By Joshua Holland
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
As Seattle continues to pulse with dynamic growth and change, keeping pace for long standing organizations and clubs has been a challenge.
Many have found themselves under siege from the shiny newness of the Emerald City, with many of the newcomers finding themselves out of sync with these long standing institutions who don’t always reflect current values or demographics of the Seattle region.
In this storm of change, the Rotary Club of Seattle, one of the oldest in the nation, isn’t shying away. Instead, this distinguished club of community and business leaders is embracing it and recently elected Cindy Runger, the club’s Seattle’s first Asian American woman president, to lead the charge.
“If I can be a role model or an example for other people and signal, it’s okay to have diversity at the top,” said Runger. “We’re not going to break things and actually through our experiences, we can bring our own experiences into the discussion and make things a little better for everyone.”
Runger was selected to succeed Sue Nixon as president. The Rotary Club of Seattle nominating committee decided its leader needed to be someone who was familiar with the club and could bring fresh ideas and connections to new communities. Runger, a Rotarian for over a decade who’s held several leadership positions ranging from chair of various committees to vice president of the club’s service foundation, brings a strong resume and personal experience to the role.
Professionally, Runger comes to the role following years of experience in the Washington State Legislature and as Gov. Gary Locke’s legislative liaison, and most recently the world of finance, where she’s worked since moving to Seattle in 2000. She also brings a strong connection to the Asian American community as a board member of the UniBank, a Lynnwood-based bank focused on serving the needs of Asian American business owners and is an ongoing fundraiser for the Asian American Bar Association. She credits her fearless approach to change to her industrial spirit which she developed as a kid.
“Growing up, I was taught you can pretty much do anything,” said Runger.
“If you fail, then pick yourself back up and try again or do something else.”
A few months into her presidency, Runger is excited to lead the Rotary Club of Seattle and has begun to engage directly with the changing demographics of the region. She has sought out younger members for the club and helped nurture their growth by providing them with visibility opportunities. She’s also consciously made diversity a central part of her agenda, making sure people of color aren’t looked over when opportunity presents itself.
Born to a Black father and Vietnamese mother in Vietnam during the Vietnam War, Runger was raised by her adoptive Caucasian father in Idaho. She is no stranger to having candid discussions about race.
Growing up in Idaho and working in law and finance, Runger has developed a roadmap for successfully navigating different circles and bringing diversity to the table for serious conversations.
In exchange for her efforts to court new and diverse Rotarians, the community has begun to notice. Over the last year, a number of non-traditional Rotarians have been attracted to the club because of the energy Runger and her team have created.
“I have women, people of color, and white male allies that understand if we want to continue to do good now and into the future, the Rotary must adapt and embrace diversity,” said Runger.
“It’s been great to have this vision with what I want for the organization to be more inclusive and break down barriers, and have a team of silver haired women embrace the idea and push it forward with the mission of the club.”
Runger has enlisted the help of younger members to bolster the club’s presence in Seattle via social media and other online tools. It’s her hope that this will lead to increased diversity for the club.
Runger said, “We have a strong network of great speakers that come and talk to us every week about different topics. Our members also have access to all these world class speakers and business leaders.”
At its core, the Rotary is focused on connecting its members through fellowship and supporting the community. Whether it’s through its Mariners Club focused on boating, or helping pack food with the Rotary First Harvest, the Rotary is committed to building and solidifying community for longtime and new residents alike.
“Every day, I live with an attitude of gratitude. My life could have been completely different if I hadn’t immigrated to the United States. I am blessed with the fortune I’ve had, people, and my community,” said Runger. “At the same time, I also realize there are a lot of people out there because of their circumstances, maybe born in the wrong zip code, that could use a helping hand.”
Runger will be honored at the Top Contributors award dinner on Dec. 7 at House of Hong Restaurant in Seattle, from 6–9 p.m.
The Rotary Club of Seattle meets every Wednesday at 12:30 p.m. in Downtown Seattle at different hotels. To learn more, visit seattlerotary.org.
Joshua can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.