Dean Strawn named Tri-Citian of the Year
This story was published April 25, 1998, Tri-City Herald
By Annette Cary and Melissa O’Neil Herald staff writers
A Tri-Citian with a reputation for being prepared was caught by surprise Friday night.
“The least someone could have done is warn me so I could have had a day to prepare,” said Dean Strawn, the 1998 Tri-Citian of the Year.
He took the stage to receive the award before a crowd of about 450 at the Doubletree Inn in Pasco, surrounded by about 20 family members and close family friends. They included his wife, former Benton County Commissioner Sandi Strawn, his two grown children and relatives.
The award, considered the most prestigious given out in the Tri-Cities, is presented by the area’s five Rotary clubs. But presenters joked this was the second year in a row the award had gone to a Kiwanian.
And what a Kiwanian. Strawn, 54, joined the organization 28 years ago and hasn’t missed a meeting since. He’s brought the same dedication to a long list of organizations since he came to the Tri-Cities in 1963, shortly after graduating from high school in Fruitland, Idaho.
“He does not just join an organization, but provides realistic and valuable hands-on leadership,” wrote Ann Philip, executive director of the Kennewick Chamber of Commerce, in a letter in support of his nomination. “He has always been more concerned with the success of our organization than in whether his opinion is popular or not.”
He was the founding president of the Kennewick Chamber of Commerce. He wanted small business to have representation in Olympia and strength within the community, said Sondra Wilson, president of Carlson Wagonlit Travel. Wilson nominated Strawn for the honor.
“Though he would not admit it, Dean deserves much credit for this organization’s success,” Wilson said.
The chamber recently gave Strawn a 10-year anniversary award, recognizing his behind-the-scenes commitment and quiet contributions.
Strawn’s leadership also is credited with revitalizing two Tri-City agencies.
As president of the Tri-Cities Visitor and Convention Bureau in 1990, Strawn recognized a need to diversify the economy. He led with a vision of tourism as a catalyst for economic growth and secured the bureau’s first five-year funding agreement with the cities, Wilson said.
His work as chairman of the board for the Private Industry Council changed that agency’s reputation.
“When Dean took over as chairman of the PIC board, the council was floundering,” wrote state Sen. Pat Hale in a letter to the nominating committee. “Torn by management problems, crippling conflicts and political controversies, the PIC’s very survival was in jeopardy.”
Strawn used determination and diplomacy to bring the board back to life, Hale said. He instituted a code of conduct and a conflict of interest standard.
“Should Dean have been interested in joining a group to collect glory or better himself, this would have been the last one on his list,” Wilson said.
Strawn’s pastor, Jerry Marvel of Columbia Community Church, praised Strawn for his commitment to the virtues that undergird community life: responsibility, honesty, work, faith and compassion.
One of his employees, Martin Esparza, attested to that compassion.
“My wife and I have been through some hard times when we’ve needed help,” he said. “When we thought we had nowhere to turn, Dean’s always been there for us.”
When Esparza’s father was ill, Strawn lent him money to go to Mexico to see his father and more recently lent him money to make a down payment on the family’s first home.
Strawn has worked at Dependable Janitor Service since 1963. In 1970, he became owner and president of the service. About that time he became active in Tri-City business and civic organizations.
He’s served on the board of the Tri-City Industrial Development Council and helped organize the Tri-Cities Legislative Council, later serving three times as chairman.
He’s also served on the board of the American Red Cross, the Boy Scouts, the Association of Washington Business and the the Tri-Cities Good Roads Association. He was a charter member of the United Way Vintner Club.
“Dean is a true visionary, and he has applied his skills in financial analysis, strategic planning and citizen activism,” Wilson said.
Strawn “serves generously wherever needed, not just as a figurehead, but with a hands-on, can-do spirit, leading by example,” she said.