• The Southwest Washington Center of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing serves Clark, Cowlitz, Lewis, Pacific, Skamania and Wahkiakum counties. It is one of seven regional centers supported by the state’s Office of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.
Members of the local deaf community were working to raise funds for their own center when things took a dramatic turn.
A man walked in and handed them almost $500,000.
“Our jaws hit the floor,” said Daryl Schreiner, who had been a leader of the facilities campaign. “It’s not every day someone walks in and hands you a half-million dollars.”
The man was Battle Ground resident Jack Artz, a low-profile philanthropist who died in August 2008. The donation by Artz and his family has been turned into the Southwest Washington Center of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.
The center celebrated its grand opening a couple of weeks ago, and the event also served as the organization’s 20th anniversary celebration.
• The Southwest Washington Center of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing serves Clark, Cowlitz, Lewis, Pacific, Skamania and Wahkiakum counties. It is one of seven regional centers supported by the state's Office of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.
The new center offers communication access, education and training, case management, advocacy, peer counseling, and information and referrals. It also provides a place where people can gather for social events.
The facility at 301 S.E. Hearthwood Blvd. is the former site of the Cascade Park Community Library.
“Some deaf people told me they came to the Cascade Park Community Library for books,” said Executive Director Gerrianne Healy. “Now they come to our deaf services at the same location.”
The real estate purchase provided the group with a long-sought place to call its own.
“We have never had our own home,” said Schreiner. “We have had a fundraising campaign since 1991. About seven years ago, we had a donation from Jack Artz.”
Schreiner was there the day Artz walked in.
“I happened to be in the deaf center, talking to the director, when he handed the director an envelope,” Schreiner said. “Jack said it was for the purpose of buying a building.”
The envelope contained about $475,000 worth of stock certificates.
“I came onto the board in 2003 and was asked to chair a committee to search for a site,” Schreiner said.
That site turned out to be the former library. The property became available when the branch library was relocated to a much bigger site at 600 N.E. 136th Ave., next to the Firstenburg Community Center.
The Southwest Washington Center of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing bought the 2,600-square-foot building for $475,000 in February.
“Everybody felt good about the transaction,” said Bruce Ziegman, executive director of the Fort Vancouver Regional Library District.
“We provided them with some space during the interim period, when they had to leave their previous place and wait for us to vacate,” Ziegman said. “We broke even, and we still own an acre of land to the north, so it worked nicely for us.”
Artz also made donations to a Seattle deaf center — now called the Artz Communication Center — and to Friends of the Carpenter, a Vancouver nonprofit that serves the homeless.
Duane Sich, executive director of the ministry, called the donation by Artz and his wife a godsend.
“He and Janey made a major donation allowing us to purchase this facility,” Sich said. “It took us from being nomads, wandering around, trying to find a place to perform our service.
“The metaphor was perfect,” Sich said. “We deal with folks who are homeless, and it’s a disability when you’re trying to be constructive and productive.”
Sich said the spirit in which those gifts were given were another hallmark of Artz.
“Jack didn’t want acclaim. His attitude was, he did the easy part,” Sich said. “He’d say, ‘What you folks are doing on the front lines is the hard part.’
“He was a volunteer here,” Sich said. “He drove up in a Cadillac and during our song circle, he held hands with people who’d slept in the street overnight.”