Irene Reed, a founding member of Tacoma/Pierce County Habitat for Humanity, passed away January 19th, 2015 with her family by her side.
“Without her dedication and perseverance, I do not think Habitat would be what it is today,” said Alison Paradise, Women Build leader and University of Puget Sound Campus Chapter Advisor.
Alison and Irene met more than 30 years ago at Sixth Avenue Baptist Church in North Tacoma. During a Bible Study, as they were looking for ways to put their “faith into action,” a retired pastor brought Habitat for Humanity to their attention. Soon after, Millard Fuller, founder of Habitat for Humanity International, came to Seattle and Irene, Alison, and Marge and Bill Colglazier all attended his speech.
“He was an infectious speaker,” Alison said. “We were bit by the bug: Habitat-itus.”
Marge and Bill spent a summer in Americus, Georgia to investigate. When they returned, Irene, and a handful of others pulled together the pieces to start a Habitat affiliate in Tacoma.
“Irene and the crew worked tirelessly to tell the Habitat story and develop backing,” Alison said. “Irene and Ginny Porterfield were Habitat – between them, they were every committee.”
Ginny and Irene worked together for 13 years after Tacoma/Pierce County Habitat for Humanity received their nonprofit 501(c)(3) status in 1985.
Ginny considered Irene her mentor.
“She was calculated and full of wisdom while I was all excitement and full of dreams – some realistic, some not,” Ginny said. “We were a great combination!”
For the first five years of Habitat, no one was paid. The affiliate built one home per year.
Irene and Ginny took a hike to Mt. Rainier to seek guidance from God to determine whether Habitat was to continue.
“We both knew we couldn’t continue without giving in and hiring some staff,” Ginny said. “But where were we going to get the money to hire office staff and a construction supervisor?
“This was all beyond us, but once we – as a Board – submitted it to prayer, God encouraged us with a gift from the Stewardship Foundation and the rest is history.”
Irene and Ginny had many adventures while working with Habitat. Ginny remembers one occasion when she went to check on a partner family.
“The father was unable to find reliable transportation to work and there was no way he could afford to buy a car. But we weren’t going to get house payments if he didn’t have transportation to work.
“I came back to the office and told Irene of this dilemma. I told her we needed to find a car dealer who was willing to sell this family a car the same way Habitat sold them a house – without any profit or interest!
“Irene just laughed at me and told me I was on my own.”
Ginny got a few referrals from Immanuel Presbyterian Church’s pastor. She began to work with Bill Gill to find a reliable car that could fit the family of seven.
After a few weeks, Ginny received a call. Bill found the perfect station wagon, but it was a stick shift and father of the family didn’t know how to drive a stick. Neither did Ginny.
“I begged Irene to help this father learn how to drive a stick shift. She finally gave in and gave this man several driving lessons in her car. She also went with us to the dealership to finalize the deal and help him drive the car off the lot.
“I always felt better when Irene was with me because I knew there had to be some common sense as well as business sense involved, which I lacked. God knows I needed her and so did all of our Habitat families!”
Irene will be greatly missed. Our organization is forever indebted to her kindness and perseverance.
If you would like to share memories about Irene, please visit her Haven of Rest site and sign her guest book. There will be no local services.