For longtime Hailey resident Martha Burke, involvement in one's community is apparently just about as important as breathing itself.
Well, maybe that's a bit of a stretch, but not by much.
Burke, whose current public capacities include a seat on the Hailey City Council and the position as chair of the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority, has been involved in the local community in one way or another since she arrived in the Wood River Valley in the early 1970s.
Last week, in recognition of Burke's many contributions to the community, the Hailey Chamber of Commerce recognized her with one of its most honored awards: Hailey Citizen of the Year.
The award given to Burke was among eight separate awards the chamber gives out every year to honor various individuals and companies throughout the city. At a banquet Thursday, Jan. 18, at The Valley Club, Julie Oxarango-Ingram and Michael Beck of the Hailey Chamber of Commerce honored each award winner.
On Wednesday, Burke sat down in the Hailey home she's lived in since 1974 to speak about the award, what it means to her and why being involved in her community has been so important throughout her life.
Being named citizen of the year came as a bit of a surprise, Burke admitted.
"I'm just not used to it yet," she said. "It was completely out of the blue."
It's also nice to be recognized for things one does without thought of such recognition, she added.
"It's such a nice recognition. It's delightful."
Burke credits her late father Bill Eckart for her lifelong desire to be involved in her community.
"I always told my Dad, 'You're my perfect example,'" she said.
Her father believed helping others is just what one does, Burke explained. "That's how he lived."
When praised by others for his caring and generosity, Burke's father would simply smile and downplay his actions, she said.
"I always called him a gentleman. I could never convince him that he was such an outstanding citizen."
That example is something Burke has remembered to this day.
When she learned that she had been selected to receive the citizen of the year award, Burke found herself saying something characteristic of her father.
"And now I'm saying, 'Oh dear, thank you,'" she said.
After arriving in the Wood River Valley in the early 1970s, one of Burke's first activities in the community was to deliver meals on wheels to patients at the Moritz Community Hospital in Sun Valley.
She had only planned on staying in the valley for a brief period of time. But that all changed after she arrived.
"Once you're here, all the plans change," she said.
More than 30 years later—and after various stints as a volunteer at the Hailey Public Library, a member of the library board and a member on the auxiliary board for what was then the Hailey hospital—Burke still isn't content to sit still.
In her capacity on the Hailey hospital auxiliary board Burke was in charge of coming up with and organizing fundraising events.
She says that because she can't bake and because bake sales are a traditional fundraising method of the auxiliary, she had to think of ingenious ways of raising funds for the hospital.
Those included music events held over several successive years at the Hailey Armory where the headlining musicians were the Braun brothers from Stanley.
"It was great," she said. "We actually made some money."
These days, Burke has a whole lot more time then she's had in years.
After eight-and-a-half years on the job, Burke recently took an extended leave of absence from the Advocates for Survivors of Domestic Violence, a Hailey-based nonprofit organization that has been providing services to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in the Wood River Valley since 1991.
She said she took the leave of absence in part so she can spend more time with her mother who lives in Walnut Creek, Calif.
Although she's definitely excited by the prospect of having more time on her hands, Burke admits she doesn't know how long she'll be content to sit still at home.
"I don't know if I could sit here very long," she said. "Remember, there's no baking in my life."
While certainly grateful of the award she's been given, Burke is equally aware that she couldn't have done all she has without the support of her family and friends in the community.
"None of this happens in a vacuum," she said.
Burke claims her high visibility on the Hailey City Council has a lot to do with her selection for the award. She said the city has many other people who do just as many good things for the community, but who simply aren't noticed as much.
Also receiving awards from the chamber last week were Hailey businesswomen Kim Garvin and Sarah Hedrick.
Both retailers—Garvin, who is the owner of Vintage Gypsy, and Hedrick, who co-owns Iconoclast Books with her husband—were honored with Hailey 2006 Business Woman of the Year awards. Both women helped establish the South Valley Merchants Alliance in early 2006.
"It's really a great honor," Garvin remarked Thursday. "I'm so excited to share it with Sarah."
The award is a reflection of just how unified Hailey businesses have become in recent years, she said.
"It's just become so hometown," Garvin said. "There're so many good business owners down here."
Like Burke, Garvin said winning the award came as something of a surprise to her. Fittingly, the news came from Hedrick herself, she said.
"She said, 'You're not going to believe what I heard. It's you and me.'"
The Hailey Chamber also gave out seven other community awards last week.
Those winners are: Business of the Year, First Bank of Idaho; Employer(s) of the Year, Webb Nursery and Sun Valley Title; Volunteer of the Year, Nancy Krankkala (Advocates Attic); Service Individual of the Year, Amy Anderson (North & Co.); New Business of the Year, brothers and co-owners Jake and Adam Kraft (Freshies); and, finally, Honorary Life Member went to Jeff Bertz (Copy & Print).
Chamber Executive Director Julie Oxarango-Ingram said, above all, the awards are meant to honor people who are making a difference in their community.
"It's an opportunity for the chamber to recognize people who are out there doing good things," Oxarango-Ingram said.