Connie Bode brightens when she tells of all the people who helped the Gail and Carolyn Shaw Aquatic Center become a reality.
After all, it took hundreds of donations and pledges of support from current and former Chehalis residents who wanted a better quality of life for themselves and their children to bring the new pool on Chehalis’ south side out of the planning stages.
Speaking to The Chronicle at the pool Tuesday, Bode smiled as she walked across the Chehalis pool’s lobby and told stories of people who donated as the effort to revamp the pool snowballed: A large donation from former Starbucks Corporation CEO Orin Smith. Former Lewis County PUD Manager Gary Kalich helping raise money for the diving board at the pool’s deep end. Another local man giving generously, and a bronze sculpture of his granddaughter now greets all who enter the aquatic center.
“There were so many people that did so much to bring it all together,” Bode said. “It was such a true community effort, and every piece of equipment at the pool, every piece of this pool tells a story.”
But there had to be one person, one central force responsible for pulling all those efforts together, rallying people to the pool’s cause and coordinating a project that encompassed $2.2 million in funding and countless hours of volunteer work.
That person is Connie Bode, The Chronicle’s 2014 Person of the Year.
To say Bode is involved in the Chehalis community is putting it mildly. Wife to Chuck and a mother of two, Connie Bode works by day as manager for the Chehalis branch of Columbia Bank. In her extensive volunteer time, she has served as treasurer of the Chehalis Foundation for nearly a decade.
The Chehalis Foundation is an entity formed in 2003, primarily the brainchild of Chehalis City Councilor Isaac Pope and former county commissioner Joanne Schwartz, that has given more than $850,000 to various projects to improve the city’s quality of life.
“The foundation exists to basically help the city in a way the city government can’t,” Bode explained. “We all realize there are things the city needs, and then there are things we can do to help make it a better place.”
One of the foundation’s first major undertakings was the restoration of Alexander Park, which now also bears the name of Chehalis native Robert Lintott. Lintott’s son, Jim, who now lives and works in Washington, D.C., contributed to the project that restored a downtrodden park and returned it to the life it once knew in the city’s younger years.
Bode has been a part of multiple other projects the foundation has a hand in, primarily as the group’s financial overseer. Most recently, the foundation donated $120,000 toward the purchase of a scanning electron microscope at W.F. West High School. The foundation has also provided the Chehalis School District with financial help in creating a revamped initiative for student education throughout the district, with an end goal of helping students graduate college and go onto successful careers.
“Chehalis is blessed with a number of people that have a connection to us that want to give back,” Chehalis Foundation president Tim Sayler said. “Connie just epitomizes that cooperative nature that has been cultivated.”
The Chehalis Foundation saw the need for a project to start renovations on the Chehalis Outdoor Community Pool in 2012, with what seemed a simple $200,000 task to replace pipes and basically keep the facility operating.
So when it was time for the foundation to nominate someone to oversee that project, Bode jumped at the opportunity without having to be asked.
“She quickly raised her hand,” Sayler said. “The pool has been close to her from the start.”
What started as a $200,000 undertaking grew into an effort 11 times the financial cost of the original scale. As more needs popped up — compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, cosmetic and aesthetic improvements and more — the thought to simply replace the pool with a newer facility and pool house came into play.
As the effort grew, so did the need for funding. Bode explained how the city received $500,000 in grants from the state and $250,000 from the state’s capital budget in 2013.
“We spoke with our representatives, (John) Braun and (Richard) DeBolt and told them how important this was,” Bode said. “They were very instrumental in getting us that funding.”
More people pitched in. Orin Smith quietly donated to the project, as did Chehalis Industrial Commission founder Gail Shaw and his family. Local business owners Buck and Kaye Hubbert gave as well.
The movement for the new pool had gained steam, meaning Bode’s time commitment to the project increased as well.
“I remember we had a fundraising dinner at Riverside Golf course, and we ended up getting a very good response to that,” Bode said. “A lot of people stepped up and bought into what we were trying to do.”
The project was well on its way, with Bode teaming up with Lilly Wall to help coordinate multiple facets of the construction of the new pool, which would begin in earnest — and finish in short order — just a year later.
But as the efforts on the pool were going well, times wouldn’t be so easy for Bode and her family on a professional and personal level.
“Looking back, even if Connie would see what was coming, she still would have done it,” Sayler said.
As much dedication as Bode put into the new pool project, she was faced with two major trials she had to deal with on a personal front. In late 2012, Columbia Bank bought West Coast Bank, bringing about some transitions and processes in her work that demanded her attention.
But it was something at home that affected the person she loved the most that brought out a resolve in Connie that her peers noticed.
Her husband Chuck became seriously ill with a staph infection that would eventually render him paralyzed from a portion of his back downward. The couple would become accustomed to his newfound life in a wheelchair.
Connie didn’t speak much to those two situations, other than to say her husband was doing as well as he could, working out six days per week and regaining some feeling that had previously been lost.
It was in the trying times the Bodes encountered that their family friend and fellow Chehalis Foundation member J. Vander Stoep noticed a quiet strength.
“There were times all of us on the board were concerned for her, and how she could continue to function productively through all that was happening,” Vander Stoep said. “There was an unbelievable amount of things thrown at her all at once, and she came through it all amazingly.”
Sayler agreed, and added the Bodes’ attitude through that helped see them through a major trial which was something he found nothing short of inspirational.
“She just took it all so calmly. She and Chuck were so amazing in how they dealt with it all,” Sayler said. “I think the average person would have just popped, but she took it so calmly.”
Vander Stoep noted Connie Bode’s work as his campaign manager when he successfully ran for a seat on the state Legislature in 1981. His friendship with the Bodes goes back at least that far, leading the longtime Chehalis attorney to describe Connie as one who maintains a quiet stability through good times and bad, and is a tremendous resource to those around her.
“She’s a very stable person, very energetic,” Vander Stoep said. “She brings good judgment and useful insights to everything she does.”
Vander Stoep also said Bode doesn’t receive enough credit for another major passion of hers, helping young people — especially young women — succeed in business.
“She has dedicated a lot of time and energy to that,” Vander Stoep said.
When it comes to effusive praise and admiration from her friends, particularly regarding the pool project, Bode would rather keep humble, saying her accomplishments have not been about her — in fact, she nearly implored a Chronicle reporter to make note of all who have donated to, worked on the pool or even simply lent their support in ways other than through money.
“It has to be said that there are so many people who have given so much,” Bode said. “One person definitely can’t make everything happen.”
But the people she mentions point back at her as a central figure as being instrumental in the success the pool has seen from concept to completion. One of those people happens to be Kevin Smith, younger brother of Orin, who worked right alongside Bode through the project.
Smith offered his thoughts in an email to The Chronicle.
“It has been an honor to work with Connie in helping develop the Gail and Carolyn Shaw Aquatics Center. It is another wonderful Chehalis landmark and it would never have happened if not for Connie's outstanding leadership, passion and commitment in managing the overall effort on behalf of the Chehalis Foundation,” Smith said. “Community leadership is a key ingredient for the success and vibrancy of any community and Chehalis is lucky to have one of the best in Connie Bode.”
Bode says she is amazed at what has been done for the pool, from the fundraising to the construction and even the sheer number of people who have come to visit the facility. As she walked around the pool on a crisp Tuesday afternoon, she told The Chronicle she never imagined the community’s response to the effort would be nearly overwhelming — in a good way, of course.
“It was way more than we ever imagined,” Bode said. “We even had people who would write us and say they remembered growing up in Chehalis and visiting the pool every day. Every donation helped.”
Today the Gail and Carolyn Shaw Aquatic Center sits quietly, with its waters unmoved in the midst of the Northwest’s cold season. Drivers on 13th Street and families playing at adjacent Recreation Park can see the pool, the new kids’ area and the waterslide that proved ever so popular in its limited opening in 2014.
The facility stands as an emblem of the Chehalis Foundation’s most ambitious undertaking, one its members feel can help not only improve the city’s quality of life, but help change the culture of the Mint City by providing another recreational opportunity for the city’s youth.
It was a grand undertaking, and one that Vander Stoep said Bode, much like the members of the foundation, sought no accolades for.
“With Connie, she’s never been involved in any of this for any recognition. But if Connie hadn’t been here managing this project it wouldn’t have happened,” Vander Stoep said. “Because she was, other people were attracted to it and were comfortable being so.”
The pool opened briefly toward the end of the 2014 swim season. Bode pointed out the construction delays — “there are some things you just can’t push,” she said — and noted that the few days the pool were open in 2014 served as a sort of pilot for how to operate the aquatic center next year.
When asked why she dedicated so much time and effort to the pool project, Bode reflected on her roots as a competitive swimmer and a love for the water that she wants the youth of today to enjoy.
“I don’t want to think about kids growing up with all this water — we have these beautiful lakes — and not being able to swim,” Bode said. “I wanted to help keep that opportunity alive.”
That opportunity will manifest itself when the weather warms up and the city of Chehalis reopens it to the community, who packed it to the gills each time it was open.
“It was amazing to see families and kids and lifeguards out here when it opened,” Bode said. “I just love driving by it and seeing it every single day.”