Seasoned leaders are not easy to come by, and Pierce County has lost three respected veterans from the human services field in recent months.
First to go was David Ottey, who retired at the beginning of the year from the Emergency Food Network. Then word got around that David Alger will be leaving Associated Ministries come May. Now it’s Don Rennegarbe of Tacoma Community House who is headed out the door.
Enough’s enough. Forget a federal bailout; what Pierce County really needs is a moratorium on retirement.
All kidding aside, the departures are a big loss for a community that has come to rely on the vision and passion these three men brought to their jobs.
Ottey built a food bank network that helped ensure that no one in Pierce County need go hungry. His dogged pursuit of new sources of food and inability to hear the word “no” kept shelves stocked.
Alger, who came to Tacoma three decades ago thinking he’d help coordinate existing church programs, led Associated Ministries to become a force in its own right.
Under his watch, the organization has been at the forefront of the faith community’s response to sensitive issues. Alger took on police violence, the scourge of AIDS and the Iraq war, to name a few. He is a most deserving recipient of the 2009 Greater Tacoma Peace Prize.
Rennegarbe is the relative newcomer among the bunch, having arrived in Tacoma just 13 years ago. But his work at Tacoma Community House has been no less impressive.
Rennegarbe has helped connect 40,000 with jobs, interpreters, tutors, social services – you name it, anything to help them get on their feet and be productive members of the community.
Individually, each man’s retirement is a loss to his organization. Collectively, Ottey, Alger and Rennegarbe represent 64 years of community leadership that won’t be easily or quickly replaced.
Under other circumstances, their exodus might still have been greeted as a healthy changing of the guard, a chance for well-earned rest and fresh leadership.
But these days, it is all the more bittersweet given the crisis facing social services and nonprofits in general. The head-on collision between declining financial support and increasing need for services is putting incredible strain on many agencies.
Fortunately, each retiree leaves his organization in good shape and in good hands.
Two familiar faces – Liz Dunbar, the former deputy secretary of the state Department of Social and Health Services, and Lakewood City Councilwoman Helen McGovern – are stepping in to lead Community House and EFN, respectively. Associated Ministries has tapped Christopher Morton, an experienced nonprofit leader for the Minnesota Council of Churches, to take Alger’s place.
We cheer them on, even as we lament the loss of their predecessors. The community is depending on the new guard’s success.