Woman in need finds support from Kiwanis and pays it forward as a member.
Story by Kasey Jackson
Cindy Crowther has never met a stranger. In Bend, Oregon, she’s a friendly face you might meet at the bank where she works. She’s a mother. A wife. A sister. A daughter. A friend. She’s an active Kiwanian from Division 78, where she has served as lieutenant governor, past president (many times), convention chair and fundraising chair for the Pacific Northwest District.
“And of my Kiwanis roles, most important: member of the Kiwanis Club of Cascadia,” she says. In fact, she helped build this internet club when she was lieutenant governor. (She’s also a past member of The Kiwanis Club of The Bay Area in Coos Bay, North Bend, Oregon.)
To know Cindy is to know she lives and loves Kiwanis. And to really know Cindy is to know where she’s been and what she’s been through. And how Kiwanis helped her along the way.
Taking the leap
Crowther’s story is a Kiwanis story. And it straddles both sides of the Kiwanis relationship — the side needing help and the side that provides it.
“Kiwanis truly made a difference in my life,” she says.
That difference, in the beginning, was both emotional and physical. As a young mom of two boys, Cindy found herself in a physically and verbally abusive marriage. She held on, as many do, hoping things would get better. They didn’t.
“My youngest boy was a twin,” she explains. “I lost the (other)twin when I was pushed into a bathtub while pregnant.”
The abuse didn’t end after her second son was born. So she did what she had to do: She packed up her boys and their things and got out.
“I drove away from my home scared, tired, broken and lost,” she recalls. “I didn’t know where to go because I felt at the time that it was all my fault. I was too proud to drive to my mom and dad’s home on the Oregon coast because I didn’t want them to see what a mess I had made of my life.
“We slept in my car for about a week and a half, but I was out of money and needed help. I pulled into my friend’s house and asked if we could stay there, be safe and figure out what I was going to do. I was scared. We hid my car in her barn and for a couple of days I was able to breathe. At this point my parents were worried and wondering what was going on.
“I went home, something I should have done at the beginning.”
Crowther and her kids settled in. After about a month, she put together a resume and started to look for a job. When she met with staff from Western Bank in Coos Bay, she was honest about her experiences, where she was in her life and what she could bring to the position of bank teller. She was hired.
“They wrapped their arms around me as if I was family,” she says.
It was in this role at the bank, with this new family, that Crowther’s life took the turn that led her to where she is today.
One day, she noticed a man to whom everyone was saying hello as he walked toward her manager’s desk. The man and the manager then went into a conference room — and stayed for some time before her manager came out and asked Crowther to join them.
“I had no idea what was going on,” she recalls. “I actually thought I had done something wrong.”
The name of the man was Wave Young.
“On May 1, 1989, I became the first woman to join the Coos Bay Kiwanis Club. And the next fall, October 1, 1990, I was the first female president of the club.”
“Wave looked at me and said, ‘I understand you have experienced some life-changing events, which involve your sons,’” Crowther says. “The tears started rolling down my face.”
Without her knowledge, Crowther’s manager had contacted the Kiwanis Club of Coos Bay, Oregon. Wave Young was a member. And he had come to help.
“First of all, I had no idea what Kiwanis was,” Crowther says. “I was so confused and very guarded. He then explained to me what Kiwanis was, how it was all about the kids and the community we live in.
“He then told me that his club doesn’t typically help just one person, but that the club had made a unanimous decision to help me and my boys.”
Young pulled out a check for US$1,500. Then he took Crowther to his car, where there were school supplies, diapers, books and toys for her boys.
That wasn’t all. Young invited Crowther to join his Kiwanis club for lunch that day so everyone could meet her and properly present the items. She said yes.
A room full of heroes
Crowther remembers standing in front of a room full of men on that day in April 1989. She remembers how they all stood and clapped for her — and how Young told her story to the club and presented her with the check.
“He told me that this club was so proud of how I had moved on, how I was making a life for my kids, making good changes after years of abuse,” Crowther says. “At that time, when he handed me the check, all I could see was a room full of heroes, people who want to make a difference. I was in shock. When the meeting adjourned, each member came up and congratulated me on being so strong.”
Crowther purchased a thank-you card and reached out to Young to ask if she could attend another Kiwanis meeting — this time with her boys.
“On May 1, 1989, I became the first woman to join the Coos Bay Kiwanis Club,” she says. “And the next fall, October 1, 1990, I was the first female president of the club.”
Triumph and tragedy
Crowther continued to work hard and was so dedicated to her job that — despite not having a college degree — she became a vice president of a bank.
She also learned more about Kiwanis and its mission and began to take on various roles within her club — even jumping in to positions at the district level.
“I will always pay it forward to Kiwanis,” Crowther says, “and I always have my eyes open for opportunities to help those who need help.”
Through Kiwanis, she even met David Crowther — someone special enough to say ‘yes’ to marrying.
David and Cindy were Kiwanis members together, but he was shy when he first met Cindy. She was helping him do some refinancing, he says, and they might not have gotten together had it not been for Cindy’s youngest son, Travis.
“I’d been divorced about three years when we met,” David says. “Me being the shy person I am, I was reluctant to ask her out socially. Cindy had been sharing her thoughts on me with her youngest son, Travis, who was 16 at the time. He told her that she should ‘go for it’ and ask me out, which she did.
“We’ve now been married for 20 years. I can’t imagine a life without Cindy because she has loved me unconditionally and been my support when needed. And I have been able to support her when our son, Travis, committed suicide in 2019.”
David credits the couple’s “Kiwanis family” for support during that challenging time — and for helping them regain a “new normal” in their lives.
“Without Kiwanis,” he says, “there would be no David and Cindy Crowther, three sons, daughter in-law and two fantastic grandchildren.”
Wave Young, the man who sponsored Cindy as a Kiwanian, passed away in 2017. “I miss him dearly,” Cindy says.
Young was Cindy’s first Kiwanis friend, and since the day she met him, she’s made countless additional friends thanks to Kiwanis.
“She was taken in by Kiwanis and she’s definitely giving back through Kiwanis,” says Steve Emhoff, member of the Cascadia Kiwanis Club and former governor of the Pacific Northwest District. “There’s nothing Cindy won’t do.”
Well, he adds, there may be one thing.
“She’d be a phenomenal governor,” he says with a laugh. “But she’s very dedicated to her job right now.”
Emhoff and another club member, Sally Rodgers, often travel and spend time with Cindy and David. They’ve also met many of Cindy’s family members. Through everything, Sally says, Cindy’s love of people stands out most when you meet her.
“We’re an extended family,” Rodgers says. “I think she has a commitment to help others because of everything that she’s been through. She makes friends everywhere. She just loves to help people.”
This story originally appeared in the January/February 2022 issue of Kiwanis magazine.