Gordon far from retiring helping community

Dave Gordon may be retired, but he doesn’t have time to relax.

The golf clubs sit idle; the fishing pole is rather lonely. Why? For one thing, even though he’s retired, he’s still earning a paycheck as owner of Foreign 5 and Lucy’s Delicatessen.

Three years ago, the owners of these Chippewa Falls mainstays wanted to get out of retail, but Gordon decided the shops were too important to the community to let go. So, he talked his brother-in-law into becoming his business partner and buying them.

“He and I are spending way more time than we had ever planned to spend there, but I’m not complaining,” he said.

On top of this, Gordon is also a very active volunteer with the United Way of the Greater Chippewa Valley.

His involvement with the charitable organization stretches back even to the beginning of his three-decade-long career with Procter and Gamble in Cincinnati. The president of the company was the campaign chair for the Cincinnati chapter of United Way, so the organization was simply part of corporate life.

“I remember starting off making calls to little business, and then later I was helping companies with 200 employees run their campaigns,” Gordon said.

But it wasn’t until after his retirement, when he moved to Chippewa Falls, that Gordon’s involvement with the United Way ramped up. He was asked to join the board of directors of the Chippewa County chapter. (He would later serve a term as board chair.)

In 2006, he attended what would become a very important event for him: the national United Way Community Leaders conference, where a discussion was held regarding a shift towards something called community mobilization.

“The gist of it was that the United Way had been looking at what it did and how it was improving the quality of life in the communities it worked with,” Gordon explained. “They found that while they were effective, they weren’t effective enough to make major changes. We were still losing ground; there were still people living below the government’s poverty level. Conditions were not getting better.”

At the conference, Gordon learned about a strategy that would change how the United Way has operated for decades. Instead of doing what people normally associate with United Way — raising money and distributing it to service agencies — the organization could instead function as a coordinator in each community to identify issues, bring resources together, and develop plans to help improve the quality of life.

“It excited me and heightened my interest in United Way because I thought what they were talking about made a lot of sense,” he said. “I got hooked when I went to that first conference. Every time I go, my belief that this is the right thing to do continues to be reinforced.

“When communities decide to come together and use their resources and look at issues, they make things happen.“

No matter how excited he was, however, major changes of this type can’t happen immediately.

Gordon was passionate it was the direction they needed to go to really make a difference. The adoption of community mobilization is voluntary for each chapter, so it took some convincing.

“It was a major change for board members. It took us a while to wrestle through whether we wanted to do that,” Gordon said. “It’s like that old saying, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ But I just saw so much more.”

Another item popped up in 2009, as the Chippewa and Eau Claire county chapters merged to form the United Way of the Greater Chippewa Valley.

But finally, the new vision is starting to get some traction with the combined organization. The board has identified education, income and health as areas of focus for their mission.

Education is the farthest along; they’ve set their goals high in aiming to have every child enter school ready to learn.

“The thing that we’ve found out is that people don’t just have one problem. If you’re a child and you have rotting teeth, or you don’t have a meal every day, it’s going to be hard to go to school and learn. So the intertwining of health, education, and income are all together,” Gordon said.

Along with his work at United Way, Gordon has been involved in a number of other projects, one of his favorite being the launch of the Open Door Clinic in Chippewa Falls in 2006.

Every Tuesday evening, the Open Door Clinic, located in the basement of First Presbyterian Church in Chippewa Falls, provides free health care services to anyone in the community without health insurance. The doctors and nurses volunteer their services, and the clinic has one paid part-time coordinator.

After the clinic opened, Gordon said the need for the clinic’s services has only grown. Since 2006, the clinic has dispensed over 15,000 prescriptions and has seen over 3,000 patients, all of whom otherwise would not have been able to access health care.

“It’s one of those things that I can sit back and say, ‘Boy, I’m glad I was a part of that.’ And it’s really helping,“ he said.

So why does Gordon work so hard in his retirement for his adoptive community? It is for many of the same reasons he first became involved with the United Way at Procter and Gamble: it’s what you do.

“I have been very fortunate,” he said. “I came from a family that was probably considered middle class, and I went to college and got an education. I spent some time in the Navy, and then had a career with Procter and Gamble.

“I have to say I’ve been blessed. And when you are blessed, a big part of that is to pass it on or give back.“

This article appeared on the Chippewa Valley Business Report.

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