Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Meet the woman who walks the walk

Susan Blair to be honored as Citizen of the Year

Express Staff Writer

Susan Blair will be honored tonight as the Wood River Valley’s Citizen of the Year. Photo by Willy Cook

Seventh in a series on winners of the Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau and Hailey Chamber of Commerce Community Awards.

Susan Blair never stops. She talks. She works. She volunteers. There she goes, running for her next appointment.

Nominated as Citizen of the Year by her friend Penny Leopold, Blair confirms in her actions everything that is rumored about her.

"She walks on water and everybody will agree to that," Leopold said. "She is unfailingly polite. She never says no unless it conflicts with time with her grandchildren. Her husband is incredibly supportive of what she does and she is my sincere best friend since I moved here seven years ago."

Blair and her husband, Arnold, moved to the valley 11 years ago from Long Island, N.Y. They moved to a home nestled in the trees in Starweather, in the mid valley.

"We needed trees, coming from the East," she said. "It was that time in our lives. So we moved."

He is a retired attorney, and for 12 years she was the director of volunteer services at the nonprofit Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde, N.Y. Prior to that she worked in development at Adelphi University in Garden City, N.Y.

As such, she was well equipped when they moved West to jump—head first—into some community action. Her introduction to the valley and its nonprofit organizations started with the Wood River Jewish Community, where she helped with a campaign to raise funds to hire a full-time rabbi. She is a past president of the board.

She also joined St. Luke's Wood River Volunteer Core Board, formerly known as the Moritz Community Hospital Auxiliary Board, and helped with a capital campaign to raise funds for construction of the new hospital. She remains a member of the Volunteer Core and is on the finance committee at the hospital.

"The hospital is really very important to me," she said. "I called (board Executive Director) Hilary Furlong at the hospital and said, 'Here's my background. Do you need help with the capital campaign?' She said 'yes' and that was the beginning of it. I was an administrator. I know how to tell people what to do."

As well, Blair was a member of the Community Labyrinth, created outside St. Thomas Episcopal Church in 2002. For the past seven years, she has been house manager for The Community Library's Tour of Homes fundraiser each summer, and is a volunteer for the Pesky Learning Center's annual scavenger hunt in Ketchum.

Wait, there's more. Blair also volunteers at St. Charles Catholic Church's weekly "Souper Suppers" and helps at the Wood River Community YMCA, organizing the live lectures broadcast from the 92nd St. Y in New York City.

She is also a member of the Wood River Women's Charitable Foundation—"one of the best things I've ever done," she said. She is on the grants committee of the foundation, whose 135 members pool and then award funds to Blaine County organizations.

"She is truly an unsung hero; she's on every committee in town," Leopold said. "She makes a phone call and you say 'yes.' She's an incredible role model. She walks the walk. It doesn't have to do with gender, religion or politics. She just gives and gives and gives. She gets it done."

Like many people, the Blairs moved here not really knowing anyone despite the fact that their daughter had worked in the school system for two years. However, Susan had grown up with Alan Pesky—a part-time Ketchum resident—in Queens, "thousands of years ago." But still the idea of starting over, making new friends and becoming involved can seem daunting in a new, tightly knit community.

Arnold Blair managed his own social life by skiing every day with a group of men. Susan joined up. For instance, she met Leopold at Shabbat services after admiring the way the Leopold offspring were listening so intently.

"I introduced myself," Blair said. "I am now her children's adopted grandmother."

She has likewise developed friendships with people in every committee or organization for which she has worked. She epitomizes the concept of the village that raises its children.

"That's the whole point," she said. "We (the community) need each other. You don't have to ski or cross-country or hike to know people."

Blair is proof that if you involve yourself in the causes of your community, the rewards will come but truly as a bonus. Most of her family—three children, spouses and grandchildren—will join the Wood River Community in honoring her efforts tonight.

"She's been involved in so many things, behind the scenes, working tirelessly," said Carol Waller, executive director of the Sun Valley Ketchum Chamber & Visitors' Bureau. "The Hailey and the Ketchum-Sun Valley chambers voted jointly on the awards. We discussed the nominees and looked at each person's impact on the community. Susan really fit that criterion perfectly."

Community Awards

The Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau and the Hailey Chamber of Commerce will present a joint Community Awards Night today, April 23, at 7 p.m. in the Sun Valley Inn's Limelight Room. Cash cocktails, accompanied by piano music by R.L. Rowsey, will precede the dinner beginning at 6:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased through Nichole Britt, chamber office manager, at 725-2103.

- Business of the Year: Roosevelt Tavern & Grill.

- Nonprofit Organization of the Year: Mountain Rides.

- Arts Advocate of the Year: Wood River Arts Alliance.

- Environmental Advocate of the Year: City of Hailey Environmental Leadership Program.

- Service Individual of the Year: Crisane Cook.

- Sun Valley Ketchum Ambassador of the Year: Marty Miller.

- Hailey Ambassadors of the Year: Susan Engelhart and Karen McNary.

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