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Washington school honors former board chairwoman

The Port Townsend School of Woodworking in Port Townsend, Wash., honored Shelley Rust French with its annual Founders’ Award.

The school is based in Fort Worden State Park and offers classes in cabinetmaking, furniture making, historic preservation and more. It was founded by woodworkers Tim Lawson, John Marckworth and Jim Toplin in 2007 and opened in 2008.

The founders created the award in 2012 to honor an individual who has contributed significantly to the school’s growth and development. French was the first chairwoman of the school’s board of directors.

“The significance of the award is a really a deep acknowledgement of the community that holds and fosters the school. We’re in a community that has a deep crafts tradition and a deep passion for craft. And we’ve awarded it to people who’ve influenced and helped the school significantly in a variety of ways,” Lawson says.

He says French was selected because she played a major role in developing the school’s business structure and its transition from a small business to a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation in 2011.

Though not a woodworker herself, French was inspired by her father who was a woodworker, engineer and inventor who taught her the appreciation for craftsmanship. Her time spent with other woodworkers as gifted and talented as he was brings back memories for her.

“She had grown to love woodworking as a child it was one of the points of connection with her father. It was that passion for woodworking, that passion for helping people that led her to want to help us. She was organized in helping us go through the transition into a nonprofit. Being a non-profit allows us to reach out and provide scholarships and also to provide a much greater array of services to this community in the future,” says Lawson.

French says she felt honored and privileged when she was told about the award, but humbled as well. She says it was the first time in a long time she’s been recognized like that and truly appreciates it. She described her initial goals with the non-profit foundation and what was most important to move it forward.

“I think the most important part of this was stopping to take a moment to figure out where the school really wanted to go. On the board of directors, we would talk about the structure of the organization and the strategic planning, really basic stuff. What we found to be really important was looking at a plan for the next five years and what kind of people we need to have with skills and the expertise and the passion for getting the work done. We put together a really good board that would be able to think of programs the school could offer programs for everyone,” says French.

Prior recipients include Kate Burke, Charlie Moore, Kiwi Ferris and Steve Habersetzer. Burke is the manager of Fort Warden State Park and helped get the school established there. Moore and Ferris are owners and founders of Edensaw, a hardwood supplier in Port Townsend. Habersetzer helped develop the school and is an instructor. 

Contact: Port Townsend School of Woodworking. Tel: 360-344-4455.

This article originally appeared in the May 2015 issue.

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