Figley's Blend: Santa percolates kindness, still

Compass Coffee launches holiday blend in community booster's honor

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter

Published:

 
photoSanta Claus Rob Figley has left us, but Compass Coffee has brewed up this special memorial blend.

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Rob Figley may be gone, but all the good things he brought to Clark County keep percolating. You can still enjoy that special Figley flavor via Compass Coffee, which launched a commemorative “Figley’s Blend” for Christmas.

You can even feel a little extra satisfaction in knowing that $2 of every purchase will benefit the Children’s Center, a nonprofit mental health clinic that’s getting ready for a big move.

“We were kicking around the idea of a holiday blend, and one of my guys thought a tribute blend would be really cool,” said Compass owner Bryan Wray. He said he contacted Figley’s widow, Diane, to make sure it was OK with her, and to develop a plan to give most of the profits to the local children’s charity.

How’s the coffee taste? Hints of red fruit, berries and honey. Sweet and lively — just like Figley himself.

Figley, who died at age 57 in September, was a beloved community booster who became famous in Clark County for his amazing resemblance to Santa Claus. In 2012 he told The Columbian that he rose on the morning of his 40th birthday, looked in the mirror and beheld a cheerful, pudgy elf with a big white beard.

“In essence, the clouds parted over my head and the angels came down and said, ‘You are Santa Claus,’ ” Figley said. His success as Santa Claus carried him all the way to the presidency of the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas; he also was a Democratic activist and a fan of same-sex marriage who performed many such weddings, and was running for a county freeholder position when he died.

Political Santa

Figley’s smile and his love were strictly nonpartisan — but Wray said he never would have crossed paths with Rob Figley if it wasn’t for their shared dismay with the current direction of Clark County politics.

“I had been involved in local politics in Michigan. It absorbed way too much of my time,” Wray said. So when he moved to Clark County four years ago, he vowed to “fly under the radar” as far as activism went.

“Then the whole Benton thing happened,” he said. That is, the controversial hiring by Clark County Commissioners David Madore and Tom Mielke of State Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, to the environmental services director job with Clark County government.

“I find this Facebook page, ‘Recall David Madore,’ and I messaged the administrator to say, ‘I love what you’ve done, let me know if you need help.’ It turns out that Rob had anonymously started the page. It was Rob’s page.”

Wray started hosting meetings of the group Clark County Citizens for Good Governance — a precursor of the freeholders effort — and Figley was a regular at those meetings, he said.

“It was basically a friendship that started through politics,” Wray said. But, he added, the more he got to know Rob Figley and Rob’s wife Diane, the more he fell in love with a spirit so much greater than current events.

“I realized I had completely undervalued how insanely popular Rob was in this community,” Wray said. When he thinks about those meetings, he said, what comes to mind is the “sly little wink” that Figley would occasionally flash him — a wink that signaled good humor and a positive spirit no matter how contentious the discussion or grumbly the participants.

“He was always winking, and it was a Santa wink. I loved that. It reminded me of my grandpa. It always said, ‘Hey, I see you,’ ” Wray said.

Figley “wasn’t just Santa on the surface. His blood ran Christmas,” Wray said. “He knew what it meant to live the life of bringing happiness and joy to other people.”

Kids, of course

After Figley’s death, Wray’s employee David Sorrell first hatched the idea of a Figley tribute blend for Christmas.

“Let’s just make sure it’s not a publicity stunt for Compass, and let’s make sure it’s centered around something he would have wanted,” is what they and Diane Figley decided, Wray said. “So, kids, of course. Obviously.”

They used some of their finest, most expensive beans for a truly rich and tasty brew, he said, and they also decided to give $2 of every $18 purchase to the Children’s Center. If you bring in a toy donation for the Children’s Center, too, you’ll get an additional $1 off your purchase, he said.

The Children’s Center (www.thechildrenscenter.org) provides mental health treatment for children and families who are dealing with everything from run-of-the-mill behavior issues to serious problems such as domestic violence, physical and sexual abuse, and chronic mental disorders. The vast majority of its clients live in poverty, and approximately one-quarter are victims of crimes such as abuse and domestic violence. The Children’s Center’s business has grown rapidly in recent years, and the agency is getting ready to break ground on a new building in east Vancouver.

Between the $2 donation and the cost of the beans, Compass is clearing little profit on Figley’s Blend, Wray said. Originally, he wasn’t even going to mention Figley’s Blend online; he figured the whole effort would stay a low-key, fun and poignant in-store novelty for regular customers and Figley fans. “I figured it would just be a community thing with people coming into the store and seeing it,” he said.

But Figley’s Blend took off. Other folks’ tweets and Facebook posts carried the news across the nation, he said, and Compass’s phone started ringing. Many of the calls were from Figley’s “bearded brothers in the Santa community,” Wray said.

“My roaster got tired of fielding phone calls about how to get it if you’re not in this area,” he said. Compass relented and posted the offer on its website, www.compasscoffeeroasting.com. Compass is located at 1304 Main Street in Vancouver.

Wray said he will write a check to the Children’s Center after the holiday season is over, probably in early January.

“It’s such an awesome testament to what a great guy he was and how far his love still reaches,” he said. “My goodness, it’s not even done yet.”