In the 1990s, Dick Charles stood for Annville Township commissioner.
The downtown project was being planned and, he says, "It appeared to me that leadership or support was needed at the commissioner level."
Thirteen years later, he's still enthusiastically shepherding the latest part of the project.
That willingness to step up to big responsibilities is a hallmark of Charles' career, which he describes as bifurcated — part fundraising in higher education and part government.
These days, he's seeing the two worlds converge. But his role hasn't changed: bringing people together and getting things done.
"Whatever the community in which he finds himself, he instinctively seeks to do good for others," says William McGill, a former senior vice president at Lebanon Valley College. McGill says that happened at LVC, in Annville, with the American Cancer Society — Charles served as a national director — and even on vacation.
"For some years now, he has spent part of the summer in Bay View, Michigan," McGill says.
Charles has helped that community with its development efforts – and still not lost touch with Annville, completing much paperwork necessary to advance its projects while on vacation hundreds of miles away.
"He's got vision," says Rex Moore, who has spent years with Charles on both the Annville Township Board of Commissioners and the economic development authority. Charles is straightforward, pleasant to work with and what is "tough to find in government today: Sensible."
Charles entered municipal service only after he had long realized a youthful ambition of being back at college.
It took a bit — he served briefly in the Army and then spent some time in private industry — but he ended up back at his alma mater, Franklin & Marshall College, serving in senior development and alumni capacities. From there he went on to be a vice president of Wilkes University, then on to LVC in Annville.
All told, campaigns Charles personally directed have raised more than $75 million.
"People giving the money is the public effect — but doing the homework, making the contacts, getting the person involved in the organization are things that a lot of people don't see," Charles says. "Done the absolutely perfect way, a donor will come to you and say, 'I've been working with you on this – how can I help?'"
Charles says the college's moral and financial support has been key to the progress of Annville's projects. The college, in the person of Steve MacDonald, president emeritus, returns the praise.
"While he was assisted by a number of other people who figured prominently in these (Annville) endeavors, Dick possesses conspicuous strengths that made the fate of these projects ultimately dependent upon his participation," MacDonald says.
Even when many participants believed state assistance on a certain project wouldn't materialize, MacDonald says, Charles plugged away at it, satisfying program requirements and talking to bureaucrats – and securing the funds.
It's not just that Charles is indefatigable, MacDonald says: A range of gifts, from being conceptually imaginative to planning meticulously to creating alliances, feeds his success.
Charles is still working in development: Municipal duties take about half his days, and the rest he spends running The Franklin Consulting Group with Ellen Arnold and Tom Stone, offering strategic services for charitable organizations. A recent success was a four-year, $6.5 million campaign for Bosler Library in Carlisle.
Charles says he's increasingly seeing chances to mesh the efforts of community organizations with government. One example is a former bakery the township owns.
"It's the worst building in Annville," he says.
It was supposed to become a centerpiece of downtown development, but with the economy down, the needed investment didn't materialize.
Now, he says, "We're looking to have some kind of a community activity that we might be able to have a community campaign and have the investment money to pull that off" — something on the order of a community center, public educational facility or library.
Thanks to comprehensive planning, Charles also expects to see intermunicipal cooperation become a bigger component of government. It's not the documents, he says, as much as the planning process that builds the foundation for working more closely in the future.
Does he enjoy planning big projects? Charles says a better way to describe it would be to say it's satisfying: It's necessary, and so he does it.
About Dick Charles
Education: Bachelor’s in history, Franklin & Marshall College, 1953
Family: Married 30 years to Pauline; five children; five grandchildren
Current residence: Annville Township, Lebanon County
First job: From 1954-56, served in the U.S. Army infantry and military
Current titles: Vice president of the Annville Township Board of Commissioners; chairman of the Annville Township Economic Development Authority; managing principal of The Franklin Consulting Group
Last book read: “Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times” by H.W. Brands
Guiding philosophy: “Three things seem to guide my career: Perseverance, patience, people.”