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“For the Kids” …. in memory of my beloved friend, Chuck Guthrie

By Cathy Drerup, former Executive Director [1988-2007]

If it is possible for the human heart to feel simultaneously broken and filled, then that is what happened to my heart when my friend Chuck Guthrie passed away.  It will take a bit to imagine life without him. Yet, his passing seemed to set in motion a literal movie of memories cascading through my mind and heart, which lined up happiness right beside sadness.  In this moment I know Chuck would want me to simply tell some stories to continue his legacy of loyalty to Challenged Child and Friends, now Sisu. If you knew him, then join me in honoring him with a story or two about years of good works by many great teams of staff, board members, enrolled children and families, volunteers and donors who have made a difference “For the Kids”.  I put that in quotes as those words “For the Kids” were on his car’s custom license plate and it was his motto for every endeavor on their behalf.  Chuck did not seek recognition for his boundless and steadfast volunteerism. Rather he sought to engage all he encountered with opportunities to invest in state-of-the-art early intervention in a place where every child is valued as a unique individual, and where acceptance of the widest range of different abilities is lived out in loving ways every day. Our agency is literally a community.  People can always feel that when they entered the doors.  Chuck Guthrie knew that the best way to help people find their place in supporting the agency was for them to simply visit our community and to experience the mission in action.

The movie of memories in my mind is too long to summarize, and I’m not good at being brief as is known by anyone who knows me. So, allow me to share some random ways I loved how Chuck loved this agency.  At his onset of volunteering, he confirmed that he could not truly even begin to do the work until he got “his belly burning” with enthusiasm and understanding. He spent months observing, asking questions, playing with kids, listening to parents, staff, and board members, and truly challenging me to see the bigger picture of possibilities. He needed to sharply see how his skills and time could have a positive impact. Well Mr. Chuck was “on fire” with enthusiasm from the mid 1990’s until his final day of life on March 16, 2022. It is often said that if you saw him coming you knew that he had the Menu of Opportunities locked and loaded to match your resources to the current needs of our nonprofit agency. My nonprofit Executive Director friends would always tell me they wished they had a Chuck Guthrie, which was a high tribute to his laser-focused dedication as board volunteer and the loyalty of his heart for the children and the agency.

Josh Groban’s song “You Raise Me Up” references weariness and stormy seas and sitting down a while with me.  Well, I personally must share that Chuck Guthrie raised me up to be more than I can be in my role as a nonprofit Executive.  Chuck put me up on his shoulders when I worried continually about having enough money to operate the growing regional agency with urgent and expansive demand for our expertise.  He built my confidence to match the level of giving by our donor family to the level of needs for the kids and their families.  He let me cry when I needed to and told me salesman jokes to make me laugh and spoiled me up with a cheeseburger just when I needed it most. Chuck Guthrie had an indomitable spirit. He made me brave. I think we all got braver when Mr. Chuck was in our midst. He helped lead us to act against all odds. That’s why I love the new name of the agency. We all had Sisu before we even knew what Sisu stood for.  All the children through all the years have had those traits of grit, persistence, bravery, and resilience with a mindset to reach beyond perceived capabilities. The evolution of the agency to this name of Sisu is so beautiful to me, and I say with great pride that Chuck Guthrie had Sisu.

There’s so much more about Chuck. I’ll be telling stories for the remainder of my lifetime. But for this moment I share one more thing.  I am eternally grateful for his friendship that bloomed in mutual service to CCAF/Sisu, and that enriched both of our lives beyond measure. Early in my career at a training event on management and leadership it was declared by a presenter that leaders cannot be personal friends with the people they lead and their professional team members.  I didn’t believe it then, and I don’t believe it now. The friendships that have emerged for hundreds of us as we served this agency have made us better people who did effective work for a good cause. I visited Chuck the weeks before he passed away and I tell you he was still softly speaking of lunches to be had with friends he had made in the community of Challenged Child and Friends.

I want to thank Chuck’s wife, Pat, for her willingness to share her husband with me and CCAF/Sisu for so many years in so many ways, for her personal friendship to me and for her years of service as a board volunteer. Her steadfast advocacy and support “For the Kids” will continue with that well-known Guthrie enthusiasm that so many of us know and love.

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