A career of service to the public came to a bittersweet end Aug. 31 when Eric Mager retired as deputy director of the North Whidbey Help House.
After 19 years at the Oak Harbor-based food bank, Mager said what he will miss most is the people he has come to befriend over nearly two decades of service.
Mager began his career in aviation electronics in the Navy, which brought him to Whidbey Island in 1983. He completed four tours from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, then retired to Whidbey in 1999 after ending his career as a chief in Guam.
Mager earned a computer information systems degree from Skagit Valley College and worked for a few years in the tech industry, but found the field’s highly demanding work culture unsatisfying. He wanted to work with people, and increasingly, he felt himself being drawn toward social services.
He went back to school for a social services degree, which he wouldn’t finish, as he soon found a job in the field. For a school assignment, he interviewed the former director of the Help House. The director mentioned he was about to retire, and then-deputy director Jean Wieman would be stepping into his shoes. The Help House would soon be in need of a new deputy director.
Mager applied for the position and was hired shortly after in 2004.
The position has come with many responsibilities over the years, Mager said. He was in charge of managing and organizing the warehouse and freezer, sorting donations, overseeing the food bank’s participation in the U.S. Department of Agriculture Commodity Supplemental Food Program, submitting reports to the state, interfacing with grocery store managers that give food to the Help House and various administrative tasks.
Mager added that he has seen a lot of growth in the food bank over his 19 years working there. The Help House increased its capacity with the addition of a produce stand, a fridge for dairy and deli products and a large, walk-in freezer. As the population on the island has grown, the Help House has served more and more families monthly.
Mager’s favorite part about working at the Help House is interacting with all the members of the community that work together to make the food bank’s services happen. Local business owners, grocery store managers, community donors, members of nearby churches and other charitable organizations, donors, volunteers and clients have all become dear friends to Mager, he said.
“It’s just really an all around community interaction that keeps this place going,” he said.
For this reason, he had mixed feelings approaching his retirement last week, but overall, he said he felt good about it. In retirement, Mager said he plans to take some more classes at the college, perhaps travel a little and maybe even continue volunteering at the Help House.