To call something a labor of love is often a cliché, but in the case of the Historic Fairhaven Association’s board members, it seems apt. We recently met with Board President Ria Van Weerdhuizen, Brunch Chairman and Board Member Tina Ruff, and Executive Director Scott Ward to talk about this fall’s second annual For the Love of Fairhaven brunch event.
At their office-away-from-the-office, The Colophon Café, none of them even glance at the menu to know what they want to order. Their affection for Fairhaven, each other, and their mission is palpable.
According to Van Weerdhuizen, the Historic Fairhaven Association’s mission is “to create and foster unique connections and experiences.” The association believes Fairhaven is a treasure and works to preserve and also share it with those who know it well—and those who are just discovering the town.
Last year, the first For the Love of Fairhaven brunch was held at the Bellingham Cruise Terminal to acknowledge the volunteers and businesses that contribute to Fairhaven’s special character. This year, the brunch will celebrate a Lifetime Achievement Award (now named for Ken Imus), Behind the Scenes Superstar, Exemplary Leadership, Business of the Year, and Community Visionary Award.
The brunch, open to all at $45 per ticket, will be held September 29th at the Cruise Terminal. You can nominate someone deserving on the Historic Fairhaven Association website: https://www.memberplanet.com/s/fairhaven/nomination2019.
Award winners will be announced at the event and raffle and auction items, such as cruises, artwork and The Fairhaven Experience, will be up for bids. “The brunch is fun and nice, and a great thing to do on a Sunday morning,” says Ruff. “People are engaged for the good of the community, not recognition, but we like to let a few stars know their contributions are appreciated.”
The Historic Fairhaven Association is supported by about 110 members, both businesses and individuals. Anyone can join this worthy organization. The group keeps membership dues affordable with a multi-tiered structure ranging from individuals at $50 per year to small businesses with more than 16 employees at $150 per year. (Fun fact: individual memberships make up 25% of the association!)
“The organization embraces the idea that ‘We’re all in this together’ in both celebration and hard times,” says Van Weerdhuizen. She says there have been times when an association member was facing difficulties and the organization stepped up to rally support.
Van Weerdhuizen’s employer, Peoples Bank, has been involved with the HFA since the bank arrived in the Haggen grocery location 20 years ago. She still marvels at how warmly she was embraced by the community. “Generally, we train our employees to be welcoming to bank customers,” she says. “But here, the customers are so quick to introduce themselves and welcome our employees to the neighborhood that it’s [been] the other way around.”
Ruff, who represents First Federal on the board, grew up in Fairhaven and emphasizes the independent, unique retail environment as the part of what sets Fairhaven apart in her heart.
She spoke of her warm memories of visiting the Fairhaven Pharmacy when it was owned by Rob Johansen. “When I go to the latest tenant, Current and Furbish, I’m happy to see the new store, but my mind also sees that they’ve maintained the charm of the old pharmacy.”
Tina is interested in the future of the neighborhood and believes wholeheartedly that the Historic Fairhaven Association helps newcomers feel connected and welcomed. Her employer, First Federal, opened their Fairhaven Branch three years ago. “I call it boutique banking, because we are in a small space that was previously a shop that sold blue jeans,” she says. “We make that small space work and it feels much more personal.” Ruff called out the uniqueness of the retail environment as one of the reasons she loves Fairhaven so much.
All the stores are independently owned. There’s no township development rule in place, but there is an unspoken expectation by the other merchants and businesses to keep it so. Business owners work cooperatively to offer different goods and services and keep their inventories as unique as possible.
How to achieve that cooperation? “Make it personal” is the mantra Scott Ward advises all of the business owners in Fairhaven in his role as executive director of the Historic Fairhaven Association. As a shop owner himself (he and his partner Cameron Vail own Current and Furbish) and in his role as executive director, Ward is a community organizer at heart. The brunch grew out of Ward’s emphasis on community-building. “Diverse community is our strength,” he says. “All are welcome here. If you live, work or just play here, you are welcomed. We engage the community in fundraising, celebrations and friendships.”
Encourage the love. Come to the brunch. Enjoy a beautiful Sunday morning in Fairhaven and support this wonderful organization and its extraordinary community.