Chamber honoree prefers spotlight on organizations that help Yakima Valley residents

2017-10-11 | Yakima Herald-Republic

Oct. 11--YAKIMA, Wash. -- The face of the black boy who was Rick Pinnell's opponent during a boxing match at the YMCA of Yakima still is vivid more than six decades later.

"His eyes were as big as mine were," he said.

For Pinnell, who was 10 at the time, the YMCA was a place where people of different races and backgrounds could gather, develop friendships and deepen common bonds over activities such as boxing.

Outside the YMCA, Pinnell and his opponent were relegated to their segregated neighborhoods.

"It was probably the only melting pot at the time," Pinnell said of the YMCA of Yakima.

Pinnell has spent more than three decades as a volunteer, working to ensure that it remains a positive space for people of all backgrounds.

"It impacted my life. I wanted to pay them back," he said.

Pinnell, 71, will be recognized for his community service efforts Thursday evening when he receives the Ted Robertson Community Service Award during the Greater Yakima Annual Chamber Awards gala.

But Pinnell wants the spotlight to shine less on him and more on the community organizations that play a vital role in improving the lives of the Valley's residents, including his own.

"Most people organizations serve are voiceless," he said. "Youth, people who don't speak the language or are in poverty, they don't have much of a voice. It's your responsibility to speak up and take care of them."

He's also been active on the board of directors at Heritage University, an institution he believes has done extensive work in helping students overcome numerous obstacles. And he can relate to the students at Heritage, many of whom have parents who work in the fields.

Pinnell's father arrived in Yakima in the mid-1930s from Missouri to find agricultural work during the Great Depression. Pinnell worked the hop and apple harvests as a teenager.

"I have a really deep appreciation for how hard that work is," he said.

He also appreciates that his work can help students see a future beyond such hard work: "I feel that people can start in the orchards, get an education and move up."

Pinnell said he works hard to ensure that whatever work he does furthers the YMCA's mission and helps the people it aims to serve.

"We have to make sure we're serving people, not ourselves or other people involved in the organization," he said.

Bob Romero, YMCA of Yakima's executive director, said passion and integrity are visible in everything Pinnell does.

"He's a very committed volunteer," he said. "He's always looking for ways to make things better."

While Pinnell has done notable things, such as raising millions of dollars, he's just as committed to improving small things -- organization by-laws and relationships with local investment advisers, for example -- that are also essential, Romero said.

"These are things that aren't exciting, but he does a good job," Romero said. "He's a steady, solid leader and has a sense of what we need to be and a vision on how we get there."

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maihoang@yakimaherald.com