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Happy wanderer earns Kiwanis Citizen o’ Year

Ron Williamson, Kiwanis Citizen of the Year for 2007, hits the trail from Rotary Centennial Park. Williamson leads four walking groups per week, two through the Bainbridge Park District.   - Brad Camp/Staff Photo
Ron Williamson, Kiwanis Citizen of the Year for 2007, hits the trail from Rotary Centennial Park. Williamson leads four walking groups per week, two through the Bainbridge Park District.
— image credit: Brad Camp/Staff Photo

Walker Ron Williamson leads groups around the island weekly.

Ron Williamson didn’t know he’d even been nominated as Citizen of the Year until he got a call from Kiwanis representative Jane Sutherland telling him he’d been selected.

“I’m surprised so many people can keep a secret,” he said.

Neither arrogance nor false modesty is at play here.

Four times a week, Williamson leads up to 20 people on walks around Bainbridge Island. So when he says “so many people,” he isn’t kidding.

For 25 years starting in the mid-1970s, Williamson ran 40 to 45 miles per week – more during marathon season.

He kept detailed logs of each run, which is how he knows that No. 8 was when mere running stopped and exploration began.

“One day you’re out running, and you see something, and the curiosity kicks in,” he said. “And you take a left.”

Williamson continued these Bainbridge explorations with running buddy Bill Mathisson until 1998, when he eased into retirement by taking Fridays off. Then one day he ran into a friend who said, “Let’s do my walk.”

That first meeting evolved into a weekly group outing, with a different parking spot and a different four-mile walk selected for each one.

Williamson eventually sent a letter to the Park District proposing that they sponsor his walks more formally. They agreed, and in January 2002 he started his Wednesday walks.

To his initial surprise, a waiting list formed immediately and has been a constant ever since, even after he added a Tuesday walk.

“I thought (people) would just do it once, then go away,” he said.

At some point along the way, perhaps when the group incorporated a post-walk repast at the New Rose Cafe, Williamson accepted the fact that the walks had as much to do with socializing as fitness. And he sometimes has to remind walkers to stop and listen to nature.

“The chatter we make is so much that everything within a half mile hears us,” he said.

Williamson’s walks aren’t his only claim to fame, nor are they the only reason he was nominated as Kiwanis citizen of the year by an estimated 15 people.

“This year, we had seven nominations, all of them good,” Sutherland said. “It’s a really tough decision, who to pick for this award. Ron has so many people that he touches on Bainbridge Island. And he’s done such a wonderful job on One Call for All.”

Williamson parlayed a long career in supply management into stints as the treasurer at Bainbridge Arts and Crafts, the board of One Call for All from 1991-96 and its treasurer starting in 1994, and one term on the Non-Motorized Transportation Committee.

Williamson had plenty of work to keep him busy before retirement, but he was drawn to volunteer work as an expression of his place in the community.

“Otherwise, you’re unknown here,” he said. “You’re one of the people who gets on the boat and commutes every day.”

After recently stepping down from the One Call for All Board after 13 years as treasurer – having processed $6 million in donations – Williamson stepped right back in, as the Bainbridge Senior Center treasurer.

Yet volunteering is far from work in Williamson’s world.

“I’m the luckiest person around,” he said. “I get to do these things every day. That’s the joy of it.”

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Valderi, valdera

The Kiwanis award banquet honoring citizen of the year Ron Williamson will start at 5 p.m. Sept. 23 at IslandWood with appetizers, followed by dinner at 6 p.m. The public is welcome. For reservations, call Greg Geehan 855-1238 or Jane Sutherland at 842-3253 by Sept. 15.

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