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Ex-United Way community relations director turns to art

January 06, 2003|by` ANDREA ROWLAND

andrear@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Bill Bulla's wealth of experience in public relations, marketing and advertising has helped spread the word about the importance of supporting United Way of Washington County's efforts to fund health and human services programs for county residents since he took over as the agency's community relations director in 1999.

"I just can't say enough about the guy. He is a consummate professional in terms of everything he does," United Way Executive Director James Taylor said. "And of course his artistic ability is very strong."

A lifelong artist, Bulla added pizzazz to the United Way's annual giving campaigns and meetings.

"Bill was so creative with the campaign materials," said Jenny Fleming, campaign coordinator for United Way. "That's when we really saw the fire inside him come out."

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Bulla turned local banquet rooms into jungles and Wild West ranches during several campaign finale luncheons, and helped wrap up one United Way campaign with a holiday package theme. He designed visually appealing and informative brochures and an impressive tabloid-style annual report for the agency, Taylor said.

Art now occupies a top spot in Bulla's daily routine since his work with United Way ended at the conclusion of the fall 2002 giving campaign in mid-December. The time he used to spend at work each morning is now spent brushing up on his watercolor skills in the Hagerstown home he shares with Barb, his wife of nearly 52 years.

Bulla's job at the United Way was eliminated to save money, which has become increasingly tight for the nonprofit organization, Taylor said.

"It was the hardest thing I've ever done professionally," he said. "I agonized over it for months, but Bill made it as easy on me as anyone could have."

In addition to looking for work to help cover his family's medical expenses - Barb Bulla suffers from a degenerative eye disease - Bulla is devoting about four hours each day to honing the artistic techniques dulled from years on the back burner, he said.

"It takes discipline and hard work," said Bulla, 79. "I know what I want to achieve but it doesn't always happen as quickly as it used to."

Bulla started painting as a child, and has sold his work - especially watercolor landscapes - to buyers all over the country, he said. His personal collection showcases his eclectic tastes, with subjects ranging from snow-covered trees and covered bridges to sneakers, parrots and windmills in his home state of Oklahoma.

Bulla also created intricate pen-and-ink drawings of lions and lionesses as gifts for fellow members of the Hagerstown Lions Club.

"I paint what I like to paint," he said. "I don't want to lock myself into doing something I don't like because then it becomes a chore."

After serving in the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II, Bulla used his GI Bill to fund his commercial art education at the Columbia School of Art in Washington, D.C. He also studied fine art at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington.

Bulla spent the early part of his career as a commercial artist and advertising/sales promotion manager for Sears, Roebuck and Co. in Washington and Baltimore. He remembers drawing refrigerators, oven timers, car tires and children in overalls for advertisements in the days before sophisticated clip art and computerization.

Bulla launched his own advertising and public relations firm in Baltimore in the mid-1960s before serving as director of public relations for the Home Builders Association of Maryland, CEO for an offset composition and printing company, and regional supervisor for eight shopping malls in Maryland, Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina.

That work eventually led to Bulla's job as vice president for Shopco Management Corp., which once ran Valley Mall in Hagerstown. Bulla directed management and marketing operations for Valley Mall and 13 other shopping centers from 1975 to 1989.

He then spent three years working as a consultant to the shopping center industry before retiring in 1998.

"I fished for a while, then I decided I had to do something," Bulla said.

So he took part-time jobs as Boonsboro's zoning administrator and the public relations/fund development director for the Girl Scouts Shawnee Council in Martinsburg, W.Va. That job led to Bulla's work with the United Way of Washington County.

"I like working with people, but I've missed painting," he said.

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