Kent Reporter's Person of the Year: Westcott a man for all seasons

Bill Westcott volunteers many hours each year running Kent Cornucopia Days, the Kent Farmer
Bill Westcott volunteers many hours each year running Kent Cornucopia Days, the Kent Farmer's Market and the Kent Winterfest.
— image credit: STEVE HUNTER, Kent Reporter

Bill Westcott covers a lot of ground as a pilot for Alaska Airlines. He might cover even more ground as a Kent community leader and volunteer.

When Westcott flies across the country, he takes an extra backpack filled with Kent Cornucopia Days information in the final weeks of preparation before the large street fair held downtown each July. He also uses his cellphone during layovers to handle the many details required to run the festival as well as the Kent Farmers Market and the Kent Winterfest tree lighting ceremony and Santa parade.

While Westcott, 56, didn't create any of the Kent Lions Club events, he's helped turn all of them into popular activities for residents and their families. He has chaired Cornucopia Days since 1993, Winterfest since 2000 and the Farmers Market since 2008.

In addition, Westcott also is vice chair of the Green River District of the Boy Scouts of America, organizes Tahoma National Cemetery Veterans Day observances, serves as head usher at Kent Covenant Church and along with his wife hosts a fundraising breakfast each year for the Kent Food Bank.

For his exemplary efforts, the Kent Reporter has named Westcott as its Person of the Year for 2012.

"I think his job comes first and the community second," said Mark Hendrickson, city of Kent cultural programs coordinator, who has worked with Westcott for 15 years. "He takes on things in the community and for the community. He's dedicated to making Kent a better place for families."

Volunteer work runs in the Westcott family.

"It was the way I was raised so I do it because it benefits so many," Westcott said.

He grew up in Madera, Calif., watching his parents and grandparents devote time to volunteer work. His father got him to join the Madera Noon Lions Club at the age of 23, shortly after he graduated from Fresno State with a business science and computer systems degree.

Westcott moved to Kent nearly 25 years ago when Alaska Airlines hired him as a pilot. He had lived the previous six years in Minot, N.D., as an Air Force B-52 pilot. He served as a commander of a crew on a bomber that carried nuclear weapons.

"We never received any orders but our only orders were to come from the President," Westcott said.

After moving to Kent, Linda Westcott greatly encouraged her husband to take on volunteer work. His stretch of days off between flights were often spent at home.

"She got tired of me hanging around the house," Westcott said. "She told me to get something to do."

In just his second year with the Kent Lions, Westcott took over as chair of the Cornucopia Days, which draws thousands to downtown and benefits more than 250 charities.

"This is 21 years of running Cornucopia as chair or co-chair," Westcott said. "Nobody else would step up. I stepped down after 13 years and nobody stepped up. The city and community called me back. It is a huge undertaking. It's a full-time job with no pay. There are a lot of great assistants but nobody to take over."

Now that his third and youngest child has graduated from college, Westcott said it might be time soon for him to step aside from so much volunteer work.

"I've not gone on a vacation in over 20 years," he said. "There's always something going on I've got to do."

He and his wife get away for a few days now and then, but haven't taken an extended trip.

"I get burned out but then I recover," Westcott said. "I have a Type A, airline pilot personality. I move ahead and move on."

Westcott knows his skills as a pilot helps him run community events. Hendrickson, who oversees the Fourth of July Splash for the city, agreed.

"With his attention to details as a pilot first, it's a natural leadership role for him to take charge," Hendrickson said. "People follow that and it's comforting to know he has his eye on the ball and can see the big picture."

Ironically, once Westcott retires as a pilot in five years or so, he plans to give up volunteer work for at least a couple of years.

"When I retire, I'm going to travel for two years with my wife to make up with her for all of the time with no vacation," he said.

The Kent Lions Club, which has a small office along West Smith Street, plans to bring on a couple of college interns in 2013 to help Westcott with Cornucopia Days and the Farmers Market. The club has no hired staff, it's all volunteers.

But it keeps getting tougher each year to find volunteers. Westcott encourages more people to volunteer to help run community events.

"Volunteers are falling off," he said. "There are not enough people willing to step forward and take something on."

It's certainly a nonstop job for Westcott.

"I'm able to juggle but it's year-round," he said. "As soon as it ends, you have to plan for the following year. It really never ends."

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