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Langley man leaves legacy in Puget Sound arts

The Puget Sound arts community lost a mentor last week.

And there is most certainly an empty space in the heart of the South End arts family as well.

Langley resident Richard Collins died May 5 at age 78.

Collins was well-known in the Northwest for his Seattle-based fundraising firm The Collins Group which he founded in 1979.

A memorial service and celebration of Collin’s life is planned for 7 p.m. Sunday at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts.

The Collins Group managed one of Seattle’s first capital campaigns, culminating in the creation of the Bagley Wright Theatre, home of the Seattle Repertory Theater Company. The company was also instrumental in the emergent success of other nonprofit arts organizations, including the Seattle-based Intiman Theater and ACT Theater.

In addition to starting the highly regarded firm, Collins also personally consulted for a number of years with numerous nonprofits, and served as the executive director of the Performing Arts Center Eastside (PACE) in Bellevue until his retirement in 2006.

Since his retirement from PACE, Collins had been providing fundraising consulting for Good Cheer and led the campaign that raised $1.2 million to build Whidbey Island Center for the Arts in 1996.

His wife Dorchen Collins, said that her husband loved the serenity of Whidbey Island and was happy to have settled here about 18 years ago.

“We’ve enjoyed the nice simple way of life here that is comfortable and close to nature,” Dorchen Collins said.

“Dick and I always liked the feeling when you get off the ferry on the island side. That feeling of just ‘Ahhh,’” she said, letting out an audible deep breath.

A native of Ottumwa, Iowa, Collins received a bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University and a master of fine arts from the Instituto Allende in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. It was at the Instituto, he met and married his wife of 52 years.

Both Collins and his wife were interested in weaving and fabric design and it was this interest that Dorchen Collins said led to one of the most exciting experiences of the couples’ life together.

“A big turning point in our lives was the very exciting and rewarding work we did in the Department of International Trade Fairs,” Dorchen Collins said.

In 1957 and 1958, the young couple traveled to various parts of the world where Richard Collins led workshops demonstrating the art of batiking.

“We were in Turkey and Yugoslavia for a time,” recalled Dorchen. “Dick was trying to find ways to create jobs for people who had talents but no means.”

In addition to batiking, Collins also demonstrated other mediums like block printing and copper enameling, hoping to give people more skills who needed to make a living.

The couple had their first of their eventual three children in tow, their 9-month-old son, and drove around Europe in a two-cylinder car from which Collins sometimes would give spontaneous tailgate demos.

“We were real gypsies, but we had a wonderful time,” Dorchen said. “It was the most rewarding experience in the world.”

His wife said that although he was a master of fine arts and was interested in photography, weaving and painting, he realized that he probably wasn’t a good enough artist to make a living at it. That’s when he plunged into the business side of the arts and became a successful fundraiser.

Frank Rose, a former WICA board member, recalled the blessing that Collins’ presence was to the fledgling nonprofit.

“Up until then, no nonprofit on the South End had raised over a million dollars,” Rose said.

“Dick was a gentleman,” said Pam Schell, a WICA board member. “He spoke softly and seemed unassuming but had the strength to take on the responsibility for the projects so important to others. He was always very generous of his time. I am so sorry we have will no longer have him in our community and for his wife.”

Michael Collins said his father and mother were humbled and amazed at the number of volunteer drivers who took his father back and forth from the island for radiation treatments during his final days.

In addition to his wife, Collins leaves behind three children and four granddaughters, all whom live in the Seattle area.

Memorials may be made to Good Cheer, PO Box 144, Langley, WA 98260.

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