A guest who thought the town was ugly was impetus for Paint the Corridor

Sometimes a little hard truth can be just the ticket to life-giving change. We learned this week that a tough truth was the impetus behind Paul and Mary Elizabeth Stritmatter coming up with the idea of Paint the Corridor. Their generous gift to the community has resulted in 69 freshly painted homes in the last four years.

It all started when friends from Southern California came to visit them at their Hoquiam home a few years back. After arriving to the Stritmatters’ lovely home, the wife admitted to them that as they drove into town she told her husband – “I don’t want to stay here, let’s turn around. Look at this, this is just a rundown community and I prefer not to stay here.”

Stritmatter, who says his wife often accuses him of wearing rose-colored glasses when he looks at Grays Harbor, where he was a born and raised, has always been a staunch supporter and enthusiastic area cheerleader, was startled by the impression his hometown had made.

“We made a point to drive them around our entire community and her impression changed dramatically,” he said.

But her initial impression stuck with him. He wondered how many other people just see the corridor of Aberdeen and Hoquiam while driving through and leave with a bad impression of the town.

Then, one night driving home from a Vision 2020 fundraiser, it was actually Mary Elizabeth who came up with an idea: “Why don’t we paint the houses?”

So the couple sat down with their son, Dan Stritmatter, who is the Chief Financial Officer of Kelly-Moore Paints, headquartered in Northern California, and with their daughter, Lynn Green, who is an educator at Aberdeen High School and past president of the Grays Harbor Chamber of Commerce. The plan was this: If Kelly Moore Paints could provide paint at cost and the Stritmatter family would purchase it, could other businesses be encouraged to donate other materials and would community members be willing to volunteer to paint owner-occupied homes?

The Stritmatter family wrote a comprehensive letter to Vision 2020 outlining the plan. And Vision 2020 knew a great idea when they saw it.

Vision 2020 shared the vision in a community meeting at the Port offices. The meeting revealed that NeighborWorks of Grays Harbor had the experience needed to administer the detailed event and the desire to partner – and the rest is history. Dozens of businesses donated everything from pizzas to tools, even baby wipes! Then hundreds of individuals joined into teams representing church groups, businesses and associations. These volunteers prepped and painted 69 homes over the last four years. All were owner-occupied homes needing paint and on the corridor.

“I’m very pleased with the outcome,” Stritmatter said. “I think we have certainly accomplished our goal of improving the look of our community to the outside world as they travel through our community.

“The community really did come together beautifully. That exceeded my expectations,” he said. “At one point it became clear that it was no long about the paint, but about the community.”

In addition to initiating the idea and donating the money for the paint, Stritmatter and his law firm, Stritmatter Kessler Whelan Coluccio, painted houses themselves as well.

“We also hoped that it would inspire people to fix up their homes and there is also evidence of that happening.”

Stritmatter said in addition to the benefit the fresh look of the well painted houses has on the look of the community, he knows it also helped impact individuals.

“It turns out that two people I knew rather well had parents that were part of the project. They didn’t have the means to paint their homes and their grown kids were super appreciative of the volunteers.”

And what about their friend who had the guts – similar to the little boy in the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes – to point out what no one else was saying loudly?

“Every year I report to her and tell her how many houses we’ve painted and that she was our inspiration.”

Now they’re taking great pride in the fact that they helped our community by speaking up, Stritmatter said.

Thank you Paul, Mary Elizabeth, your family and firm…from all of us!

Dave Murnen and Pat Beaty are construction specialists at NeighborWorks® of Grays Harbor County, where Murnen is the executive director. This is a non-profit organization committed to creating safe and affordable housing opportunities for all residents of Grays Harbor County.

Do you have questions about home repair, remodeling or becoming a homeowner? Call us at 533-7828, or 1-866-533-7828, or visit us at 710 E. Market St. in Aberdeen.