Do good, wherever you can, whenever you can, and to whomever you can. These are words that Nancy Waddell has set as words to aspire to.
Walt Blackford of Sustainable Whidbey Coalition said, “Nancy does good all over this island. She was one of the first people I met in 1996 when I moved here; she seemed to be everywhere helping out. She’s enhanced groups such as Whidbey Institute, Y2K volunteer group, Neighbor to Neighbor, Whidbey Watershed stewards, CERT and Red Cross. Nancy’s presence can be felt throughout the community. I know Nancy to be the quintessential community leader … doing her work quietly yet effectively in service to the greater good. Her seemingly tireless devotion to the South Whidbey community, and commitment is a great gift that benefits all of South Whidbey.”
When arriving at Waddell’s home, one of the first things of note is her car license plate, DO GOOD. Entering her home one notes the many neat and tidy stacks of community paperwork, notebooks and folders piled up here and there. It looks like a nonprofit office and cozy home all in one.
Caring for the natural environment and educating for preparedness for the unexpected events in life are themes in Waddell’s volunteer work. The Red Cross is high on her list of important projects and philosophy.
“This month is Red Cross Emergency Preparedness Month,” she said. “My desire is that everyone would have a plan in place for themselves. Start thinking about it. That’s the first step. What if the unexpected happened? What would you do, what would your loved ones do? Where would you go? Start thinking about how you would first take care of yourself, then your family, then your vulnerable neighbors, then your community. Have a contact person that has a phone outside the area; for example I have someone in Oregon. I also bought myself an escape second-story ladder for my bedroom window. Of course I probably should open the box and read the instructions.”
She laughed. “Well buying it was the first step.”
She also has a Go Kit, and emergency breakfast food, rice milk, cereal and juice stored.
She smiled and said, “I’ll just feed my neighbors breakfast until help arrives. Knowing basic skills like CPR, and basic first aid are all important. Be prepared, if nothing happens, great. I don’t say this with any doom and gloom; the point is it’s hard enough when an emergency happens, but especially if we are not prepared.”
She said being prepared takes some of the panic out of the emergent situation. She wants people in the community to know they are welcome to get involved with the local chapter of Red Cross, CERT or any of the other preparedness organizations. She is co-leader of the South Whidbey Red Cross Chapter.
“This community as a whole has been lucky so far,” Waddell said, thinking back to Y2K when she was involved with a group whose members educated themselves and prepared for that possible disaster.
“I was one of the people on phone duty on the eve of 2000. Of course nothing happened, but we were prepared if it did,” she said as she triumphantly threw her arms up in the air and chuckled.
“I first met Nancy when I was on the board of what was called then Maxwelton Salmon Adventure,” Janet Hall of the WSU Island County Extension said. “Once Nancy joined our board and nonprofit the organization immediately became more efficient. Once she takes something on, she never lets it drop until it’s complete. She is very calm, and brings that calmness to meetings and situations. She can see both sides of any idea. She’s a truly giving person, and she has a dry, funny sense of humor. She has her finger on the pulse; if you want to know about South Whidbey and what is going on, ask Nancy.”
Waddell moved to Whidbey Island from Portland in 1983. What brought her to the island were the people she experienced when she visited.
“What keeps me here? It’s the people. This wonderful place changed my life, and I am happy to stay here the rest of my life,” she said. She moved from New York City to Portland in 1973 with her husband. “But the marriage didn’t survive the move. I worked in various government capacities including for an elected official. I don’t understand why so many are so distrustful of government. I haven’t seen that really, I see most people in government as hard-working civic servants.”
Waddell has had many jobs, all of which she said she “talked her way into.” For example, she said when she came to Whidbey she wanted to do something different so she talked her way into a waitress job, something she had never done before.
“I found out it is really a challenging job. I tried to give my best service and not take it personally when some didn’t tip,” she said. She worked at LaCasita in Langley in the 1980s and the owner had a rule that all employees hug each employee each time they left a shift. “They believed this would promote good relationships among us, and it worked. We are all still friends today.”
Another one of her jobs she said she talked her way into was as a public coordinator for Snohomish County solid waste. Grinning, she said with sarcasm, “Oh, that was a lot of fun. No one wanted a transfer station in their neighborhood. I learned again not to take anything personally and to remain calm in hostile meetings.”
She “retired” from that job; in fact, she’s retired four times, including most recently from Watershed Stewards.
Her other interest is finding options for senior housing on South Whidbey. She has explored various ideas with others, but nothing has come to fruition yet. Her third passion is picking up litter. She is on three adopt-a-road cleanup crews. She likes to look at clean roadsides, so she gets out of her car and picks up cans and bottles, or takes walks with a trash bag in hand.
Waddell said what she really wants is to concentrate on is people, not things.
“It’s funny, you know those personality tests many of us take? Every time I take one it shows up I am way down on the people skills. But I do care about people, especially on South Whidbey. I want my life now to be less about things and more about personal connections with people. I think I have concentrated too much on a project or the cause and less about relationships. I hope to do better with that now.”
Perhaps Waddell has been doing a lot better in this area than she thinks. Fritz and Vivienne Hull, longtime community volunteers and directors of Chinook Learning Center, had kind words for her.
“We have had the privilege of knowing Nancy as a friend and colleague over many years, since she joined the staff of the Chinook Learning Center as our Director of Educational Programs,” they wrote. “She was remarkable at successfully organizing and implemented hundreds of conferences, workshops and retreats. Long hours and a very low salary never interfered with her total dedication and enthusiasm. But more than this, Nancy was always an unfailing friend to us, to others with whom she worked, and to the many, many participants and guests she hosted. She is a woman of deep faith who never draws attention to herself or her accomplishments. Nancy is a gift to all who know her. A hometown hero? Yes!”
Waddell’s “DO GOOD” license plate was inspired by a quote she heard at her church Langley United Methodist. It was from John Wesley. “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”
What others say about Nancy:
“Nancy is a diligent worker, a great communicator with a caring heart and giving spirit and a warm smile. Nancy Waddell was our son Kenny’s ‘guardian angel’ (a program at our church to connect one generation to another) when he was in middle school. She would check in with him each week and made a special effort to attend his basketball games, and then send him photos of his playing. There are several other young people from our community who she has mentored into adulthood.
“Nancy has a special role at the Langley United Methodist Church. She writes up the prayers and concerns from every service and shares them via email so even if you miss one Sunday, you can stay connected with our church family.”
—Helen Price Johnson, church and community volunteer, Island County commissioner
“I know Nancy as a neighbor. She started keeping a neighborhood list and organized our first neighborhood picnic. I inherited the task from her. She also got signs posted to recognize the commitment of the Sills Road neighborhood to keep our road clean and organized pick-up events. We have worked together on behalf of Whidbey Watershed Stewards for nearly 10 years now. She is great at documenting events, she’s always behind the camera. She is a ‘doer.’ In fact, her license plate reads “DO GOOD.” And that is her motto. She does good wherever she goes — through her church, the Red Cross, our neighborhood, WWS, etc. She is a writer: newsletters, grant proposals, website content, etc. When she says she will do something, she does it. You can count on her.”
— Linda Ade Ridder, neighbor, volunteer with Mother Mentors and Sound Waters
“Nancy has been an inspiration to me for the 31 years that I have known her. She is always willing to step forward for organizations and issues that she believes in. She is never too self-conscious to make a statement or take a stand. She is an amazing fund of information about people and resources, is caring and compassionate, and knows how to connect people with what they need. She is the glue in our community.”
— Lea Kouba, volunteer
“I’ve worked with Nancy for about five years with the Maxwelton Community Club. Nancy really knows the people involved with the community and is a great conduit for getting ‘the word’ to those who need to know.”
— Bob Brooks, Maxwelton Parade coordinator
“Nancy is a networking queen. She reads quantities of newspapers and local bulletins and quickly passes on articles, ideas and connections to others. I’ve known her for many years and we’ve shared community service projects even when we represent different organizations. She actually reads the South Whidbey Tilth meeting minutes in its newsletter and sends suggestions. Because of her, Tilth has a very competent bookkeeper. She is a planner and coordinator of extraordinary skill. She is one of Whidbey Island’s Red Cross volunteers. Last winter a homeless person I know was in a dire situation. I called Nancy to find out how to contact the Red Cross. ‘You just did,’ she said.”
— Susan Prescott, Tilth and community volunteer
“I count Nancy as a friend and have worked with her in the Langley United Methodist Church and with the Whidbey Watershed Stewards. Nancy has an amazing ability to link people together. Sometimes the people she connects don’t know one another and should because they are working toward similar goals. Sometimes she connects people with very different backgrounds and interests, but out of the connection comes a new and positive result for the whole community.”
— The Rev. John Worthington, president of Whidbey Watershed Stewards
“I have known Nancy for many, many years. She has helped me in so many ways in my job as secretary of the Langley United Methodist Church. She is an excellent proofreader. She has saved me many embarrassing mistakes. Nancy serves her community in so many ways I could not even count. She has been faithful to the school board for many years. She works tirelessly in our church to serve this community and the world. Nancy is in the ‘know,’ if you ever want to know what is going on around here ask Nancy. I cannot say enough nice things about Nancy. “
— Irene Bullock, secretary of LUMC Methodist church and volunteer
”Several years ago I was part of what was then called the Maxwelton Salmon Adventure. As the nonprofit organization continued to grow we had the need for someone who could steward the organization. What started as a small school project had grown into an Outdoor Classroom teacher to assist, the watershed projects to organize, coordination and recruiting of volunteers and the fundraising efforts to keep the organization afloat, all of which needed someone at the helm to guide and execute without a hitch. Luckily we found Nancy Waddell, who cared deeply about this place so she stepped right into the role of program manager. In a small community like ours, it is so wonderful to have the opportunity to work with someone like Nancy who puts her heart and soul into an organization to make it flourish and grow. “
— Rene Neff, retired teacher, Langley City Council
“Well, Nancy Waddell is someone who has been a Hometown Hero for years. She is an incredible connector of people and ideas. If you want to know what is happening about things environmental on Whidbey Island, start by asking Nancy. She knows what regulations are currently being considered. She knows who is involved. And she understands the subtle complexities. She has been involved in more projects than she can count. Maxwelton Salmon Adventure, now called Whidbey Watershed Stewards, has existed for decades partly because of Nancy’s ongoing presence and dedication.”
— Ann Linnea, co-founder of PeerSpirit