Clean water project at Holden Village leads to prized Taylor guitars

Whatcom Community Foundation works with donors on world-wide goals

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMarch 30, 2014 

Dr. David Olson is an ear, nose and throat specialist. That's his day job. In a previous life, Olson was a spruce ecologist. Olson is a husband, a father and a man of faith. He is also a musician (he plays the guitar). You could describe him as a Renaissance man.

On top of a plethora of interests, Olson also thinks about water ... a lot.

Olson frequently visits Holden Village, a Lutheran retreat center in eastern Washington near Lake Chelan. The village is the site of a long-inactive copper mine where there is a monumental clean-up effort underway. The goal: clean the contaminated water. The project involves diverting and realigning waterways, which requires cutting down numerous trees. During a 2013 visit, Olson recognized that some of those trees were old-growth Engelmann spruce.

This particular sub-species of spruce is prized by guitar makers for the wood's warm tone and "quick" response to a light touch, making it truly premium tonewood (wood used to manufacture musical instruments). Looking up at those 250-year-old spruce trees, Olson saw a cycle of rejuvenation that extended far beyond the clean-up site. He wanted to save the trees from their planned fate as firewood. He wanted those trees to be heard. And, he wanted them to make a difference in the world: to be transformed into guitars with a portion of the sales proceeds flowing to organizations helping to bring clean water to people in Central America.

Olson took his brainchild to his friend Steve McMinn, who owns Pacific Rim Tonewoods, a leading supplier of premium tonewoods for guitars and other stringed instruments. Steve is a smart businessman and - friend or not - no easy sell. McMinn initially dismissed the idea, too many moving parts and too many parties required to get the job done. That resistance softened into enthusiasm.

Taylor Guitars, a well-known name among musicians and music lovers, is one of McMinn's clients. Company president Bob Taylor is also a friend. Long story short, Taylor agreed. (Taylor's participation is not surprising. In late January, Bob Taylor received the Award for Corporate Excellence. The U.S. State Department recognition honors the company's transformative work in the ebony trade. The annual award recognizes U.S.-owned businesses that play vital roles around the world as good corporate citizens.)

McMinn donated local maple with a unique character for the sides and back of the guitar, as well as all the milling and transportation required to get the wood to Taylor. Add to the roster Living Waters for the World and El Porvenir, two U.S.-based clean water organizations working in Central America, and the team was nearly complete.

Here in Whatcom County, we are conflicted about water. We loathe the rain and love the resource. As problems go, we're lucky.

It is almost meaningless when we talk about numbers in the billions. While that is the scale of this international problem, just imagine that we're talking about you. Imagine that every day you had to worry about whether the water you drink would make you or your children sick or worse. Just imagine.

It's a complicated story because there are five organizations and an inspired physician involved in turning one man's great idea into clean water for people who lack it. At the Community Foundation, we appropriately focus most of our resources locally. So what are we doing in this story? When we say that we work with our donors to help achieve their philanthropic goals, we mean it. Even when those goals extend beyond the borders of Whatcom County. We help keep the many parts moving. We also have the privilege of turning gifts from Taylor Guitars into grants that will be transformed into clean water.

World Water Day was this past Saturday. Dr. David Olson cared enough about the fundamental struggles being experienced by people a world away to make this World Water Day a little brighter. Opportunities for improving lives are all around us. What will you think about the next time you take a walk in the woods?

To learn more about the Limited Edition Holden Village Taylor GS Mini, visit whatcomcf.org/wp/guitar.

ABOUT THIS SERIES

This is one of a year-long series highlighting the work of the Whatcom Community Foundation. Author Mauri Ingram is the president and CEO of the foundation. For more information online, go to whatcomcf.org.

Window On My World is an occasional essay in Monday's Bellingham Herald that allows Whatcom County residents to share their passion for what they do, an idea or cause they support. Send your Window On My World, which must be no more than 700 words, to Julie.shirley@bellinghamherald.com.

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