Praise came from all over Washington and landed in Jim Porter’s hands for 30 years of public service on South Whidbey.
Porter attended his last meeting Tuesday, Dec. 17, as a South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District commissioner.
Among his spoils are letters from Gov. Jay Inslee, Sen. Maria Cantwell, State Sen. Barbara Bailey and State Reps. Norma Smith and Dave Hayes, a handwritten note from Sen. Patty Murray, an official Parks resolution recognizing Porter’s dedication and an engraved wood plaque.
And there are the memories he will carry, memories of founding the district in 1983, watching a forest become Community Park and the Sports Complex, working for 30 years to publicly fund an aquatic/community center — still unrealized — and of missing family time for monthly Wednesday night meetings.
“It’s been a great ride the last 30 years,” said Porter at the meeting this week. He paused to gather himself and wipe away a tear before remembering some of the work he did the past three decades, the people he worked with on the parks staff and fellow commissioners.
“I feel the commissioners past and present have shown great stewardship of the public’s money.”
After spending nearly half his life — he’s 67 — sitting through parks board meetings, next month will be the first Porter won’t be at. He never lost an election, though to his memory he never had an opponent.
During his time on the board, the parks district grew ten-fold. Back in 1983, South Whidbey Parks started with a 40-acre donation from the Waterman family and now manages about 420 acres: Community Park, Sports Complex, Trustland Trails, Deer Lake, Lone Lake and Goss Lake.
His work was honored by several people at the meeting Tuesday night. Porter is now the proud owner of a one-of-a-kind South Whidbey Little League hooded sweatshirt with “Porter” screen-printed on the back. Langley Mayor Fred McCarthy presented him with a framed certificate in honor of Porter’s public service. Island County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson, who represents South Whidbey, gave him a letter of appreciation on behalf of the county commissioners. The Rotary Club of South Whidbey Island honored him earlier with the Paul Harris Award, the highest award the organization gives to a non-member.
“You’ll have to get some plaques now, won’t you?” said Don Wood, the parks board president.
Parks Commissioner Matt Simms talked about the footprint the parks district has had since its creation. Simms estimated 1 million people have visited the parks over the past few decades, and shared a story of overhearing a baseball team parent from Kirkland tell her family that it was “The most incredible park I’ve ever seen.”
“That’s a huge impact that came from Jim’s work,” Simms said.
Porter will continue running Porter Whidbey Insurance in Freeland, and said he would likely check in from time to time on parks business. After all, the original goal from 30 years ago was to build a pool and community center, and that work yet remains.