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Mastering the gift of making you giveFund-raiser extraordinaire Larry Mills is Bainbridge Citizen of the Year.
Unlike most of us, Larry Mills doesn't mind asking other people for money.His willingness to undertake fund-raising projects has made him much in demand as a board member for organizations such as the Bainbridge Library, Bainbridge Performing Arts and the Bainbridge Foundation.For his charitable work on behalf of a variety of island causes, the Bainbridge Island Kiwanis Club has named Mills its 2001 Citizen of the Year.People need to give, it's good for them, Mills said. But they need to be asked. I've never had a problem asking people to give for worthy causes.Since moving to Bainbridge Island in 1975, Mills has been involved in a succession of fund-raising projects, including the library expansion, the BPA Playhouse and the Don Nakata Memorial Pool.The library was the easiest to raise money for, because everybody saw that as a community-wide benefit, he said. The Playhouse and the pool were harder because some people saw those as 'special-interest' projects.In general, Mills said, it is easier to raise money for a building project than to support the ongoing operations of a non-profit organization.People can see what they're getting for their money with a building, he said.Joan Lindall Holcomb got to know Mills when she was executive director of Helpline House and he was treasurer.He's always raising money for somebody, Holcomb said. He's involved. He doesn't do it to be noticed.Mills was selected from a field on 11 nominees by the Bainbridge Kiwanis Board of Directors, said Bill Brown, chair of the club's citizen-of-the-year committee.His list of accomplishments was so long that it was sort of overwhelming, Brown said.Mills said his selection is a little bit embarrassing, really, and attributed it to his longevity as an involved citizen.Small-town guyMills has lived in smaller towns all his life. He grew up in the Midwest, where his father was a ceramics engineer whose company moved him every four years.After graduating from high school in Alton, Illinois, Mills got an engineering degree from Princeton, then an undergraduate and law degree from the University of Michigan. After a year clerking for the Alaska Supreme Court, Mills took a job with a big Seattle law firm and settled on Bainbridge.The law firm Mills started, now called Mills Meyers Swartling, has grown to 14 attorneys.Mills' own practice has centered around business and commercial law, and he now spends much of his time engaged in dispute resolution as the neutral party.Mills hobbies are singing and basketball. He and wife Barbara have both sung in the Bainbridge Chorale for a number of years, although they're taking this year off, and he is part of the men's compline choir that sings monthly at St. Cecilia Catholic Church. The couple are both part of a jazz-singing group called Side by Side.He has been active at Bethany Lutheran Church in a number of capacities, including fund-raising. He also coaches and plays basketball.Mills' current challenge is the Bainbridge Foundation, whose one call for all drive supports a number of community organizations. There is plenty of room for improvement, Mills said. While donations were up in 2000 over the previous year - from $503,000 to $540,000 - the number of donors dropped significantly.There is a significant amount of wealth on Bainbridge that is not translating into charitable giving, he said. He fears that community involvement may be lessening.A lot of people see Bainbridge as a refuge, and don't get involved in the community, he said. Perhaps its a matter of knowing what the opportunities are.Mills will be honored at a celebratory dinner at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 29 at Wing Point. The $25 dinner is open to anyone interested. Reservations must be made by Sept. 20 at 780-8554.Mills tries to motivate others to give with the same thought that motivates him to be involved.I suggest to them that charitable giving is a way to leave a legacy, he said. That's what motivates me.