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Bellingham's Viking Vibe

Bellingham wouldn't be the college town you love without alumni like these...

Work-Hard, Play-Hard Entrepreneurs

Brendan Pape (’11, Communication) and Christian Harkson (’12, Communication)

Sometimes, the best way to find a job in the town you love is to make your own. Brendan Pape and Christian Harkson started screen printing T-shirts as students in Pape’s bedroom in 2010. This summer they expect to print about 80,000 shirts – each one a sartorial tribute to the young and shreddy lifestyle – while they expand into designing jackets and other clothing.

It’s more than the easy access to dirt bike trails, snowboarding, and other outdoor pursuits that keeps their company, Disidual, in Bellingham, Harkson says. “A lot of cool businesses start out in Bellingham just because the community supports them so much. It’s such a good place for a business to grow.” Photo by Dan Levine

Nightlife Executive

Hollie Huthman (’03, Sociology)

By day, Hollie Huthman is a consumer loan underwriter at Whatcom Educational Credit Union. By night, she’s the co-owner and sometime photographer of the Shakedown, a State Street bar and music venue that Huthman has decorated with her own photographic work.

Sure, Huthman says, she’d like to have only one job someday. But Bellingham’s music scene is worth the late nights. “There are people here who could move to bigger cities and find their way, but they love Bellingham too much and don’t want to take off,” she says. “There’s an idea here that the place is what you make of it. And I think people are making it pretty cool.”

Which is one of the reasons why 14 percent of Western alumni call Whatcom County home. Photo by Dan Levine

The Mayors

Dan Pike (’94, Urban and Regional Planning) and Mayor Kelli Linville (’74, Speech Language Pathology and Audiology; ’81, M.Ed., Speech Pathology/Audiology)

Mayor Kelli Linville and former Mayor Dan Pike are part of a Viking legacy at City Hall, where a Western alum has been in charge since 1996 – except for 13 months in 2006 and 2007, when former WWU Dean of Students Tim Douglas held the top post.

Actually, counting Douglas’ terms as mayor from 1984 to 1996 and from 2006 to 2007, Bellingham’s chief executive has had strong ties to Western for nearly three decades.

Linville became mayor last year after 17 years in the state House of Representatives. Pike, who served as mayor from 2007 to 2011, is now a consultant and manager for Tetra Tech, working on issues of sustainability and freight mobility.

Not pictured is former Mayor Mark Asmundson (’76, Political Science), who led the city from 1996 to 2006 and is now executive director of the Northwest Clean Air Agency. Photo by Dan Levine

Coffee Guy

Julian Torres (’05, Business Administration)

Julian Torres helped his parents launch Bellingham Bay Coffee Roasters in 2006 partly as a love letter to his favorite city on Earth. The family with Colombian roots names its coffee blends after Bellingham landmarks and sponsored the first season of the Bellingham United Football Club.

“I don’t care if it rains. I don’t care if it’s cold,” he says. “I travel a lot and I think this is the best place in the country.”

Now the director of North American sales for a high-end espresso machine manufacturer, Torres says his Business professors taught him the importance of building relationships, an important skill for entrepreneurs.

And Torres is something of a serial entrepreneur. He can be seen this summer at the Bellingham Farmers Market with his latest culinary venture, Chow Hot Dogs. In Bellingham, coffee and hot dogs apparently do go together. Photo by Rachel Bayne

First Couple of Organic Farming

Tom Thornton (’78, Fairhaven Interdisciplinary Concentration) and Cheryl Thornton (’78, Marine Resources)

The Thorntons got their start growing organic vegetables at The Outback Farm behind Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies and went into business at their Cloud Mountain Farm in Everson soon after they graduated in 1978. They’ve been growing and selling organic produce and plants – and propagating knowledge about locally grown food – ever since.

Today, their farm is the non-profit Cloud Mountain Farm Center, where they continue to operate their nursery while teaching area gardeners and would-be farmers the secrets to growing food while loving the Earth. A current project: building a co-op processing plant for local farmers to put their salad greens and small vegetables in the kitchens of the area’s school districts, hospitals and universities.

“Now we’re at that age where we want to pass all this on,” Cheryl says. “We hope it will go on forever.” Photo by Dan Levine

Lummi Nation Leader

Tim Ballew II (’03, Psychology)

As chairman of the Lummi Indian Business Council, the 5,000-member Lummi Nation’s governing body, Ballew spends a lot of his time on the road or in his office, but some of his favorite days are on the Salish Sea.

Ballew met his wife, Leanne, as a teenager paddling around Portage Island in the Lady Rose war canoe club. After graduating from Western, he worked in the Lummi Tribal Chairman’s office, bought a fishing boat and worked as a fisher for five years.

He loved the idea that his work fed both his family and the world, as his catch was shipped as far away as California and China.

“Plus, we’re doing what people have done since time immemorial,” Ballew says. “It’s humbling.” Photo by Dan Levine

Start-Up Incubator

Shawn Kemp (’98, Industrial Design)

Got a million-dollar idea? You’re not alone in Bellingham, says Shawn Kemp, a former Microsoft executive who now thrives in Bellingham’s entrepreneurial culture.

In addition to running his own start-up companies, Share Zen and Action Sprout, Kemp is the president of the Bellingham Innovation Group (BIG) Idea Lab, a place where entrepreneurs can come get advice to turn their ideas into businesses – or “fast failures” that enable their creators to move on to something else. One of BIG Idea Lab’s success stories is WompMobile, whose CEO is Madison Miner (’02, Business Administration – Management Information Systems). The company helps businesses create mobile-friendly websites. Photo by Rachel Bayne

Foodie Forager

Jennifer Hahn (’84, Environmental Science; ’00, Fairhaven Interdisciplinary Concentration)

Jennifer Hahn loves Bellingham’s wild scenery so much she can taste it. The author of “Pacific Feast: A Cook’s Guide to West Coast Foraging and Cuisine” gives classes to foodies on harvesting and cooking the bounty found in the wilderness. Nori seaweed, for example, is a protein-rich kayak-side snack Hahn calls the “super food of Planet Ocean.” She’s an adjunct professor at Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies who teaches a popular course in sustainable foraging. A final project includes roasting shellfish and root vegetables in an earthen pit fire lined with ferns and skunk cabbage.

Hahn also solo kayaked 750 miles from Alaska to Bellingham, founded a kayak touring company, and leads kayak tours in Alaska and the Salish Sea. Her kayaking companions eat very, very well. Photo by Courtesy

Professional Quality-of-Lifers

Todd Elsworth (’92, History) and Lance Romo (’95, English)

You never know when you’ll be able to get in a quick run, bike ride or paddle, which is why the back of Lance Romo’s rig looks like the equipment rental department of the AS Outdoor Center. As Recreation coordinator for the city of Bellingham, Romo organizes many highlights in the ‘Hamster social calendar, from a New Year’s Day Polar Dip at Lake Padden to a 15k race along the waterfront each September. When he runs in the races he organizes, spot him wearing a kilt that he says enables quick post-race clothing changes in the parking lot. Or find him on his kayak or stand-up paddle board four or five times a week.

Romo works closely with Todd Elsworth, executive director of Recreation Northwest, which puts on several athletic events of its own, including the Bellingham Traverse, a relay race that “celebrates the life cycle of wild salmon.”

Where else could you ride your bike for a fish? Actually, there is one other place: the Olympia Traverse is in July. Photo by Rachel Bayne

Community-Building Nature-Lover

Wendy Wollam Scherrer (’76, Environmental Planning; ’88, M.Ed., Science Education)

Long before she became known in Bellingham for rallying her community around improving salmon habitat, Wendy Scherrer learned about water quality testing in Padden Creek in her first Applied Ecology class at Huxley College of the Environment in 1973.

Now Scherrer is retired as executive director of the Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association – another Western alumna, Rachel (Deryckx) Vasak (’07, Geology), became director in 2008. She still teaches salmon science in Bellingham classrooms. She recently returned to Padden Creek with her grandson’s kindergarten class releasing tiny coho salmon fry. Photo by Rachel Bayne

Saver of Liquid Sunshine

Anitra Accetturo (’02, Geography)

Anitra Accetturo, the city of Bellingham’s Water Conservation Program Coordinator, is a local authority on putting all this rain to good use.

No need to use treated drinking water to flush the toilet or water the lawn, Accetturo says. She teaches classes about rainwater harvesting systems and how to build them. “Rainwater harvesting has a dual purpose in that it’s conservation -- reducing the amount of potable water used,” she says, “and storm water management -- protecting water quality.”

Two of her demonstration systems are on display out behind The RE Store; they’re both much smaller than the commercially engineered, corrugated metal rainwater tanks seen here in the alley behind the Whatcom Museum’s Lightcatcher Building. Photo by Dan Levine

Vikings raising the next generation

Fred (’01, Interdisciplinary Child Development) and Michelle (Almojera) (‘99, Biology) Chung and their son Carter

Bellingham’s reputation as a great place to raise a family owes its existence to people like Fred Chung, a Whatcom Middle School math teacher and one of hundreds of Western alumni teaching in Bellingham classrooms.

The Bellingham School District is consistently one of the top 10 employers of new Western graduates. More than half of the district’s certificated staff, including teachers, principals, counselors and others, earned their credentials at Western.

Fred moved to Bellingham from Tacoma to attend Western and “fell in love with the place,” he says. He and his wife Michelle, a nurse at St. Joseph Hospital, enjoy spending weekend mornings getting breakfast downtown with their son Carter and taking walks through Zuanich or Boulevard parks. Photo by Rachel Bayne