ARLINGTON — Chuck Tripp gave his last $20 to the Arlington Rotary.
Down on his luck, Tripp was downtown for the July 4 festivities when he ran into Rotarian Doug Newman, who was selling tickets for the club’s annual charity fundraiser, the Great Stilly Duck Dash.
People who participate buy a numbered ticket and hope a corresponding rubber ducky will swiftly float the Stillaguamish River from Lincoln Bridge to Haller Park. Ducks that cross the finish line first win cash prizes for their lucky ticket holders.
Tripp told Newman he didn’t need the Duck Dash tickets. He just wanted to make a donation. His father had been a Rotarian, Tripp explained, and he knew the good the club did around the world. Newman insisted that Tripp sign his name and phone number to the ticket.
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Tripp, now 70, graduated from Everett High School in 1961. He said he earned a degree in human services from Western Washington University, but worked in real estate sales and resort management in California and Lake Tahoe for many years.
A nasty car accident in the late ’60s left Tripp with problems that eventually required hip replacement surgery. That’s what he was dealing with when he moved this past spring to a little apartment in Arlington.
While he was in the hospital, his car was stolen and his dentures misplaced. That was followed by a succession of bad luck that resulted in being booted from the apartment and the loss of his household goods when he couldn’t pay rent on his storage unit.
He remembers the carnival atmosphere of the Independence Day celebration in Arlington.
“I vacillated on whether to give away the cash in my pocket,” Tripp said. “But the kids were having so much fun and I just wanted to be part of it. Why not make a donation? What the hell?”
For most of the rest of the summer Tripp moved around, trying to survive while still recovering from his surgery. He lost his cellphone and wasn’t able to get his Social Security check. He hocked his computer for a little cash. In August, he answered an ad in The Herald placed by Dick Chamberlain of Mukilteo. Chamberlain, 91, needed some help. They made a deal.
“Chuck got a place to live and I got a cook,” Chamberlain said.
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This past Friday, Tripp’s 25-year-old grandson was up early reading The Herald. He opened the Local section and saw this:
“Can you help Chuck Tripp claim the $5,000 prize he won on July 4? Since 1988, the Rotary Club of Arlington has put on the Great Stilly Duck Dash rubber ducky race to raise money to benefit the communities of Arlington, Lakewood and Darrington. For the first time in 24 years, the top prize has gone unclaimed.
“If you are on Facebook … share the ‘Help Chuck Claim his 5,000 Bucks’ message with people in the Snohomish County region.”
Tripp got a call from his daughter at 7 a.m.
“She told me I had won $5,000. I asked if it was from Publishers Clearing House and told her I couldn’t deal with a joke that early in the morning,” Tripp said. “I was shaking. It’s hard to do much when you don’t have a car or a computer. I couldn’t believe it, but I wanted it to be real.”
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A.J. Chase, the public relations officer for the Rotary Club of Arlington, fielded a bunch of calls that day from people who wanted to be Chuck Tripp.
Finally, she talked to the right man.
“Without the help of The Herald, we might still be looking for Mr. Tripp,” Chase said. “When Doug Newman told us the story of Chuck’s selfless donation to Rotary, we knew we just had to find him. We couldn’t be more pleased that his genuine act of charity is being returned to him, especially at a time that will make a real difference in his life.”
Chase arranged for Chamberlain to get Tripp to the Arlington Rotary luncheon on Thursday to receive a cashier’s check for $5,000.
Called to the front of the room, Tripp thanked the club as he was handed the check, and a rubber ducky key chain.
“That’s very nice,” he said.
On his way to the bank, Tripp said that had he been in a better position, he might have just returned the money to the Rotary.
“Just being among all those professional people at lunch brought tears to my eyes. They do so much for others. It makes me want to return to my human services career and volunteer in the community,” Tripp said. “This is a miracle.”
Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; firstname.lastname@example.org.