Photo: Gabriel Olson for United Way of the Columbia-Willamette
Native Oregonians Peter and Jane Melhuish have made giving back a way of life.
From Boy Scouts and Red Cross camps during their childhoods in Washington County to community outreach at St. Luke's Episcopal Church during their retirement in Clark County, service has always been at the center of the Melhuishes’ lives.
“I just think that’s what we’re here for, without any question,” said Peter. "There’s an awful lot of people who, without having done anything wrong, need to be helped, and we can’t just ignore them.”
The high school sweethearts, who have been married for more than 60 years, are keeping their eyes and hearts open to the needs in their community well into their sixth decade of supporting United Way.
“I think through all of my United Way work, you discover all of the needs of your community and how well they’re served by this organization,” Peter reflected. “Most people have some concern for the people who need help with family and food and housing. This is an organization that really deals with that, and I think that’s what really kept me interested in being involved.”
Employee giving has been the cornerstone of both the Melhuishes' involvement and what makes United Way possible. While working at Tektronix, Peter first spent time as a “Loaned Executive” on United Way’s annual campaign in 1972. In that role, the company donated four months of his time to visit other local businesses and tell employees about the organization and how to easily contribute through payroll deductions.
Making those presentations was when it really hit home how unique—and effective—United Way’s work is.
“[They] make sure that where the money is being spent it's being spent wisely. That’s not true of every place.”
The fact that United Way knows the best local agencies to support is another bonus, Jane added. “If you don’t know where to start, you can trust that United Way screens organizations to make sure they are doing the best work in our community.”
Inspired to get more involved in the leadership, Peter volunteered his time as Treasurer on United Way’s Finance Committee and then on the Board of Directors during the rest of his career in industrial sales and management.
“When I retired, that was my job,” he said of his time on the Executive Committee. In 1998, he was honored as Volunteer of the Year.
Quick to dismiss the honors, the warm and humble couple simply don’t see their dedication to philanthropy as anything out of the ordinary.
“I don’t see how the community could be without United Way and everyone who raises money for this work,” Peter said. “[We] need to raise funds so agencies can do the work they do well. Look at what’s going on around here—this works.”
Now grandparents of six and great-grandparents of four, Peter and Jane encourage young people starting out in their careers to consider integrating charitable giving right from the start.
“When you’re in the workforce it’s fairly easy, if your company does [employee giving]. And if they don’t, encourage them to do it,” Jane suggested.
Reiterating the advice he used to give to his employees, Peter added, “Start small, and as you understand more what’s going on here, you certainly end up giving a lot more.”
“And when you retire, make a point to continue being generous,” Jane concluded. “In the Portland/Vancouver metropolitan area, we’ve certainly been exposed to a lot a things that need caring for, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. If we could all share a little bit, and continue it through our lives, maybe there wouldn’t be so many problems.”
That’s why they’ve made a point of continuing their lifelong generosity during their retirement and beyond. Full of hope for the future betterment of their hometown communities, the Melhuishes have included United Way in their estate planning as “a good way to continue giving,” Jane said.
“I don’t know what pleasure the money we send to United Way every month would do for us if we were just going out for dinner or something. It’s just what we do.”
“Besides that,” she laughed, “I like to cook, so we still eat pretty well! But most of all, giving back just warms your heart.”
Inspired to give? Donate here.
Want to learn more about planned giving? Email Teke Dillender, Vice President, Major Gifts.