Donor Profile: John Wick

From teen student to uber-volunteer, John Wick is the definition of what it means to be a Mountaineer.
Mary Hsue Mary Hsue
August 05, 2015

I’m often filled with a sense of gratitude when I start the process of selecting, interviewing and featuring a donor for this column. It the week of Thanksgiving when I wrote this piece, so that feeling of gratitude was amplified and got me thinking about things for which I am thankful. Of course, I’m grateful for the many donors who generously give to the Mountaineers, but I’m also grateful to have a wonderful family. My parents instilled in us a strong work ethic, the value of giving back, and the practices of being thankful, kind and mindful. We belonged to a church so folks modeled many of these qualities, but the concept of giving “time, talent and treasures” was taken to a whole new level when I started working at The Mountaineers.

Nowhere else have I seen this level of volunteerism and dedication to an organization, or experienced such a level of commitment to the personal success of others – mine included. It may be the nature of The Mountaineers tradition of volunteerism or an extension of the commitment that volunteer instructors and leaders make to their students. But it’s certainly something that my colleagues and I have observed since day one of our employment here. We each have our own individual champions, but we all have one champion in common – John Wick, engineer, mountaineer, donor, Seattle-native and jack of all trades.

If you’ve spent any time at the Seattle Program Center, you’ve probably met or come across John in the basement building test friction slabs or adjusting plumbing to install a washing machine, or behind the climbing wall removing bee hives, or even as an event guest. clearing an obstructed path so that other guests can safely get to their seats. A mechanical engineer by trade, John has shared his professional skills along with his love of the outdoors with The Mountaineers and the greater outdoor community.

John introduced himself to me on my first day at the office and he has been watching my back ever since. As a newbie, “you don’t know what you don’t know” and that’s been okay with John Wick around.

From teen student to uber-volunteer

The outdoors was not foreign for John, who grew up in a family that fished and hunted a lot. He says, “I joined the Scouts to go hiking and backpacking, but I wanted to do more – to climb.” He heard that the way to do that was to join The Mountaineers. “I learned about The Mountaineers from scout masters who were members and climbers.”

John took the Basic Climbing course in 1968, when he was
almost 16 years old. “After Basic, I climbed on my own, with
friends. I got to a spot where I realized I didn’t know as much as I thought I knew, so I came back to The Mountaineers to take the Basic equivalency test — so that I could get into the Intermediate Climbing program.” That first year in Intermediate was his first taste of volunteering.

Volunteering is a course requirement for Intermediate students. “It wasn’t onerous and there was camaraderie.” John found it to be satisfying to interact with people and to teach. “I didn’t have a set of role models as a kid, so when I saw Mountaineers lead using a variety of styles and skill sets to teach the right way, but differently, I was inspired try it out and volunteer more.” Many climb leaders inspired John when he was a student in Basic and Intermediate courses, including Norm Winn, Max Hollenbeck, Paul Wiseman, and Clint Kelley, to name a few. “No one person served as a mentor to me. Many gave so much of their time and support to help me learn to be out there safely and with the right skills.”

That was 1974. Since then John has taught and led field trips
for climbing and sea kayaking, volunteered for Seattle Mountain Rescue before helicopter rescues and recoveries were more commonplace and rescues were gnarly. “Being in the field for SMR in the 90’s was great – challenging, but fun because many SMR volunteers were Mountaineers members, like Jim Baker, Charlie Zwick, and Mike Maude.” 

John also served in a leadership position. “I served on the board of directors from 2003 to 2005, when we decided to move from the old Queen Anne location to Magnuson Park.” This was a contentious decision. Johns explains, “I was on the committee that investigated prospective relocation sights. Some board members and members were against it, but the old building had poor infrastructure and parking.” He goes on to add, “Our vision was always to have a world-class climbing center, where training could be done in town.” Not only would the effort reduce the carbon footprint, John says “It would allow us to do more and more often.”

Giving to support a vision for training excellence

This explains John’s motivation for making his first donation and for his support of capital projects that followed. “The boulder in the South Plaza was seen as a needed piece to allow a kind of climbing education that was not easily available at the time.” John not only donated to the Basalt Columns project, but also served as a member of the Basalt Columns planning committee. “This was a chance to be part of something unique – part of constructing a freestanding climbing structure that, according to my research, does not exist anywhere in the world.”

He’s pleased to serve on the committee and to make donations to the current effort to add friction slabs in the North Plaza. “The friction slabs will support both climbing and scrambling courses.” Most climbers and scramblers learn friction climbing at the crag or on a mountain. This is an opportunity for students to learn these skills in-city and in a safe environment. “With friction slabs, students will round out their skills, gain a better foundation and know how to be safe and comfortable before heading into the hills.”

And I learned that giving for the good of the climbing community as a whole was part of the overall vision. John explains, “You’ll notice that we did not fence in the basalt columns, South Plaza climbing wall, boulder or boulder field. It was an intentional action to let the public in. We want the building features to be used so all people will be safer in the outdoors.”

Giving to support a vision for the future

John supports capital projects, but he and his wife Debbie are
members of Peak Society, The Mountaineers giving club for
donors who give an annual unrestricted donation of $1,000
or more. John and Debbie have been Peak Society members
for each of the past three years. John thinks it’s important
to give to something he’s passionate about today and to “the
promise of what can be” in an innovative organization like The Mountaineers. “I appreciate the vision that leadership has. I want to support in executing that vision. Having been a board member, I know what that level of trust means to the leadership of an organization.” It’s very different now. At the time I was on the board, there was active distrust and disagreement, and dissension. I know how destructive that can be. I see how the board and staff leadership operate today - with a vision and hope for the future. I want to advance that vision.”

I often want to ask volunteers, “Why do you do give so
much?” so I asked John. He answered with, “I see time as
an investment. Just like dollars. I carefully choose how I can
contribute in ways that will have value greater than the act.”
He adds, “It gives me personal satisfaction. And it’s my way
of keeping the Mountaineers going. I take pride in what we’ve
created — physical and organizational — and leave people to take it forward as they will.”

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