BLOG: Ken Colling spreads Good will around

By Assunta Ng

Ken receives a standing ovation from an appreciative crowd. (Photo by George Liu/NWAW)

Goodwill President Ken Colling is known for his fancy ties. What touches his friends and colleagues aren’t his ties, but his heart.

At Ken’s retirement reception on June 6, about 200 people gathered at the Goodwill administration center, on Dearborn Avenue, to thank him for his 10 years of service at Goodwill.

How would Ken like to be remembered?

“A human being,” Ken responded when I asked what he would like for me to say when I introduced him at his party. No need to talk about his Goodwill work, he added.

Ken worked hard to change Goodwill’s culture and board, which had previously been made up of white males. Wayne Lau, executive director of Rainier Valley Fund Partnership, was a former board chair. The current chair is Markee Foster, an African American.

Ken has assembled “a talented and committed team” of men and women to contribute to Goodwill’s success, according to Scott Missall, a board member.

Under Ken’s leadership, Goodwill has more than doubled 11 stores (during the first 80 years) to 24, and enrollees for training programs increased six-fold to over 8,500 a year.

Donations have also doubled for retail stores, and revenue increased to 278 percent, thus raising the national ranking among Goodwill stores from 21st to 9th. Also, its donors jumped from over 700,000 to 2.3 million. Now, Seattle Goodwill is the No. 1 store in the nation for annual sales.

Ken’s Goodwill record is not easy to achieve as Edie Hilliard said at his retirement party, since Goodwill has many competitors, most of which sell junk goods and rely on donated merchandise.

BG Nabors-Glass waves a Ken-face flag, saying she is a ‘big fan’ of Ken Colling. (Photo by George Liu/NWAW)

Dream not fulfilled

Even with a great report card for Goodwill, Ken has one dream that hasn’t been fulfilled — turning its old headquarters into an enterprise of housing units, retail shops, and Goodwill offices and training centers.

Unfortunately, some community activists had protested the project. One reason was that they wanted to get a free Vietnamese community center from Goodwill. The politics destroyed Ken’s dream and instantly changed Goodwill’s fate. He had every right to be furious. But he wasn’t. He chose to forgive, and even collaborated with people who protested his project.

Bob Santos, one of the protesters, said after the party, “Ken always came over to see if we were OK. He’s professional and gracious. He never took it personally. We didn’t agree, but I always liked him. He always calls to wish me a happy birthday every year. He’s very caring.”

There’s not a streak of meanness in Ken’s blood. He has an immense capacity to love his neighbors from the International and Central districts, to Rainier Valley and Little Saigon. He supported their events, including Tabor 100 and Urban League, and attended many of them. He partnered with the Center for Career Alternatives (now closed) for job training. He encourages his staff to engage in their communities.

Why Ken values Goodwill

At Goodwill, Ken has learned about “the strength of the human spirit.” He witnessed how their “students have endured and overcome hardships, which most of us cannot even imagine.”

He believes in Goodwill’s mission — providing “individual support and teaching of job skills,” which “can help so many people help themselves.

“I learned how helping a student, in turn, helps a whole family and friends have lives they feel proud of.”

A sample of colorful neckties Ken has collected since the mid-1980s. (Photo by George Liu/NWAW)

Why funky ties

Yep, Ken has a collection of funky, as well as stylish, ties. Sometimes, he wears as many as four neckties a day, hopping to different events.

Director and actor Woody Allen once said, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.”

Ken’s love affair with ties is never about vanity. By wearing something groovy, it creates an ambiance and sets him apart from other people. It helps him to win friends and reconnect with old acquaintances. It’s his way of reaching out to strangers, stimulating conversation. Simultaneously, it satisfies his love for adventure and sense of humor.

Soon, people get to know his positive energy, compassion, generosity, sensitivity, and graciousness. That’s how his friendship begins with many people of color over the years.

How many ties does Ken own? He wouldn’t say. He has over 100 and he intends to have more.

Ken will retire on June 30. (end)

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