In June, Northeast Community Center and Oregon Bottle Bill pioneer Don Waggoner passed away at home in Northeast Portland with his wife Eunice Noell-Waggoner by his side.
Waggoner was born in 1935 and grew up swimming at the Northeast Portland YMCA. He attended Kellog, Holladay and Irvington grade schools and graduated from Washington High School. After earning a master’s degree in Industrial Engineering from Stanford University, Waggoner enjoyed a long, successful career at Leupold & Stevens, a family-owned optics company.
As a businessman, volunteer and activist, Waggoner will be remembered for his many accomplishments, including pioneering the nation’s first bottle bill in Oregon and saving the community center where he learned to swim as a boy.
In the 1970s, Waggoner was an activist with the Oregon Environmental Council and spearheaded the bottle bill, a law passed in 1971 and amended in 2007 that requires deposits to be paid on beverages in recyclable containers. Oregon’s bottle bill was the first in the United States and now ten states have similar laws.
In 2004, Eunice Noell-Waggoner read about the YMCA’s plans to close its Northeast Portland location and Don Waggoner said to her “I have found your next project.”
“Don and his wife Eunice were so important to the efforts to save the old YMCA building,” said NECC executive director Kim Montagriff. “More importantly, they were visionaries in transforming the old building into a new community center. This was a purposeful transformation with the goal of creating a physical environment that would encourage and nurture sustained personal relationships and create stronger neighborhoods and communities.”
Sara Normington, who worked with the Waggoners during the transformation, describes Don as optimistic, inclusive and compassionate – a “quiet captain.”
“Don Waggoner believed that people would do the right thing when given the opportunity and could collectively work together to create positive change,” said Normington. “He had a strong vision, but one of his greatest strengths was bringing others to the table and supporting their dreams. Don was an indispensable catalyst to the transformation of the community center.”
“Not only did Don and Eunice provide funding for the center, but they were daily volunteers leading the physical transformation of the building,” said Montagriff. “Don likely spent more than 8000 hours volunteering at the center and served in a variety of roles. He was on the building and grounds committee and, when needed, served as interim executive director. He was known as a ‘workman warrior’ and was immediately recognizable to members in his orange work shirt. While Don’s physical work was focused on the building, his vision was about improving the community. The building was just the tool. He contributed further to his vision by leading the board of directors in creating an effective non-profit structure focused on serving the needs of the community.”
Since 2005, when the YMCA building was slated to close, more than 5,000 children have taken swim lessons, 10,000 girls and boys have played in basketball leagues, 6,000 families have become members and countless others have visited the center or been supported by the NECC. None of which would have been possible without the work of Don Waggoner. He had an impact on our community that will last for generations.