been moved to tears on that auction stage — the generosity of people.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, muhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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