2010 John Umbarger

Umbarger named top Tri-Citian of the Year

Published Saturday, May 1st, Tri-City Herald

PASCO — In his 13 years as a Tri-Citian, John Umbarger has built a reputation as an enthusiastic volunteer, community booster, do-gooder and genuine nice guy.Now he can add 2010 Tri-Citian of the Year to his résumé.

Umbarger was honored with a standing ovation from about 400 people Friday night at the Pasco Red Lion.

“I am extremely honored to have spent the past 13 years working with most of you in this room,” Umbarger said.

He wasted no time turning the praise back to his friends, his wife and his church.

“Kathy is the love of my life. We’ve been married 44 years. I’m blessed by the Lord and a wonderful church,” Umbarger said, noting that “my church family is here.”

Ken Hohenberg, last year’s Tri-Citian of the Year and Kennewick’s police chief, made the introduction of Umbarger as the 2010 honoree by describing him as having been a spirited youth who eventually was active in the church and later became “very successful in life.”

Umbarger came to the Tri-Cities in 1997 as deputy director at Fluor’s economic transition office until mid-1998. He remained with Fluor more than a decade and was manager of Fluor’s community programs when he retired.

“John’s efforts and influence in our community has extended far beyond his assignment at Fluor,” said Larry Towner of Richland, who nominated Umbarger for the award.

Towner noted that Umbarger has a unique ability to draw together community resources to create new and enhanced services to benefit the Tri-Cities.

Among a long list of personal achievements, Umbarger:

* Founded the Crystal Apple Award Program in 1999 to recognize outstanding educators.

* Founded the Pasco High School Home Construction Program that has helped create 11 student-built homes since 1998.

* Founded the community Book Harvest for the Mid-Columbia Reading Foundation, which has collected more than 100,000 books for children.

This is in addition to 10 awards he accepted as a representative of Fluor Hanford.

Umbarger has received many more awards for his community involvement as a member of the Coast Guard Auxiliary, Mid-Columbia Educational Alliance, Mid-Columbia Reading Foundation, Boy Scouts, from which he received the Silver Beaver Award, Domestic Violence Services, Sunrise Rotary Club, Richland Rotary, the West Richland Chamber of Commerce and the Boys & Girls Club.

Towner was barely able to list on one page all the organizations in the Tri-Cities that Umbarger has helped, served or been active in since 1997. There are 29 of them.

“John is a role model who leads with his heart in every project he supports. He creates a spirit of community, (seeking) to involve every person, avoiding any personal recognition,” Towner wrote in his nomination.

“John is a true gentleman, honest, loyal and committed family man. He is cheerful in difficult times and modest in success. He is the example for all of us to follow,” said Connie Gillespie of Lourdes Health Network.

Hohenberg noted that the nomination submitted for Umbarger characterized him as being “woven into the very fabric” of the Tri-Cities.

Umbarger lives in Burbank on the shore of the Snake River. He and his wife Kathy have four grown children and two grandchildren.

He has a bachelor’s degree in physics, a master’s in management and a doctorate in nuclear physics. He holds five U.S. patents and was employed at Los Alamos National Laboratory until 1977, spending 26 years with the Department of Energy, Hohenberg said.

And every chance he gets, Umbarger has his boat on the water and his line angling for fish.

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