New board president: Edmonds Senior Center must adapt

Bob Rinehart takes over from John Osterhaug
By Brian Soergel | Jul 07, 2017
Photo by: Brian Soergel Bob Rinehart: “We will never give up these core programs so important to our senior community.”

As new president of the Edmonds Senior Center board of directors, Bob Rinehart said he’s sensitive to criticism that the Edmonds Waterfront Center – which will replace the 55-year-old building, as well as its long-established name – receives from those convinced the current building is just fine.

“Seniors are our core constituency,” he said. “Our board of directors is totally committed to that.

"Fifty years ago, seniors here in Edmonds were in the forefront, following the Older Americans Act passed by (President) LBJ.”

That act, a key part of Lyndon Baines Johnson’s Great Society reforms, helped establish senior centers and their wide variety of programs designed for seniors.

“We’ve looked at other senior centers, and we believe we’re as good or better than all of them,” Rinehart said. “We have a very solid set of programs, and surveys illustrate that.”

But the new center, a collaboration between the Senior Center and the city of Edmonds, needs to expand its offerings to all Edmonds citizens, no matter their age, Rinehart said. It’s no wonder: It’s a prime piece of real estate with great potential, beachfront property with in-your-face views of the ferry dock and fishing pier.

The plan is to hold senior activities from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. or so, then turn it over to other activities. “Particularly on the weekends, it will be the place for weddings, for conferences, for all sorts of things,” Senior Center Executive Director Farrell Fleming told the Edmonds Beacon in July 2016.

Rinehart said plans are to raze the building in May, opening the new building in the spring or summer of 2019.

There is every intention to continue the many programs enjoyed by Senior Center’s 1,800 members while construction is ongoing. Rinehart and Fleming are working with local churches and eldercare community businesses to hold events there.

“Some may even be held in homes,” Rinehart said, “such as our German-language classes. It’s our intention to find homes for all of the programs. We want to sustain the programs and even enhance them when moving into the Waterfront Center. We will never diminish any of the programs. Moving into the future, the senior programs will be the core of what we do.”

Varied background

Rinehart moved from vice-president to president on June 6 – in accordance to Senior Center bylaws – after John Osterhaug resigned. Osterhaug will remain on the board and executive committee.

“The center has been in very good hands with John at the helm, and we are fortunate to have someone as capable as Bob to step in,” Fleming said.

Patsy Ethridge-Neal, a former president, is now vice president.

Rinehart, 78, has lived in Edmonds a relatively short time – he and wife Sylvana moved to the area in 2004 and live in Shell Valley, near Yost Park.

“It’s the typical story,” he said. “We drove down Main Street and it was, unpack you bags, Martha, this is it. We’re not going anywhere. We fell in love with this place. We met (Edmonds real estate agent) Ron Clyborne, and he and his wife took us around and helped us buy a house.

“Ron asked me what I wanted to do here, and I told him I wanted to be a part of building this community. I don’t want to be somebody who just lives here and enjoys it.”

Rinehart’s been good to his word.

Three months later, he was on the Chamber of Commerce’s development committee, and was chairman for seven years. He was the chamber’s vice-president for two years. He also was vice-president of the Edmonds Public Facility District – which oversees the Edmonds Center for the Arts – for two years, president for three.

In addition to his duties at the Senior Center, Rinehart is on the Edmonds Veterans Plaza steering committee. The plaza was dedicated on Memorial Day; an information kiosk, water feature and sculpture for military service dogs are to be installed soon, he said.

Rinehart, born and raised in northeastern Ohio and a star football and lacrosse player in high school, is himself a veteran. He was an infantry officer in the Marines from 1962 to 1965. He did not see action in Vietnam, but he was a player in the war during a 30-year career as a field intelligence officer in the CIA, living in three European and two Asian countries.

“I was in Laos with the agency in what was called a paramilitary assignment,” said Rinehart, who speaks several languages.

“We can talk about this stuff now. I was working upcountry; my job was to work with guerilla groups, to arm and train them – their task was to keep an eye on the Vietnamese.

“Laos was a buffer zone, and we were trying to reduce chances of the domino theory from taking place.”

Rinehart and his wife traveled west in 1992, settling in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he was special assistant to the president at John F. Kennedy University. It was there that he designed a one-week, intensive eldercare workshop for visiting Japanese delegations that continues today.

“It helped give me experience into all realms of the eldercare field,” said Rinehart, whose wife is a senior care specialist at Cedar Creek Memory Care in Edmonds.

“Now, it’s very fulfilling for me to be a part of it here. I feel very strongly that helping people as they grow older gives meaning and purpose to their lives. It gives me fulfillment, and I can do it here in Edmonds. We have a very solid and strong board, as well as a competent staff.”

Funds needed

Rinehart acknowledges that funds are still necessary for the Edmonds Waterfront Center to move forward. It has an $11 million price tag, and there is well over $5 million raised now, he said.

There have been several large donations from C. Keith Birkenfeld Charitable Trust, Hazel Miller Foundation and the Campbell Auto Group.

European travel expert Rick Steves, an Edmonds resident, has contributed $2 million and will donate another $1 million in matching funds. Like the city of Edmonds, the Senior Center is hoping for a $2.25 million grant from the state, but is waiting for passage of the state’s capital budget for that to happen. (The center’s annual gala in May raised $62,000.)

The city owns the land, but signed an option to lease and a ground lease for the nonprofit senior center to raise funds and build the two-story, 26,000-square-foot structure, designed by Environmental Works of Seattle. The Senior Center will own the building.

The city is proceeding with the design and permitting of the beach restoration and parking lot improvements. Some environmental testing has already been completed, Rinehart said, as the plan is to raise the building’s ground level to guard against rising sea levels and possible tsunamis.

“We hope that in three to five years after it opens, there will be more of a blending (between senior and community programs),” Rinehart said.

“Over the summer and on weekends, our hope is that the Waterfront Center will be as multigenerational as it can be. But we will never give up these core programs so important to our senior community.

“In the process, as we move forward, we will be sensitive to the need that every senior center eventually thinks about: How do you sustain the programs that keep current seniors happy, while also reaching out to the boomer generation, who want something to do but may want different programs?

“There are some boomers who say, ‘You can have that Senior Center. We don’t want it.’ We think the coming of Waterfront Center is a blessing, so we’ll be able to create broader programs to attract these boomers.”

Rinehart admits some are still unhappy with the eventual passing of the Senior Center, an icon on the Edmonds waterfront.

But he adds that the majority of members are just too busy to be concerned about the future.

“When I see the seniors here, nobody talks about the issues,” he said. “That makes us happy. And if they’re happy, they’re engaged. That means we’re doing what we should be doing.”


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