Rhody license plates benefit Whidbey's Meerkerk garden

A new Washington state flower license plate is rapidly taking front stage to be one of the most popular in the state.

“Yes, it is beautiful, in more ways than one,” said Don Meehan, vice president of Meerkerk Gardens in Greenbank.

“It comes to support Meerkerk Gardens at a time when many non profits are struggling and needing financial help.”

The plate joins an existing 35 specialty license plates available to drivers in the state.

The flower on the plate is the native rhododendron macrophyllum, which is Washington’s state flower and grows throughout central Whidbey, many along the main highway.

Clinton artist and Meerkerk volunteer Barbara Cornelsen designed the plate working closely with the Meerkerk Garden’s staff and board members. It was approved by state Department of Licensing.

To demonstrate to the state Legislature the demand for such a plate, Meerkerk obtained more than 3,500 signatures from people who indicated they would purchase such a plate if it became available.

“We didn’t have to twist people’s arms to get them to sign our petition,” said Don Lee, president and lead on signature gathering.

“Once they saw what the plate was going to look like they had no trouble putting pen to paper in support of our effort.”

It took more than two years of work to get the Legislature to open the specialty plate process for the state flower plate.

Former senator Mary Margaret Haugen and Rep. Norma Smith led the charge in the Legislature, working with Lee and Meehan.

Two plates were approved each year over the past two years. In addition to the state flower plate a 4-H plate was approved. It became available in January.

Four-H is a youth program of Washington State University. Funds from that plate go to the State 4-H Foundation to support 4-H statewide.

The state flower plate, aka Rhody Plate, is the second specialty license plate designed specifically to support local Whidbey Island nonprofit organizations.

The Lighthouse plate became available seven years ago. It supports the Admiralty Head Lighthouse docent program and other environmental education programs of Washington State University Extension.

More than 5,000 lighthouse plates sold with about 3,600 presently active.

Funds from the Rhody Plate will be used for operations and maintenance at Meerkerk and expanded use of the 50-acre garden and woodland setting.

In addition, the Meerkerk board of directors chose to set aside some of the funds that come from the license plate to fund grants to other organizations throughout the state that work with native plants and rhododendrons.

The plates are sold at all state licensing offices.

Rhody plates are available for cars, trucks, motorcycles and trailers.

To purchase a specialty plate, one needs to pay more than the cost of a regular plate, beginning with a $45 fee the first year, and $30 each year thereafter.

A total of $28 from each specialty plate purchased or renewed is set aside by state licensing for the sponsoring organization. Each purchaser can declare the $28 as a donation on their taxes each year.


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