Challenges still await 'Mr. Hazel Dell'

Bud Van Cleve has focused retirement years on volunteering

By Susan Parrish, Columbian education reporter




Unincorporated Clark County neighborhoods

25 neighborhood associations

Map: Neighborhood Association Directory

Clark County’s Neighborhood Outreach Office: 360-397-6012, ext. 2

Neighborhood Associations Council of Clark County meets at 7 p.m. on second Monday of every month at Clark County Operations Center, 4700 N.E. 78th St. Next meeting: 7 p.m. Sept. 9.

Doug Ballou, chair.

E-mail: dballou@pacifier....

Vancouver neighborhoods

66 officially recognized associations; more than 90 percent of the city’s population are members of a neighborhood association.

Map: Neighborhoods

Office of Neighborhoods: 360-487-8608.

Vancouver Neighborhood Alliance, an independent organization not tied to the city, meets 7 p.m. on the second Wednesday of the month, rotating between Vancouver Police Department’s east and west precinct offices.

Anne McEnerny-Ogle: 360-695-5124.

photoClick to enlarge

"Mr. Hazel Dell's" retirement in 1997 lasted about two weeks.

Ballard "Bud" Van Cleve spent 30 years traveling throughout 13 western states for business and had been home only on weekends. But after just a couple of weeks relaxing at home, "I wondered what the hell people do all day," Van Cleve, 83, said over lunch at Hazel Dell's iconic Steakburger in early August.

So he rolled up his sleeves and got involved in his neighborhood association, Northeast Hazel Dell. Ever since, he's been a firmly embedded neighborhood leader, including being association president for the past 15 years.

He's compiled a detailed, three-page résumé of his community involvement: liaison and advisory boards for sheriff, transportation, traffic, parks, business associations and many more. This December, he'll preside over the 15th annual Kids' Community Christmas Party attended by hundreds of neighborhood children, all of whom receive a wrapped gift. That event is among his favorites.

He received the Spirit of Clark County Award in 2003 and 2004. In 2006, Van Cleve was named the grand marshal of the Hazel Dell Parade of Bands. The community room at the Luke Jensen Sports Park is named after him.

Doug Ballou, a fellow neighborhood volunteer, refers to Van Cleve as "Mr. Hazel Dell" and "Mr. Volunteer."

"Bud is part of my family," said Holly Gaya, the neighborhood outreach program coordinator for Clark County since 1996. "When you work with these people for as much time as I do, they become family."

Northeast Hazel Dell is one of 25 neighborhood associations in unincorporated Clark County. Van Cleve ticks off his neighborhood's stats. It's 4.2 square miles and has a population of 17,600, about the size of Battle Ground.

Many neighborhoods are mostly residential. Northeast Hazel Dell, including Highway 99, is mostly commercial. That poses plenty of challenges.

Remarking on the swatch of what he called "asphalt jungle" along Highway 99, Van Cleve said, "There's a lot of ugly. We haven't been able to make much of a change because all those signs and pylons are grandfathered in."

Van Cleve said his dream Northeast Hazel Dell neighborhood would have "a lot more green. A lot fewer car lots. A lot fewer empty lots. More pedestrian friendly. More residential. Designated transit lanes."

These days, Van Cleve uses a walker to help him get around, but he still attends countless meetings as he works to make a difference in his neighborhood.

He said he'd welcome passing the baton to a new president, but no one has volunteered for that position.

New blood

"Bud's been around a long time," Gaya said. "He's a treasure."

"Neighborhood associations are all-volunteer organizations, and being in a lead role requires a time commitment from individuals," said Judi Bailey, neighborhoods program manager for the city of Vancouver. "Most often, it is retired folks who have the time and interest who step into those leadership roles."

But Gaya and Bailey say younger volunteers are stepping up into leadership positions in both the unincorporated county and the city of Vancouver.

"New people always are getting involved," Gaya said. "Most people in Clark County live in an existing neighborhood association," Gaya said. "There are all kinds of volunteer opportunities."

The best way for people to get involved is to attend their neighborhood association's meetings and say they want to help, she said.

"People have different passions. Some people want to volunteer in parks, some with food banks. Every contribution makes a difference in this community. Neighborhoods are just one way to be involved and engaged."

One way for neighborhood volunteers in unincorporated Clark County to gather to share ideas and work on projects together is through the Neighborhoods Associations Council of Clark County, which meets on the second Monday of each month. It comprises neighborhood association chairs from the unincorporated county, but it's open to anyone.

"All of the county neighborhoods are connected. They all know each other and work together," Gaya said. "Anything that comes up, there's someone at the table who's dealt with this issue before. That's some of the best training you can get."

The city of Vancouver offers quarterly training and networking opportunities for neighborhood association leadership, Bailey said. The topics vary and are focused on what neighborhood leaders have requested. The fall training session will focus on communication.

"We encourage networking as a great way for new leaders to learn the ropes from the more experienced leaders," Bailey said.

"We have seen a surge of activity in the neighborhoods," said Bailey, who has worked in the city's Office of Neighborhoods for seven years. "There's a lot of interest in neighborhood issues and projects."

Van Cleve may be ready to hand over the presidency of his neighborhood, but he's not finished improving Northeast Hazel Dell yet.

"Bud still has things he wants to see happen," Gaya said.

"Bud's pretty persistent," Ballou said. "He loves a challenge."

"One of Bud's favorite sayings is: 'You don't have to move to live in a better neighborhood,'" Ballou said. "You just have to roll up your sleeves and help."

Susan Parrish: 360-735-4515;;