Bellingham born and bred Brian Griffin, 84, has been a driving force in shaping many of the city’s public spaces into the festive, community gathering places they are today.
Boulevard Park, Depot Market Square and Fairhaven Village Green were a result of the vision and foresight of Griffin and his friends, and were it not for them the city might be a very different place than the one we take mostly for granted today.
Griffin is nothing if not modest, and insists that if he helped shape those changes, it was all thanks to the connections he made at the Rotary Club of Bellingham.
“At Rotary we knew how to make things happen,” he said. “As a result of my membership at the Rotary Club, I had relationships and friendships with like-minded people who enabled me to accomplish many of my community goals more easily. Basically the Rotary Club allowed me to know the people in the community who made things happen.”
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Griffin joined Rotary in 1960 at the age of 28, inspired by his father, a long-time club member and past president. Back then, the Rotary Club was very different to its present incarnation, he said.
“Its chief function was fellowship and getting to know each other,” he said. “If you wanted to meet the people that literally owned the town, you were a member of Rotary. It was an organization I respected, and I was honored when I was asked to join.”
Today there are three areas in which the Rotary Club excels, Griffin reflected.
Basically the Rotary Club allowed me to know the people in the community who made things happen.
“On an international level we’ve helped to almost defeat polio, and on a domestic level there are many projects Rotary generates and donates to,” he said. “But of equal importance is the contacts that Rotarians make among each other that give them the knowledge, connections and ability to do good things.”
The creation of Boulevard Park is the perfect example.
Griffin recalls how, in the early 1970s, locals who wanted access to the waterfront had to trespass on industrial land. After the Spinnaker Reach apartments were built, there was concern the waterfront views would be gone for good – a fear exacerbated in 1972 when three local businessmen with the plan of building apartments secured 50-year leases just north of what is now Boulevard Park. A group of YWCA members lobbied the city to prevent the construction, but when their efforts failed, they approached the Rotary Club for help. Griffin was there to hear their petition.
“We thought it was a good idea to take on this challenge, try to save the view and build a park,” he recalled. “Over a period of eight years the Rotary Club assembled the land, talked the three businessmen into giving up their lease and worked with the city to create a waterfront park by 1980. It couldn’t have been done without the connections and community knowledge of a great number of Rotarians.”
Bellingham’s farmer’s market at Depot Market Square is another example of influential Rotary members in action.
For people with a social conscience who want to do things to improve the community, Rotary is a great platform from which to fulfill their goals.
Griffin had heard that the city had a $1 million grant to improve Railroad Avenue and the site of the farmer’s market. Together with Rick Wright, a friend and chairman at Rotary, Griffin attended a presentation by a Seattle architect. Both men went home disillusioned.
“We didn’t like that architect’s plan,” he said. “As Rick and I started thinking about that site, I remembered a wonderful farmers’ market I’d seen in France, and I thought it would be great to build a glass and steel building that would be the center of the market.”
The two men drew up a plan and presented it to the mayor.
“He slammed his fist on the table and said ‘By God, you’re right! That’s what we’ll do!’” Griffin said.
Griffin and Wright promised to raise $500,000 to help make the square a reality, and Rotary Club of Bellingham contributed funds.
If you wanted to meet the people that literally owned the town, you were a member of Rotary.
“It was never a Rotary project, but it was done by Rotarians because we know how to make things happen,” he said.
Young, civic-minded people who want to forge new friendships and contribute to their city should definitely consider joining the Rotary Club, Griffin said.
“But only if they do so for altruistic reasons,” Griffin said, “not to further their own career gains.”
Fifty-seven years after he became a member, the Monday Rotary meetings remain an important part of his life.
“They bring me weekly socialization, connectivity and a continued feeling of contributing to the community,” Griffin said. “For people with a social conscience who want to do things to improve the community, Rotary is a great platform from which to fulfill their goals.”