Persistence and perspiration – the best RE volunteer since 1986

There are rare people in the world, who stay committed to a passion for decades, contributing their time, energy, expertise, tools and sweat. Stephen Frank is one of those people, having worked and volunteered since 1986 to reuse and reduce waste in Northwestern Washington.

“For my entire life, I always have thought that you never throw something away that can be given away or reused”

Stephen Frank teaches plumbing workshop
Stephen Frank teaches a do-it-yourself plumbing workshop at The RE Store in Bellingham

He first volunteered in 1986 with Bellingham Community Recycling, the organization that would eventually found The RE Store. This group started curbside recycling pickup in Bellingham. Stephen contributed labor, helped maintain equipment, and loaned his own truck at times. He served as a board member for five years, advising and helping guide the organization, eventually making Whatcom County the first in Washington State to have county-wide curbside recycling.

Stephen was involved in the early conversations that Bruce Odom, Bill Sterling, and a few others members of the small builder’s guild hatched. Odom submitted a grant to the Whatcom County Solid Waste Division of Public Works through the non-profit organization that had renamed itself as RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, known commonly as RE Sources. A year later, The RE Store was up and running, with Bruce managing the operation. The new operation accepted materials and realized how much material was out there, just waiting for people to come salvage or simply pick it up. Stephen advised about materials and salvage on an ongoing basis, being heavily involved in projects like the large-scale salvage of Fairhaven Middle School and many others.

“I helped train the young kids. I knew how to take things apart quickly and what was valuable. They caught on quickly. I am not that smart, I have just been around a long time, and have made the mistakes.”

By late 1996, The RE Store was looking to move from its first Bellingham location at Meridian and Kellogg, close to Whatcom Community College. The store was housed in a building that was for sale, and was restricted to a month-to-month lease by the owner. A new location was found in the Old Town district’s former Bellingham Sash & Door building, owned at the time by Joe Orum. Stephen spent many hours doing plumbing, painting and electrical work, and helped the store open in time for Earth Day, 1997. In gratitude, The RE Store painted his name on the wall of donors.

Stephen wasn’t only involved behind the scenes. The organization began to coordinate hands-on workshops and Stephen taught several plumbing workshops, a window replacement workshop, and loaned tools for other workshops that took place. In the name of the wacky brand of fun that the organization enjoys, Stephen pitched in at the “Rockin at The RE Store” community events which hosted music, belly dancers, stilt walkers, beer gardens, auctions and the unforgettable “X-Treme Bowling.” Where else could you drink beer and throw bowling balls at old 3-gallon toilets, aluminum-framed plate glass windows, and funky 1970’s chandeliers? Check out a video of the party at the bottom of our video page here.

Stephen Frank installs trim in the new Bellingham facility
Stephen Frank installs salvaged bleacher boards, milled into trim, in The RE Store's Bellingham facility

When it came time again to move The RE Store in late 2006, guess who was there? Stephen Frank installed drywall in the upstairs offices and did the finish work on the columns in the main store. Calling in help, he brought his friend Mark Feldhaus in to do the trim in the Sustainable Living Center educational space, almost entirely from old school bleacher boards. Taking a break from the dusty work of remodeling, he planted bulbs, gardening and weeding around the grounds at the new facility. Once again, his name appeared on the wall of tiles that honored our many contributors.

He now shops regularly at the Bellingham store for his remodeling business, sharing his warm smile with staff and customers whom he has known for many years.