Life Experiences

“Read not to contradict and confute, nor to believe and take for granted… but to weigh and consider.”

Francis Bacon, philosopher

 

As I review my 87+ years of life experiences, I want to present my thoughts to be weighed and considered. My observations won’t have ‘truth’ value, but will be useful. If, there are lessons from my life that are more or less useful to the reader – great. Otherwise, l hope that my thoughts and experiences will entertain and sometimes delight you.

 

Background of an Activist

I was born on 3 July of 1930 in Newark, New Jersey.  My family lived in Irvington, New Jersey for my first 12 years before moving to Manasquan, a small beach town on the Jersey Shore. My maternal grand mother lived with me, my twin brother, Roy , my older brother, Stanley, and my parents.

George and Roy

 (George in forefront)

 

 

It wasn’t the first time I had traveled alone or far from home. From an early age I had spent nights away from earning scout badges but also escaping an intolerable home life. To this day, the woods  to me is what church is to religious folk. My travels across the the country with the Scouts or on a bicycle  and hitching. I may be at risk of sounding like a Woody Guthrie song but by the time I was 18, I had slept in a jailhouse and a cemetery (as peaceful as the woods) and met my Aunty , who had killed a bear.

As I set out on this journey, I felt confident that my life till then had somewhat prepared me for whatever lay ahead but when I left NJ at 18 with a bike heading for South America, I never envisioned ending up in Panama with $13 and no bike but a job with the Inter- American Geodetic Survey working in the mountains and jungles of Panama and later Guatemala.

This journey set me on a course far from Jersey and I haven’t returned since. Feeling myself many time like an outsider, I had always felt a kinship with the { marginalized} in society. This wandering teenager was always welcomed with compassion, kindness and friendship by the indigenous people on my journey.

I developed a deep appreciation and affection for the  people and the cultures of the countries I visited which has grown exponentially over the years. I think this was truly  a defining period in my life.

I returned to the US just before the Korean War began. Feeling that I would soon be drafted I took off for Europe and hitchhiked for six months, finally returning to the US in December of 1950. I enlisted in the Army in January of 1951.

                                                                                                    On the job in Panama, 1949.

 

George relaxing in Panama City, 1949.

 

Korean War Experience.

After basic training I trained as a high-speed morse radio intercept operator and then was sent to the Army Language School in Monterey, California, where I studied Chinese Mandarin. I was sent to Korea in 1952. I immediately became involved in

 orphanage work in my spare time. In that role I sent over 1,000 letters to folks in the States in the first six months in Korea soliciting help for the children.

I served as corresponding secretary of the company orphanage committee. This experience made a deep impression on this young soldier. I returned home in December of 1953.

 

 

Monterey Peninsula College, 1954-1955.

I enrolled at MPC in Monterey, California and was elected President of the International Relations Club. I began  to collect material aid for Korea and sent over 20 tons of assistance while a student at MPC.

[Photo:  In those days I smoked a pipe.]

 

 

U.C. at Berkeley, 1955-1959.

At UC- Berkeley, I was elected President of the Association of International Relations Clubs of Northern California Universities and Colleges and began working toward a broader public understanding of international relations.

George at Berkeley

As a member of Delta Phi Epsilon, the professional foreign service fraternity, I helped organize student conferences on international relations.While earning a BA in History and an MA in Sociology, I also studied Chinese Mandarin and Tibetan languages. My Masters’ thesis was on social change in 19th Century China and the role of the western missionaries.

 

 

 

 

 

High School teaching, 1959-1961.

In 1959, I began teaching 9th grade social studies – first in Atwater and then in Pacific Grove, California.  My homeroom quickly became a hangout for marginalized youth in the school. We worked together to improve their

sense of self worth and their learning skills. As a class exercise, we did a community study to determine the racial boundaries (zones) maintained by the realtors in PacificGrove, California. The study caused a public furor as it exposed the racist nature of the housing industry in that religious community.

 

 

Foreign Service, 1961 – 1964.

In 1961, I accepted employment with the United States Information Agency. After training at the US Foreign Service Institute in Washington, D.C. I was sent to Manizales, Colombia.  With Mary Ann and our newborn son David in tow, I was to serve as Director of the US Cultural Center in that city of about 200,000 population.

There I became deeply involved in the social activities in that city, especially in the slums. I developed one of the largest literacy programs in the nation, helped develop various programs at the boy’s industrial trade school, the reform school, the national prison, the orphanage and in many of the poor barrios of the city. I organized seminars on Community Organization for leaders of social service organizations and was also very involved in the cultural and artistic life of the city sponsoring concerts, poetry readings, art exhibits and theater performances. I was named honorary lifetime president of the local history society after getting it rejuvenated and active again after years of slumber.  [Fifty five years later I was invited back to be the keynote speaker at their hundredth birthday party.]

Upon departure from Manizales I was honored with “Keys of the City in Gold”, “Honorary Citizenship” and named “Adopted Son of the City”, the first time such honors were ever granted to a foreigner.

 

 

Ph.D. studies at University of Wisconsin, Madison, 1964-1967

From 1964 – 1967, I pursued my graduate studies in sociology with an emphasis on community sociology and voluntary organizations. My doctoral minor was in Latin American Studies. Doctoral language exams were in Spanish and French.

Photo:  Roy, (left) with friends having a picnic dinner with Mary Ann, David and me at Eagle Heights, U.W. student housing yard.

 

My Ph.D. dissertation was an analysis of the power structure of Manizales, Colombia and how the elites infiltrated, co-opted and/or destroyed voluntary organizations of the poor to prevent the formation of interest groups that could challenge their power.

 

 While in Madison, Wisconsin,Mary Ann and I adopted a 3-year old African American boy,Todd.

 

 

 

 

 

We moved to Bellingham in December of 1967

In 1967, I accepted a position as professor of sociology at Western Washington State College (later to become Western Washington University). I taught courses on community development, community systems analysis, evaluation of social programs, human services planning, social change, etc.

I encouraged students to become involved in or study community organizations and almost immediately became involved in the creation of the Mexican American Advisory Committee [now the Washington State Hispanic Commission] for Governor Dan Evans and served as volunteer staff consultant to that organization in its formative years.

The years of experience in Colombia, Panama, Guatemala and Mexico had cemented my sensitivity to the cultures of our southern neighbors. In 1970, when I became aware that the Western Washington State College Art Gallery was planning on showing the IBM exhibit of the “Art of Protest”, paintings by Mexican artists – Orozco, Tamayo, Siqueros, Diego Riviera and others, my students and I organized a reception at the gallery for the Hispanic population of the region to celebrate the opening of the exhibit. My students searched the phone book for Hispanic names and sent invitations to all who were thought to be Hispanic. This was to be a celebration of THEIR art and culture. Hispanic leaders from as far away as Wapato, Toppinish and Granger came across the mountains to Bellingham for the function.

 

Vice President, Whatcom County Opportunity Council

As Vice President of the Board of Directors of the Whatcom County Opportunity Council, I encouraged a Native American tribal member to assume a leadership position in that organization. As member of the Board of Directors  of the Opportunity Council, I supervised and found funding for a study of the Nooksack Native American community housing needs and participated in the early stages of planning the strategy for the development of the Lummi Indian acquaculture program.

 

Formation of Chicano Clubs.

Working closely with the local Mexican American community and the school districts, I wrote a grant proposal, funded by the Washington State Office of Public Instruction, for the promotion of Chicano clubs in the high schools of Skagit and Whatcom counties.

 

Work with local Native American communities.

After being appointed to the committee to plan the inauguration of Dr. J. Flora as President of WWU, I was incensed to find out that the mayors and city council members of all Whatcom County communities were to be invited to the inauguration and banquet but not the leadership of the Lummi and Nooksack nations.  “They never have been invited” was the weak response. They were all invited this time – much to the chagrin of certain senior faculty who criticized me for “causing problems”. I suggested inviting the Native Americans in the area to perform a ceremonial “raising a man to a position of leadership in his tribe”. It is interesting to note that a photograph of that ceremony is proudly presented in a recent history of Western when, at the time, the idea was not that well received.

 

University Year for Action

I created the “University Year for Action” program, which has generated millions of dollars in grants over the years.  It was created to place and support students in community service programs while pursuing their studies. I designed many of the projects the students worked in around the needs of minority populations or marginated groups. The program has been “institutionalized” and is now a major element of the Woodring College of Education called “Human Services Careers Program”.

 

Retired Senior Volunteer Program

I created the Bellingham/Whatcom County Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) which serves over 1,000 senior volunteers in the county. Many of these volunteers work in programs for disabled, marginated and minority populations. I wrote the original grant proposal and secured funding for this program 45 years ago

 

I created the “Goals for Bellingham” program.

The “Goals for Bellingham” program grant proposal that I wrote was funded by the state was headed by Dr. Skip Everett. This was the first neighborhood planning process based on local citizen participation ever conducted in Bellingham.  As a result of this program the City of Bellingham became the first “non entitlement” city in the state to qualify for Community Development Block Grant Funds.

 

I created the “Civic Partnership” program.

I wrote and got funding for the Civic Partnership program which brought volunteers into city programs such as the library, police department, park department, etc. This was later merged with the Voluntary Action Center. I sat on the board of the joint program for several years.

 

 Visiting Nurse Home Health Care

To better serve the needs of the seniors in our community with meager incomes I forced the merger of the Whatcom County Opportunity Council ‘Home Health Care’ program with the ‘Visiting Nurse Program.’ Over the years I have served on dozens of committees, boards and councils at the local, regional and state level.

 

Bellingham Herald Carriers Protective Association.

As father of a Herald news carrier, I became aware of how the Herald was abusing the carriers with policies that hurt the carriers and their families. On investigation I found that the Herald was the single largest user of the county small claims court where they took an average of 20 carriers parents to court each year for non payment of debt, garnished the wages of a carrier parent and used other ways to collect money they said was due them.

One former carrier supervisor stated that the Herald ordered him to acknowledge only a limited number of complaints of “over drops” where the Herald would deliver more papers than the carrier ordered. I, along with parents of the carriers, including the Vice President of a large manufacturing plant in the city, picketed the Herald building garnering a live on-site news report on the KGMI radio station. When the Herald took the next group of carriers to court the Herald Carriers Protective Association was there in force. After testimony by the carriers the judge threw the case out and threatened the Herald with legal action if they did not change the way they treated the carriers.

 

As President of the Whatcom Association of Retarded Citizens Drake charges Bellingham School District with misuse of funds.

With (another parent of a Special Education student) in the Bellingham School District I studied the school budget for Special Education. With guidance from the Washington State Office of Education, we reviewed the invoices in the Bellingham School District finance office to ascertain whether the payments were for services actually received by the disabled. On finding major discrepancies, the WARC confronted the Director of Special Services and threatened a law suit against the district if the practice did not end immediately. We demanded that the position of Director of Special Services be occupied by a professional in the field and not by an aging coach/vice principal needing another job before retirement. WARC was successful in this regard and helped write the job description for the position.

 

I took on the Bellingham School Board

As President of the local chapter of the Washington Association of Retarded Citizens I confronted the Bellingham School Board about a plan to discontinue the contract for Speech Therapy professionals with the intent to reinstate the position after one year with Federal funding. We maintained that this was an abuse of the intent of the “Education for All” law. With the threat of a law suit the School Board voted to keep the staff as it was. About a month later, a parent in the Seattle School District sued the Seattle schools on this same account and the Federal government froze all funds for the Seattle Schools for Special Education until they changed their procedures. Bellingham would have been in the same boat had they continued on this devious funding attempt.

 

Honored by the Sun Crisis Center.

The Sun Crisis Center, on ‘behalf of the people of the community’, presented me a plaque for my “Academic Excellence in the Field.”  On the plaque was written “A man should share the actions and passions of his time, least he be judged not to have lived.”

 

Saving the City Bus System

When city officials turned down a petition to have the city purchase the privately operated city bus system they citied ‘costs’ as a factor. I spoke up at a City Council public hearing on the issue and stated that ‘social cost’ of not having a bus system also had to be taken into account. I offered to conduct a study for the city council of the social cost of not having a bus system. My offer was ignored. On my own initiative I conducted a survey of all riders on the bus for one week and published the results in the Bellingham Herald. The study was also covered by KVOS TV. It showed the extent to which the elderly, the poor and the disabled would be seriously affected by the lack of a bus system. Voters were sufficiently moved by the results of my study and the ensuing publicity that they voted in favor of the city acquisition of the bus system.

 

Creation of Highland Heights Park.

When developers started developing the land to the north of Alabama Street in 1971, I was quite concerned that no land was being designated for parks. When Vining Street was to be extended to the north for yet another housing development with no designated open space, I went to the City Council meeting and encouraged the creation of “Tot Lots” or neighborhood play grounds. A City Council member asked Eunice Wolf, City Planner, if there was an ordinance requiring developers to dedicate open space and park land in new plats and she said “No”. The Councilman suggested that they table approval of the plat until the City Planner could bring such an ordinance forward. The developer, not wanting a delay in the approval of the plat, offered to donate sufficient lots to the city for the creation of what became Highland Heights Park.

 

I was able to get the F.B.I. to investigate Bellingham Police Department.

Upon hearing a police officer laughingly relate how two Bellingham police officers removed a Hispanic prisoner from the city jail, drove him to a gravel pit in Skagit County and beat him up before driving back to Bellingham, I called the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice in Washington, DC and asked that they send agents to Bellingham to investigate. This resulted in a FBI investigation into the abuses against minority prisoners by members of the Bellingham Police Department.

As a result of the investigation several senior officers took early retirement. I was then a member of the Bellingham City Council and informed the new Chief of Police that if I even heard a rumor of police brutality or discrimination against minorities again I would do all I could to ensure that there would not be any salary increase for any member of the Bellingham Police Dept. while I was a city councilman.

 

I lobbied for the creation of the College of Ethnic Studies at WWU.

With other activists I fought for the formation of the College of Ethnic Studies at WWU. We brought Tomas Ibara (later director of Rockefeller Foundation Latin American programs) to join me in pressuring the Board of Trustees of WWU to form the college.

 

Promotion of Lummi and Nooksack leaders.

Noting that the Western Foundation and President Bob Ross of WWU hosted innumerable dinner parties for “community leaders” at the president’s home but never invited Native Americans, I convinced President Ross to host a dinner for Lummi and Nooksack elders and tribal leaders. It was another “first” for the university (but a shame that it took so long to happen).

 

Bellingham City Council.

I was elected to the Bellingham City Council in 1974. In that role I generated an immense amount of press coverage for the radical changes I was able to bring about while in this position. For example I called the first public hearing on “Poverty in Bellingham” which filled the council chambers. I forced the dissolution of the “Recreation Commission” and created the city Park and Recreation Department. One of my charges was that the commission had absolutely no programs for girls/women.

 

City Council Committee on Rights of Handicapped.

While on the Bellingham City Council I formed the “City Council Committee on the Rights of the Handicapped”. I brought forth a resolution on “The Rights of the Handicapped”, the first such policy document/resolution of any city in the state of Washington. I secured full funding for all requests of the committee analyzing what the city could do to hep the handicapped.

 

At Western Washington University I was appointed “Special Assistant for International Programs.”

University president Bob Ross appointed me as his “Special Assistant for International Programs” and was told to “internationalize the campus and bring campus activities to the community.” With this mandate Drake organized a series of cultural evenings celebrating various ethnic communities in Bellingham. These programs were all held off campus, e.g., at the old Leopold Hotel or the Holiday Inn hotel by Fred Meyers. The purpose was to generate a community wide appreciation for the diverse ethnic groups in the county.

 

I organized the Bunka No Hi celebration of Japanese culture.

The first major cultural event I organized was to celebrate Bunka No Hi, Japan culture day, on 4 November. Over 200 persons from the local Japanese community and persons interested in Japan came to the reception, dinner and cultural program. Shakuhachi and Koto players performed traditional works. It was a beautiful experience. At the end of the evening two older Ise women who had come to Whatcom County as war brides after WWII approached me, in tears and said it was the first time their culture had been so beautifully honored in Bellingham since they arrived. They had learned to hide their cultural identity, as the Japanese were “the enemy”.

 

I organized a “China Night” celebration of Chinese culture.

Using the anniversary of the founding of the Peoples Republic of China as a reason for creating an event to honor the local Chinese population I organized a “China Night” birthday party for all the Chinese Americans and Chinese nationals and their friends in the area. Over 200 persons came to the reception, dinner and cultural performance. Four staff of the Chinese Consulate Generals Office in San Francisco drove up for the ceremony. The featured cultural event that evening was a concert by one of the finest er-hu players of China. His performance was outstanding and brought the entire audience to their feet with thunderous applause.

 

 “Noche Mexicana” to aid earthquake victims in Mexico

Noche Mexicana was an evening of Hispanic music organized by students in  my Community Organization course at Western Washington University. The concert was given in the Mt. Baker Theater as a fund-raiser to aid a small college in Mexico City that collapsed in the earthquake of 1985 killing over 100 faculty and students.   Artists from Mexico, Spain, Peru, Bolivia and the U.S. demonstrated the wide variety of Hispanic music. It was a wonderful celebration of Latin culture and raised thousands of dollars to aid the Mexican school.

 

 Korea Day ceremony.

The Korea Day activities ended with a reception, dinner and cultural evening that was especially remembered for the beautiful traditional gowns worn by the Korean women. They commented to me that they rarely had an opportunity to wear their gowns in America and appreciated this chance to show with pride this element of their culture. The Korean population in Whatcom County is growing and can point with pride to its rich culture.

 

Exhibit of Japanese calligraphy brought to Bellingham.

I brought to Bellingham a major exhibit of Japanese calligraphy sponsored by the Government of Japan that was being shown in museums in selected cities in the U.S. The exhibit had been prepared for the dedication of the new Embassy of Japan in Washington, D.C.    I found out that there was a month in which it would be stored in Seattle so I was able to negotiate a brief show in Bellingham. I invited a calligraphy expert from the Asia Center of the University of British Columbia to lecture on the art of calligraphy and its place in the aesthetics of Japanese arts. The exhibit was free and open to the public in a venue in the center of the city and not on the WWU campus. This was one more effort to generate an appreciation of the culture of one of the ethnic minority groups in Whatcom County.

 

Japan Art Center on Cornwall Avenue.

A patron of the arts in Japan offered to subsidize a Japan Art Center in Bellingham and at her invitation I created a non-profit organization, the Intercultural Society for the Arts, and opened a gallery in downtown Bellingham to show Japanese Fine Arts and Crafts. With funding from Japan the association had a series of art exhibits brought from Japan specifically for the Bellingham venue. This brought a wider awareness to the local population of the rich culture of our Japanese ethnic community. The gallery existed for a bit over a year until the Japanese backers decided to move it to Portland, Oregon.

 

I brought a Japanese stage performance to Bellingham.

When I heard that the Japanese theater group “Makeup” was going to begin their tour of the US in Seattle I contacted the group and invited them to come to Bellingham before their “Grand Opening” in Seattle.  I convinced them that doing their show in a small town would give them a bit of experience in America before going in front of a major audience. As it turned out the show in Bellingham had a larger audience than in Seattle. It ultimately received rave reviews when it hit New York City. I financed the visit by offering one half of the take at the door (figuring half of nothing is nothing) plus meeting all costs for housing and food during the stay of the group. The venture broke even financially and gave Bellingham theatergoers an opportunity to share a wonderful Japanese cultural experience.

 

I brought the Bunraku Puppet Theater to Bellingham.

In the same fashion, when I heard that a Japanese Bunraku Puppet Theater group was going to tour the US beginning in Seattle I convinced the promoter to bring the group to Bellingham where I programmed it for three shows, one in Bellingham High School, one at WWU and one in the Bellingham Theater Guild. Sponsors were found among the local travel agents and the Bellingham School District who put up a total of $1,100 guarantee for the group’s three-day visit. This brought a delightful element of Japanese culture to school children, college students and others in the city.

 

I  created the Japanese Garden Society in Bellingham.

Dr. Carl Withner, a noted botanist who had moved to Bellingham, and I formed the Japanese Garden Society with the intent to create a six acre classical Japanese Garden in Bellingham surrounding Big Rock Pond in the Silver Beach neighborhood of Bellingham. Dr.Withner and I gave over 35 lectures and slide shows on the history of the Japanese Garden to clubs and neighborhood groups. The project closed when the developer of the land surrounding the pond refused to donate the land to the city as he had promised and subsequently went bankrupt. Meanwhile I invited the Buddhist monk Masuno Takahashi to give a public lecture on the Japanese Garden at the Whatcom Museum of History and Art. Masuno is a highly respected traditional Japanese Garden designer. He was given the commission several years ago for the renovation of the Nitobe Memorial Garden on the UBC campus.

 

I brought to Bellingham the Folk Arts of Mexico expert, Dr. Ruth Lechuga, .

On a visit to Mexico City I met Dr. Ruth Lechuga in the Mexican National Folk Arts Museum and found out that she had just retired from the museum staff. I invited her to visit Bellingham to lecture on the folk arts of Mexico. I offered to cover all of her costs for a ten day visit if she would give three lectures, two on the native masks of Mexico (her own collection numbers over 1,400 masks) and a lecture on the textiles of Mexico (her collection contains over 2,000 garments). I approached three law firms in Bellingham and asked them to sponsor her lectures at the cost of $150 each. That paid the cost of the airfare. She stayed with us while in Bellingham. One of the lectures was given at the Northwest Indian College and the other two in the Whatcom Museum of History and Art. All lectures were free and open to the public. The intent of the lectures was to present to the public the rich cultural traditions of the native peoples of Mexico and Guatemala.

 

I received the Benito Juarez Award.

On November 20, 1994 “The Benito Juarez Award” was presented by the Whatcom Hispanic Organization to George F. Drake “in appreciation and recognition of outstanding service to the Hispanic Community.”

 

International Creche Festival.

The “International Creche Festival” will be remembered by many who lived in Bellingham about twenty years ago. I created that festival, in part, as an activity that would bring visitors to the center of the city at a time when many of the larger stores had moved to the mall. my idea was to conduct an international folk arts competition based on the nativity story. Artists from any nation of the world could enter their crèche (nativity scene) in the contest and win a prize. The prizes ranged from monetary awards to a ten-day all-expense-paid visit to Bellingham. For those who charged that Drake was promoting Christianity he would respond that he was promoting an appreciation of cultural diversity, showing how the same idea, the story of the nativity, as it filtered through the culture and traditions of other peoples, could be presented in beautiful and creative but very diverse works of art.

a. The nativity scenes were shown in shop windows in downtown Bellingham. During the last year of the project over sixty stores showed a nativity set. To get the children to learn a bit more about the folk arts being presented I conjured up the idea of issuing a passport to any child that wanted one. The child (of any age) would go into the store with a nativity set in the window and have a postage stamp of the nation from which the nativity had come placed in the passport. The local stamp store donated over 40,000 stamps for this project. In one year more than 400 children collected the stamps. That year nine tour busses, one even from Oregon, came to Bellingham with visitors to see the crèches. Collectors of nativity sets flew to Bellingham for the festival from Connecticut, Washington, DC, Florida, Texas, California and Alaska.

b. One year a Muslim ceramicist in Tamale, Ghana won the first prize. When I telephoned the Cultural Affairs Officer of the US Embassy in Accra, Ghana the CAO told Drake that the thousand dollar first prize was probably equal to that man’s annual income. The US Ambassador held a special award ceremony and reception for the winner and spoke at length about the artistic statement of this Muslim artist whose artistic statement was “I am a Dagomba and try to portray all of my figures as people from Northern tribes. If we learn about different people and their customs then we will understand each other and we can go on the same road in peace. That is what my work is about, understanding people and bringing them together.” Two hundred copies of the poster created by Al Zimmerman of Bellingham, showing this nativity set with the artist’s statement on it were sent to Koffi Annan, newly elected Secretary General of the United Nations to distribute to all members of the UN Diplomatic Corps. Another 200 copies were sent to the Ambassador of Ghana in Washington, DC to distribute to Ambassadors to the United States from other nations. The Peace Corps placed the posters in hundreds of village schools throughout Ghana. Bellingham had a high presence in Ghana that year.

c. Another year the winner was an artist from Bratislava, Slovakia. His winning work was pictured on the nation’s Christmas Stamp the following year with the notation on the First Day Cover “Winner of the International Creche Festival in Bellingham, Washington, USA.” Several years later Mayor Tim Douglas found one his nativity sets in a shop in Moscow with the note “Winner of the International Creche Festival in Bellingham, Washington.” Bellingham was getting an international visibility in the arts now in Slovakia and Russia.

d. Major award ceremonies for winners in this festival were held in Mexico City and Tonala, Mexico; Quito, Ecuador; Dar Es Saalam, Tanzania; Lisbon, Portugal. These ceremonies, usually conducted by the Cultural Affairs Officer or even the US Ambassador, resulted in extensive TV and press coverage of this “Made in Bellingham” event.

e. Bellingham Mayor Tim Douglas spoke at the ceremony in Mexico City as did Bellingham resident Lloyd Herman who was the retired founding director of the US National Crafts Museum in Washington, DC. The ceremony had immense coverage by the TV stations and the print and radio media. Bellingham hit the headlines in Mexico due to its arts activities. The message at this gathering was that the rich cultural heritage of the native peoples of Mexico would be lost if they were not sufficiently appreciated and supported.

f. Under the Creche Festival program two artists were brought to Bellingham. One was an 18 year old craftsman from a village high in the mountains of Ayacucho Province, Peru and the other was a native of the Amazon jungle in Ecuador. Both had the opportunity to show their art in Bellingham and participate in the Lummi Stommish festival.

 

I was able to bring a Peruvian artist to Bellingham.

Mary Ann and I advanced the airfare for one of Peru’s best know indigenous artists to Bellingham. Wari Zarate is a Quechuan artist from the province of Ayacucho. He was serving as Artistic Director for an organization that was helping native communities keep their artistic traditions alive. He is an expert on the arts of the Incas. He showed his art in a private gallery in Bellingham so was able to repay his airfare. While in Bellingham Wari gave public lectures on the painted textile art of the Incas. My wife and I donated a large painting by Wari to the First Congregational Church in Bellingham.  To celebrate the hanging of the work Wari gave a public lecture on the textile arts of Peru.

 

I was  honored by CHIRAPAC in Peru.

As a result of my efforts promoting the art of Peruvian native artists the Peruvian Society for the Preservation of Indigenous Cultures of Peru presented me with a hand-painted hide with words of appreciation for my efforts on behalf of the “indigenous artists of the world.”

 

I was instrumental in the creation of Big Rock Garden Park and Urban Open Space.

a. One of the artistic treasures of Bellingham is Big Rock Garden Park. That park began as a private agricultural nursery created by my wife MaryAnn and me, with the help of our son David, to provide a sheltered employment opportunity for young people with mental disabilities. I started clearing the woods with a machete in early 1981 and the nursery opened the next year. There  we promoted the garden as art – specializing in plants for the Asian garden. To show what a mature plant would look like we planted hundreds of rhododendrons, azaleas, Japanese Maples and other plants in the wooded environment.

b. Once the property was fully fenced we began selling fine art for the garden in a business which we called “Gardens of Art.” As more artists sent or brought work for showing and selling in the Big Rock Garden I conjured up the idea of having a competition among landscape artists and local landscapers to see who could create the best garden setting for a work of garden sculpture, the first competition of such a nature in the nation.

c. That same year I initiated a series of public lectures on “The Garden as Art” culminating with a presentation by Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, the internationally famous landscape architect who lives in Vancouver, BC, Canada. The Bellingham Arts Commission continued that lecture series for another several years.

d. While we still owned the nursery, later to become Big Rock Garden Park, Mary Ann and I facilitated free musical performances in the garden. Over the years we had string quartettes, flute, harp,  and guitar recitals, and on one occasion we brought in a Japanese Tiko Drum group to perform. These performances in the park have been continued by the City Park Department.

e.Mary Ann and I prepared a box of cuttings of over 45 varieties of American azalea and rhododendron hybrids which I took to Beijing on a visit to that city. They were presented at a big banquet ceremony held in an old Chinese temple structure on the grounds of the Beijing Botanical Garden. The plants were presented as a gift from the City of Bellingham.

f. When the nursery property was purchased by the city, I created the Big Rock Garden Sculpture Committee with the goal of developing a major sculpture garden there. On that first committee there were members from Vancouver, BC who helped insure that the annual exhibits would include artists from several nations. Over the years the permanent collection has grown to over 30 works by artists from several nations. I was instrumental in the acquisition of about two thirds of those works.

g. One factor that was of special importance was in the development of the sculpture collection in Big Rock Garden Park was to utilize art to generate an appreciation of cultural diversity in Bellingham. The major work donated to the park by my friend, Sebastián, Mexico’s Cultural Ambassador to the World, is “Dedicated to our Hispanic Friends and Neighbors.” On the base of that sculpture is listed the names of persons who received the Whatcom Hispanic Organization “Benito Juarez Award” for work on behalf of the local Hispanic community. I am proud that my name is among those listed. At the dedication of this sculpture I invited Sebastián and his wife to visit Bellingham for several days and take part in the ceremony. He arranged for a Mayan marimba ensemble wearing the costume of the Mam speaking Mayans in Santo Tomas Chuchumatanes, Guatemala, to perform. While in Bellingham Sebastián gave a public presentation in the Whatcom Museum of History and Art on his sculpture which is shown in public spaces in over 100 cities around the world.

h. The nine-foot in diameter sun mask located in the park by the Kwakiutl artist Omukin honors our Native American Friends and Neighbors. I acquired that work for the park sculpture collection through a series of trades with the artist. He was helped by donations of money by local civic minded person.

i. I organized the exhibit in Big Rock Garden park of work by the Canadian sculptor David Marshall of Vancouver, British Columbia. Thirty of his works in bronze and marble were shown including marble works that weighed upwards of a ton each. Through my efforts the city acquired four of his works for the permanent collection. David Marshall died a few years later and the show of his work in Bellingham remains the finest exhibit this important Canadian artist ever had anywhere.

j. Mary Ann and have donated works to the Big Rock Garden Sculpture collection by artists from Hungary, Checkoslovakia, Russia, Mexico, Canada and the U.S.

k. I  was instrumental in acquiring three works by Bellingham sculptor C.A. Scott for the permanent collection at Big Rock Garden Park. As with the acquisition of other works in the city collection Drake was able to call on anonymous donors to help with the purchase of these works.

 Jan Zach sculpture brought to Bellingham.

A local resident told me of a collection of outdoor sculpture by Jan Zach, the famous Czech artist, who had died while serving as Chairman of the Department of Art and Architecture at the University of Oregon in Eugene, Oregon. The collection was locked in a studio and barn in Oregon where the widow of the artist kept it since his death over ten years earlier. Having obtained an introduction, I called on Mrs. Zach to explore the possibilities of showing the work in Bellingham. When one of Mrs. Zach’s 22 cats, the ‘wild one,’ jumped up on my lap after she had already told me that particular cat goes to no one and hides when strangers come in the house she was convinced that the sculpture would be in good hands and allowed it to be shown in Bellingham’s Big Rock Garden.

The Cultural Affairs Officer of the Czech Embassy in Washington, DC flew to Bellingham to speak about Czech art and Jan Zach’s role in it. The President of the Czech Society of Arts flew from Los Angeles to talk about Zach’s role in the development of sculpture in the United States. Walter Koerner, a Czech expatriate living in Vancouver (and who donated much of the art in the UBC Anthropology Museum) attended as did prominent figures in the art field from as far away as the University of Pennsylvania. About 50 persons, most of them prominent sculptors or art administrators, attended a dinner after the opening event. Several years later when Mary Ann and I were visiting Prague, Czech Republic, we donated to the Czech National Art Gallery a small cast iron work by Jan Zach. The museum had only one other work by Jan Zach, a work donated by Mrs. Zach with the shipping costs provided by us.

Bringing Native Americans and Hispanics together through art.

When serving as a member of the Bellingham Arts Commission I asked the Chair if there was going to be a ceremony upon completion of the mural being painted on the wall of the building near the museum. When informed that there was no money for such a ceremony I to put one together and raise the money for it. The mural was painted by the Los Angeles Streetscapers, a group of Hispanic artists from Los Angeles. It prominently featured the Native American heritage of this community.

a. With that as a framework for action, I planned a free salmon barbecue for the celebration. I obtained a donation of salmon from one of the fish processing plants in the county. WWU food services donated the cole slaw, potatoes and services of a chef to cook the salmon. The Whatcom Hispanic Organization members took on the task of serving the food and operating the Pepsi trailer donated by the local beverage company. I contacted Sam Cagey, Chairman of the Lummi Business Council, and made arrangements for a Lummi dance group and drummers. Cagey served as Master of Ceremonies. It was a wonderful celebration with members of seven Native American tribes in attendance, with the Native Americans inviting the Hispanics to join them in the dances, with hundreds of members of our community enjoying the food and music and art it was a success. It was the first time the Lummi Nation and the Whatcom Hispanic Organization had met and joined together in a ceremony. As a follow-up on this ceremony a group of the Lummi elders invited leaders of our Hispanic community to join them in discussion on how to reduce ethnic conflict between children of their different ethnic groups. And it all began with a mural honoring our diverse cultural roots.

Chinese paper sculptor brought to Bellingham.

As Director of the Center for East Asian Studies at WWU I arranged for a visit by one of China’s foremost paper sculptors. In various public lectures and in a summer course at WWU he taught that unique art form to local students.

 USIA International Visitors Program Host.

a. For over 30 years I have hosted visitors from other nations who were touring select cities in the United States to better understand the United States, its people and culture. On occasion the international visitor came alone but more commonly they came in groups of two or three persons with an escort/interpreter. My responsibility was to plan their appointments with local community leaders, to visit industries or institutions of their particular interest and to show them ‘democracy in action in a small town in America.’

b. Over the years I have hosted over 100 delegations from countries as diverse as Kenya, Morocco, France, Germany, Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Nepal, China, India, Seychelles, Haiti, Guatemala, Indonesia, Venezuela, Peru, Mexico, Colombia, Panama, Japan, Korea, England, Turkey, Albania, Bhutan, Italy – and many more.

c. Each group had an opportunity to spend time with local residents, to have a meal in their home, attend a Lions or Rotary Club meeting, participate in a community reception or dinner, attend a community event, etc. In other words while the visitors were getting to know something about Bellingham local citizens had a chance to get to know persons of another nation and culture.

 Jungle Medicine Seminar

On a trip to the Amazon basin in Ecuador in January of 2000 I visited the tribe of Jorge Vargas, a prize winner in the International Creche Festival contest.  Jorge Sr., the cacique of the tribe and father of the creator of the prize winning creche, asked me to help the tribe earn money so they could stay in their community. Members of the tribe were trying to emigrate to Spain and the US to make a living. Soon the jungle inhabitants would all be city dwellers and the rich cultural tradition of a jungle people would be lost.

Collecting Plants

Vargas Sr., the local curanderos or medicine man, introduced me to the wonders of the medicinal herbs that are to be found in the jungle around their village. Together, weI designed a seminar on jungle medicine oriented toward pharmacists, medical doctors and persons interested in herbal medicine.  I took the first group of seven seminar participants, all from the Bellingham area, to the jungle for four days of lectures and adventures with members of the  Indichuri clan of the Quechuan Indians in the State of Pastaza, Ecuador.

Seminar participants paid $400 for the four-day seminar, all of which went to the tribe. Ordinarily travel agencies in Quito charge tourists from $50 to $100 per day to give them a “jungle experience” but pay the local native groups only a dollar to two for hosting the visitor. Now the Indichuri  tell the tourist agencies how much they want for their program and receive most of the payment – not the travel agents.

The Indichuri selected a foundation in Quito that works with poor and native people to handle the tourism aspects of the project such as meeting the seminar participants at the airport, arranging hotels for them when not in the jungle, etc.

I met with the head of the Ministry of Health in Quito as well as with representatives of the United Nations and leaders of various non-governmental organizations working in Ecuador. The Minister of Health was excited about this program as it paid the natives to retain and share their culture and would earn them a more lucrative living than they ever could by moving to the city. He was especially keen on the idea, as it was a a means of preserving the nation’s incredible intellectual resource of native knowledge of local medicinal herbs to be found in the jungle.

Named “Outstanding Citizen of the Year” by Mayor Mark Asmundson.

In a ceremony held on Mothers’ Day in 2001 Bellingham Mayor Mark Asmundson named me  “Outstanding Citizen of the Year” for my services to the city and placed a brick with name along with those of former recipients in front of the Donna Dobberfuhl “Zoe Garden Wall” brick sculpture in Big Rock Garden Park.

 Korean War Children’s Memorial.

a.In preparation for the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Korean War, I decided to create in Bellingham a monument to honor the American armed forces who saved the lives of over 10,000 children. They sustained the lives of over 50,000 in more than 400 orphanages and donated over 2 million dollars of their meager salary to help the kids. They brought in from families, neighbors, classmates and former co-workers thousands of tons of material aid for the orphanages. And, in addition, they spent time with the kids, hugging them, bathing them, walking with them, and teaching them. I still maintain that this is one of the greatest untold stories of the Korean War and I am determined to make it widely known.

b. A web site has been created, www.koreanchildren.org, on which I have posted over 1,500 pages of photographs, newspaper articles, magazine articles and reports on the GIs relationship with the children of Korea. I have for many years been engaging in wide ranging research on this issue. The reaction is remarkable. Korean War veterans sent photos of “their kids”, others ask for help to locate a favorite orphan they knew while there. Former orphans write to share their stories of life on the streets, of their adoption to America, etc.

c. A TV documentary producer has filmed material for a one-hour documentary on the theme of the GI and the Children of Korea. NBC News has called for information on the topic and newspapers in many parts of the country are now picking up on the story.

d. The Korean War Children’s Memorial Pavilion has been built in Big Rock Garden Park in the form of a traditional Korean pavilion with an immense traditional tile roof atop a joinery structure supported by five posts. It was dedicated in July of 2003. At the ceremony I brought in a Korean Children’s Choir as well as a Lummi Indian ceremonial drum group to participate in the event. One of our local heroes of the Korean War was a member of the Lummi Tribe.

e. On Memorial Day of 2006, I arranged for a ceremony celebrating the completion of the memorial pavilion. On that occasion I arranged a dance performance by the Morningstar Korean Dance Ensemble of Lynwood, Washington. The ceremony was attended by the Consul General of Korea in Seattle who presented me with a ‘Certificate of Appreciation” from the Korean Ambassador to the United States for my work on behalf of the children of Korea during the war.

f. Another element of the Korean War Children’s Memorial Project was the creation of a photo exhibit entitled “GIs and the Kids – A Love Story.” I prepared a 35-panel photo exhibit to show some of the more than 2,000 photographs I have collected in my research on the humanitarian aid our servicemen and women rendered the children of Korea during the Korean War. The exhibit, which needs about 100 linear feet to show properly, had its first showing in the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on Memorial Day of 2005. Hostess for the reception was former film star Terry Moore. She was accompanied by her friend Jane Russell who was  then in her 80s, volunteered to help me with the evening program. Astronaut and Korean War Veteran Buzz Aldrin served as the keynote speaker at that event at no charge.

Plaque from Korean War Orphans.

On July 27, 2003 I was presented with a plaque by Eddie Cho, one of the children of the orphanage I helped while a soldier in Korea.

“IN RECOGNITION – George F. Drake and soldiers of the 326th CRC with our sincerest thanks and appreciation for saving our lives and giving us hope to live. Your loving care, generosity and kindness shall never be forgotten. With all our love, your Korean War Children of the Manassas Manor and SDA orphanage.”

Photo exhibit “GIs and the Kids – A Love Story” shown in Korea.

A Korean couple who attended that event came to Bellingham to see the Korean War Children’s Memorial structure in Big Rock Garden Park. They were awestruck by the park with the beauty of its flowers and the sculpture. They decided to do the same with a parcel of land they own in the city of Gwangju, Korea. They invited me to bring the photo exhibit from Bellingham, to Gwangju for a showing there. That exhibit opened on 14 August of last year in the Gwangju City Hall. The Mayor and City Council of Bellingham named 14 August as “Gwangju Appreciation Day” in Bellingham. The Governor of Washingon State sent a letter of appreciation to the Mayor and City Council of Gwangju for sponsoring this photo exhibit prepared under the aegis of the City of Bellingham Park and Recreation Department. Gwangju, noted as a ‘hotbed of anti-Americanism,’ became the first city in Korea to see the photo exhibit that honored American servicemen and women for their aid to the children of Korea during the war. The exhibit generated over 50 pages of newspaper clippings, was reported on most of the major TV network news shows and shown on US Armed Forces TV as well as on Korean TV. The Public Affairs Officer of the US Forces Korea called the media coverage of the photo exhibit “A breath of fresh air” as the US forces in Korea had been taking a bashing in the Korean media for a number of years. Again Bellingham was in the news in another country due to my involvement in the arts, this time in photography.

Large photo of Bellingham’s Korean War Children’s Memorial is on permanent display in Gwangju, Korea City Hall.

That copy of the photo exhibit was purchased by the Korean couple who first saw it in Las Vegas and will be part of their museum on Korean War Orphanages that they are creating in Gwangju. I am providing that museum with copies of all the material I have gathered on the Korean War and also consulting with them on the creation of their sculpture garden. A large color photograph of the memorial pavilion in Big Rock Garden Park, Bellingham, was presented to the Mayor of Gwangju which he said would be hung in a prominent place in the Gwangju City Hall. Gwangju is a city of 1.4 million inhabitants.

Whatcom County Korean War Memorial.

In the 50 years since the end of hostilities in the Korean War there had not been one single ceremony in Whatcom County honoring all those from this county who served and those who died in that war. I was committed  to building a memorial in Big Rock Garden Park honoring the young men from Whatcom County who fought and those who died in that conflict. I purchased a twelve story granite pagoda to honor the twelve who died and a six foot tall stone lantern to honor all who served. Hanjin Shipping shipped the stones to Bellingham from Seoul at no cost. Local Korean War Veterans and families of those who died in that war donated funds for these two structures. On Memorial Day of 2003, a ceremony organized  in memory of all local citizens who served and died in the Korean War. I was able to locate members of nine of the twelve families who lost a loved one in that war, including two Gold Star Mothers (both in their 90s.) Each family was presented a Korean War medal by a Korean General who served in that war. One of the Gold Star Mothers remarked to me, “I thought I would never live long enough to see any recognition in this county that I lost a son in that war.” The memorial was 50 years overdue but now it stands as memorial to those young men from this county who served their country in the defense of freedom. The 12 story pagoda and the stone lantern are on the path near the Korean War Children’s Memorial pavilion creating a bit of a Korean corner in Big Rock Garden Park.

Drake Family awarded “William Dittrich Award.

”In November of 2003 Mary Ann, David and I were presented the “William Dittrich Award” by the Whatcom Parks and Recreation Foundation “In recognition of your dedication, service and leadership for excellence in parks and recreation opportunities.”

Crown of Peace Award.

In February of 2004, along with other honorees from other parts of the United States, I was presented with the “Crown of Peace Award” by the Interreligious and International Peace Council at a banquet and ceremony held in the President Regan Office Building in Washington, DC. The award read “Presented to Ambassadors for Peace who have demonstrated exceptional dedication to promoting reconciliation and unity beyond the boundaries of race, religion and culture toward a new era of peace for all humanity.”

 Korean Ambassador Honors George F. Drake.

On May 29, 2006 the Consul General of Korea in Seattle on behalf of the Korean Ambassador to the United States presented me with a “Certificate of Appreciation [No. 06-01]” stating “Sincerest appreciation is hereby offered to Dr. George F. Drake in recognition of your dedicated service for Korean War orphans and your great efforts to make the construction of the Korean War Children’s Memorial Pavilion possible. It is my great pleasure to confer upon Dr. George F. Drake this certificate of appreciation. Presented on this 29th day of May 2006” signed Tae Sik Lee, Ambassador, Embassy of the Republic of Korea.”

 Made Honorary Citizen, Metropolitan City of Gwangju, Korea

On 1 December 2006 I received a large certificate printed in Korean and in English that stated “Honorary Citizenship. No. 34 – The United States of America, Dr. George F. Drake. In appreciation for your patronage and friendly support for the development of Gwangju Metropolitan City, I hereby take the privilege of granting you honorary citizenship of Gwangju on behalf of its citizens. December 1. 2006, Park, Kwang-tae, Mayor, Gwangju Metropolitan City, Republic of Korea.” In that same ceremony I was presented with a medal of Honorary Citizenship. The ceremony was shown on TV and covered in the national media. He was presented with a scroll by Lee Don Heung, one of Korea’s great artists that says “Bell of Democracy – George F. Drake – We shall always remember your. 1 December 2006.”

Gwangju is a city in southwestern Korea with a population of over 1.4 million inhabitants. This was my second Honorary Citizen award. The first was in Manizales, Colombia in 1964.

Creation of the Sue C. Boynton Poetry Contest.

In 1976 while serving on the Bellingham City Council I decided to plan a ceremony honoring those who served in elected office. I felt  – and sill do – service to community in elective office reflects the goals of the revolution, i.e., self government.

Invitations were sent to every one still alive who had held elected office in Bellingham. At the ceremony, which was held in the rotunda room of the old city hall, a brass ensemble played music of the revolutionary war interspersed with readings of excerpts from major documents of the fight for independence read by members of the local theater guild.

One of the highlights of the evening was when I led Sue C. Boynton, age 95, to the microphone to read the message sent for the occasion by President Gerald Ford. Before reading the message from the president she read one of her poems on service to community. She was a published poet who loved to share her poetry with her friends and neighbors.

When I read in the local paper that Ethel Boynton Crook, daughter of Sue C. Boynton, had just celebrated her 95th birthday I went to see her and proposed the creation of a Sue C. Boynton Poetry Contest and Poetry Walk in memory of her mother. She agreed with the concept and made a significant donation to get the project going. With help from some award-winning poets in this community I formed the Sue C. Boynton Poetry Committee and got the project under way.

With the intent of promoting an appreciation of poetry in our community entries are being solicited from all the schools in the county as well as from persons of any age or level of experience in writing poetry.

The poetry contest is now in its 15th year. This year the jury will select 10 works to be engraved in plastic and mounted on plinths in front of the Bellingham Public Library.  In addition 15 works of Merit will be printed on cards for mounting on the WTA buses for one year.

Revised: October 26, 2017