Arla Fowler had never been one to spend time shopping at garage sales, church rummage sales or thrift stores.
Until she reached her mid-60s, that is. That’s when Fowler, a retired elementary school teacher and librarian, began to volunteer at Wise Buys, the downtown Bellingham thrift store affiliated with Lydia Place.
Now, in her last month as volunteer manager of Wise Buys — although she will continue as a volunteer worker — she loves to spot, well, a wise buy at the store. There are literally thousands of them.
“That’s about all I wear now – clothes from Wise Buys!” she said with a grin.
Arla, 83, and husband, Dick, 84, a retired professor of technology at Western Washington University, have spent untold hours in volunteer work at Wise Buys.
Wise Buys benefits Lydia Place, which celebrated its 25th anniversary this year. Lydia Place offers a variety of housing programs as well as life skills programs and case management while meeting the needs of the homeless in Whatcom County. In 2013, Lydia Place served 410 individuals in four programs, including 165 households and 208 children.
The affable Fowlers, who met as high school students in small-town Montana, have lived in Bellingham since 1965. Arla graduated from Sacramento State University and earned a master’s degree at Washington State University. Dick earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from WSU and a doctorate from Texas A&M.
I like to say, “I don’t run Wise Buys; I’m the one who sees Wise Buys runs.” I’m the one who takes the broad view and looks at the essentials. I can’t micro-manage it because I’m not there that much. I have tried to develop a sense of ownership among the staff, who are all volunteers — 25 to 30 of them. Various volunteers take responsibility for various aspects.”
Dick and I have made so many new friends and we’ve met so many interesting people outside our original circle of other educators.