Spirit of giving is a cornerstone of Snohomish County history

Nearly 70 years ago, in October 1945, local Sea Scouts Gordon Boeder, Art Armstrong and Jim Egbert were out painting red feathers on downtown Everett sidewalks. The paint wasn’t vandalism or graffiti.

Those red feathers were reminders to people in the community to do their part by giving to the Everett Community Chest and War Fund.

The red feather was a longtime symbol of the Community Chest, a forerunner of United Way organizations nationwide.*

In 2015, the agency that became United Way of Snohomish County will mark its 75th anniversary.

With the help of Roy Sievers and J.A. Reeves, it was launched as the Everett Community Chest on Nov. 8, 1940. Reeves was once an Everett schools superintendent and Sievers was a local businessman.

That first Community Chest campaign, in 1941, was led by Sievers, president of the H.O. Seiffert Co., a building materials business. In nine days, the drive raised $41,191.77. Money from that first campaign was given to 11 local agencies, some of which still get United Way funding today.

Ralph White of Mill Creek was executive director of United Good Neighbors, which became United Way, from 1967 to 1983. “One of the reasons for the beginnings of the Community Chest was to reduce the number of fund drives in the community. All in one, it was more cost-effective,” said White, who saw donations hit the $1 million mark for the first time in 1970.

Today, United Way of Snohomish County campaigns raise nearly $10 million annually, making grants to support three major priorities: children’s development and school success, basic needs and self-sufficiency for families, and community strength and involvement.

The arrival of the Boeing Co. in 1960s “was a game-changer,” White said. The Employees Community Fund of Boeing Puget Sound, one of the largest employee-owned and managed funds of its kind in the world, is a huge donor in Snohomish County. In recent years, the Boeing employee fund has pledged nearly $2 million annually to the local United Way.

The community that stepped up in the years after the Great Depression and before World War II continues to care for others through its leading charitable organizations.

Within three days of the deadly March 22 Oso mudslide, United Way of Snohomish County had launched the Disaster Recovery Fund for Mudslide Relief with $25,000 from its endowment fund. Between that United Way effort and funds launched by the Snohomish County Chapter of the American Red Cross and the Cascade Valley Hospital Foundation, more than $8 million has been raised to help people affected by the worst disaster in county history.

The story of the local United Way is just one chapter in Snohomish County’s long history of volunteerism and helping people in need.

For decades, generous individuals and the agencies they created have made housing, health care, the arts, and the needs of children and seniors priorities, improving quality of life in the wider community.


Poverty has always existed, and ways to alleviate it show up early in the history of Snohomish County, which was created out of Island County on Jan. 14, 1861. According to “Snohomish County: An Illustrated History,” a comprehensive book by David A. Cameron, Charles P. LeWarne, M. Allan May, Jack C. O’Donnell and Lawrence E. O’Donnell, the county built a “Poor Farm,” a 20-bed home for indigent people, in 1893.

An early example of public social services, the two-story poor farm was built for $4,500 on Allen Prairie west of Monroe. The site is now the home of Monroe’s Valley General Hospital. The mission was to “Keep, clothe, properly care for and furnish medicine for each of the county paupers at 85 cents a day,” according to “Snohomish County: An Illustrated History.” Residents of the poor farm, which operated well into the 20th century, were called “inmates.”

Today, the Everett-based nonprofit Housing Hope is an agency that began small, with the recognition of family homelessness as a real problem in Snohomish County. In 2012, the agency marked its 25th anniversary with the publication of “Building Hope: The first 25 Years of Housing Hope,” by David M. Buerge.

The book tells how the agency’s founders met on Sept. 30, 1987, in the Friendship Room of Central Lutheran Church in Everett to plant seeds for what grew into Housing Hope.

That early group included Ed Petersen, founding executive director of Housing Hope, the agency’s retired chief operating officer Bruce Eklund, and the Rev. Mark Samuelson, a Lutheran pastor and past president of Housing Hope’s board of directors.

From that modest start, Housing Hope now owns 21 multifamily housing projects all over Snohomish County. More than 200 families have built their own homes through Housing Hope’s sweat-equity program, and hundreds of other families are in stable housing thanks to Housing Hope.

With an empowering program called College of Hope, the agency also runs programs to help with employment, adult education, child development, teen parenting and credit counseling. Its affiliate nonprofit, HopeWorks Social Enterprises, is helping people gain employment and skills through a landscape business. That program recently acquired property on Broadway in Everett, near Everett Station, as part of a multiphase project to bring jobs, training and housing together at a new facility to be called HopeWorks Station.

“This is a demonstration project of what’s possible,” Petersen said in April at an event launching HopeWorks Station at 3331 Broadway.

Greater Everett Community Foundation

In 2001, the Greater Everett Community Foundation was created to promote charitable giving in Snohomish County in areas that include, but go beyond, poverty and human services. The foundation oversees more than 100 charitable funds started by families, individuals, businesses and nonprofit groups.

The foundation grew from what started in 1993 as the Everett Parks Foundation. Donors involved in parks projects also wanted to support other local programs, leading to a Founders’ Campaign to raise a $2 million operational endowment to start the Greater Everett Community Foundation. Eight founding families — the Newland Family Fund for Giving, Phil Johnson, John and Idamae Schack, the Bargreen family, the Nysether Family Foundation, the Don and Joyce Tisdel Family Fund, the Roy and Ann Thorsen family, and the Harry and Jeanne Metzger family — contributed to that campaign.

Maddy Metzger-Utt, daughter of Jeanne and the late Harry Metzger, is the Greater Everett Community Foundation’s president and CEO. “I think the reason people started the foundation, they wanted their money to stay local, to support the community where most have made their money,” she said.

“And our organization can focus on the arts or the environment. Most people, when they think of nonprofits, they think mostly of human services. But education, arts and culture are all really important. The founders wanted something in this community that’s a safety net for years to come in all areas that speak to quality of life,” Metzger-Utt said.

Rather than raise money and distribute it in grants each year, Metzger-Utt said, the foundation gives money only from its earnings.

“The majority of our gifts are put in the endowment, and just the earnings are spent,” she said. “When I came we had about $3 million in assets. We’re expecting to end this year with about $15 million in assets.”

As the endowment fund grows, so will the amount available to give each year.

Arts and culture

Million-dollar gifts from Everett’s John and Idamae Schack, who were also among the Greater Everett Community Foundation founders, have greatly boosted the area’s cultural scene. A 2009 Herald profile of Idamae Schack, now in her mid-90s, called her “the matron saint of the arts in Everett.”

She and her husband, who died in 2004, were so generous in their gifts that the Arts Council of Snohomish County named its Artspace building in downtown Everett the Schack Art Center. The center, which opened in 2011, has gallery space, art classes and a state-of-the-art hot shop.

The Schacks gave $1 million each to the Everett Symphony, the Historic Everett Theatre, and as founding donors of the Imagine Children’s Museum in Everett. Their $1 million donation to the children’s museum resulted in the purchase of a former bank building at 1502 Wall St., the site that became the museum’s home.

Everett Community College, the Everett Public Library and Providence Regional Medical Center Everett’s Pavilion for Women and Children have all received big donations from the Schacks.

Before retirement, John Schack had run his own precast concrete company, Utility Vault. The couple were married in 1966, after Idamae’s first husband, civil engineer Walter Miles, had died. She took over Miles’ sand and gravel business in Auburn, but sold that business in 1985.

The treehouse inside the Imagine Children’s Museum is called the Schack Treehouse, and Idamae Schack told The Herald in 2009 that the museum is her favorite of all the nonprofits she has helped. “It’s just a delight for me,” she said.

Snohomish County has a long history of philanthropy related to the arts.

According to David Dilgard, a local history specialist at the Everett Public Library, a group of Everett women met in the home of Mary Lincoln Brown in 1894, a year after the city was incorporated, to form a women’s book club. The Everett Woman’s Book Club gathered books and set up a temporary library in a member’s home. In 1898, the city offered three rooms in City Hall, then south of Hewitt Avenue on Broadway, for a library.

In 1905, the book club received a Carnegie grant to design an official library for Everett. In 1934, Everett’s new library, designed by architect Carl Gould, was built at its current Hoyt Avenue site. It was financed by a $75,000 bequest from the estate of Leonard Howarth, vice president of Everett Pulp &Paper Company, and $33,000 in state and federal grants.

In 1911, Ebey Lodge No. 104 of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows built the Marysville Opera House. Now a popular wedding venue that’s on the National Register of Historic Places, the opera house at Marysville’s Third Street and Cedar Avenue hosted all sorts of theatrical acts and music in its heyday.

Hospital gifts

From the county’s early days to the new millennium, health organizations have benefited from the community’s generosity.

Everett Hospital, the city’s first, was open by 1894 at 3322 Broadway. The facility had major support from the Woman’s Columbian Book Club, according to “Snohomish County: An Illustrated History.” The wood-frame building later became Bethany Home for the Aged.

By 1905, the Sisters of Providence had purchased Everett’s original Monte Cristo Hotel and converted it into a 75-bed hospital.

Everett’s General Hospital Medical Center — the 1894 Everett Hospital was a precursor — and Providence Hospital merged in 1994, creating what’s now Providence Regional Medical Center Everett.

In 2011, Providence Regional Medical Center Everett opened a 12-story addition to its Colby Campus. The new tower is named in honor of Marshall and Katherine Cymbaluk, a local couple who donated $5 million to the Providence General Foundation that supports the hospital. The gift was by far the largest in the foundation’s history.

Marshall Cymbaluk had run an Everett business, Motor Trucks Inc., since the 1970s, and his wife had worked as a registered nurse at the former Everett General Hospital.

“We felt we wanted to give something back to the community that served us well,” Marshall Cymbaluk told The Herald in 2011.


Some people in Snohomish County have the means to donate millions. Many more are able and willing to give their time.

In 1921, according to “Snohomish County: An Illustrated History,” a group of Marysville women started the Log Cabin Club, named for a log cabin their husbands were building at a park.

The women’s Log Cabin Club went on to raise money for a pool, a fountain, a restroom, a bandstand and a kitchen in the Marysville park. They later supported the building of a new city hall and public library — and provided the books and bookshelves.

On Sept. 12-13, United Way of Snohomish County will bring hundreds of volunteers together for the 21st annual Days of Caring. Volunteer teams, many organized by companies that give workers time to help, will accomplish tasks for dozens of nonprofit agencies. In 2013, there were 1,019 volunteers, from teens to seniors, donating more than 5,600 hours to Days of Caring projects.

From Snohomish County’s beginnings, lives of service and grassroots giving have helped build every city and town, assuring that vulnerable people are not forgotten. The giving story continues to be written.

“With the slide in Oso, boom, the United Way quickly raised a million bucks,” White said. “Raising funds here, there is great local pride.”

Nonprofits in Snohomish County

In 2013, Snohomish County had 1,368 active 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporations registered with the Washington Secretary of State’s Office. Snohomish County was third-highest in the state for number of nonprofits in 2013, and eighth-highest in the state by revenue. In 2013, $442.4 million was invested in Snohomish County nonprofits.

Snohomish County had 63 active private foundations in 2013, 6 percent of the state’s private foundations. The county’s private foundations had $149.3 million in assets in 2013.

Source: “Nonprofits in Washington-2013,” by Putnam Barber, Evans School of Public Affairs, University of Washington. Full report at: http://evans.uw.edu/centers-projects/nbec/nonprofits-washington

Founding families

The Greater Everett Community Foundation was created in 2001, growing from what started in 1993 as the Everett Parks Foundation. Eight families donated to a Founders’ Campaign to raise a $2 million operational endowment to start the foundation. The eight were:

The Newland Family Fund for Giving

Phil Johnson

John and Idamae Schack

The Bargreen family

The Nysether Family Foundation

The Don and Joyce Tisdel Family Fund

The Roy and Ann Thorsen family

The Harry and Jeanne Metzger family

Correction, Sept. 2, 2014: United Way of Snohomish County no longer recognizes a “Red Feather” level of giving. An earlier version of this story was incorrect on that point. The red feather was a longtime symbol of the the Community Chest, a forerunner of United Way nationwide.

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