This year, close to 100 Blaine County citizens submitted their nominations for the third annual Idaho Mountain Express Woman of the Year award. The online nominations process singled out more than 23 worthy women.
Recognizing one local woman who has made the biggest difference to the Wood River Valley over the past year, the award's parameters are simple: a woman who has made Blaine County a better place, through her actions, contributions and positive outlook on life.
From the 23 women put forward, the five with the most votes become the finalists for the award. The 2012 nominees are: Maggie Burbridge, Wendy Norbom, Linda Parsons, Muffy Ritz and Valerie Skonie. These five women will now go to a public vote to select the 2012 Idaho Mountain Express Woman of the Year. The winner will be announced on March 21 in the Idaho Mountain Express' Valley Woman special section.
To select your Woman of the Year, read these short profiles of the five nominees and a sample of the quotes from those who nominated them. Then go to mtexpress.com/womanoftheyear to cast your vote. The deadline for voting is Monday, Feb. 27.
Age: "Ageless!" (57)
Current job/role: Recreation center supervisor for the Ketchum Parks and Recreation Department. In this role she supervises the after-school program at Atkinson Park, where she helps nurture and educate the children of the Wood River Valley.
Length of time in role: 12 years
Length of time in the valley: 37 years, originally from California
Organizations/activities involved in: "Arts and crafts," Burbridge said emphatically. "At the park I'm basically the room mother. Who'd have guessed the room mother could be Woman of the Year? I've been making a scrapbook, and I have the last 12 years of the summer in the park recorded. One of the best activities for the kids is sewing. I used to have an alterations business and brought in a couple of my old machines. The kids love it, especially the boys. I'd love to get people to donate some old sewing machines to the kids."
What do you love most about the Wood River Valley? "That would be the beautiful open spaces, the mountains and the lakes, and the people that are so warm and caring."
Why she was nominated: "Maggie is the most calm, helpful, caring, nurturing, woman I know, playing such a huge role in raising our community children. Her presence at the Rec not only is so greatly appreciated by the kids, but by every parent she so eloquently handles. She makes every individual feel so important and like they always have an important place in our society."
Current job/role: Executive director of NAMI-WRV National Alliance on Mental Illness
Length of time in role: five years with NAMI
Length of time in the valley: 17 years
Organizations/activities involved in: "Because I love nonprofit work and advocacy, I am also the volunteer coordinator for the Sun Valley Center for the Arts for its yearly Arts and Crafts Festival," Norbom said. "I do a lot of volunteer work with the Community School, where my daughter, Kami, is a student. She's 13 next month and we adopted her at birth.
"I'm passionate about advocacy, so my thing is to advocate for people who don't have a voice. That's my thing and I live it."
What do you love most about the Wood River Valley? "I always wanted to live in the mountains—I'm a transplant from Calgary, Canada—and I like the peace and quiet and the serenity of living here. But my absolute favorite thing about living here is that the people are genuine people—they genuinely care for each other here. I feel like when somebody needs something, the need is met."
Why she was nominated: "NAMI has identified a critical need in our valley, and Wendy is doing everything humanly possible to see that this need is met. She is directing weekly programs (which are overflowing) for people affected directly or indirectly by mental illness, talking to the state Legislature, seeking training for our police officers, working with the medical community, fundraising and at the same time taking calls 24/7 from people on the verge of suicide. She is working to eliminate the stigma associated with mental illness, and to make sure people in the Wood River Valley with mental illness have someplace to turn."
Current job/role: A labor and delivery nurse at St. Luke's Wood River, with a focus on postpartum care. Also a board-certified lactation consultant—according to Parsons, "somebody who gives support and information to breast-feeding women to help them breast feed successfully for as long as they want to." Additionally, she leads the hospital's New Mothers group.
Length of time in role: 32 years
Length of time in the valley: 32 years
Organizations/activities involved in: "I like to focus on women's and children's issues. I help with Expedition Inspiration every year, and I'm hoping to work with Camp Rainbow Gold this year," Parsons said. "My kids have flown the nest recently, so I'm actively looking to work on something as rewarding and challenging as raising children."
What do you love most about the Wood River Valley? "I love the small-town atmosphere and how when you go out and about you always see a friendly face. It's especially fun to see all the children, I must know pretty much every kid in town. It's great to see them grow up—I really get a kick out it."
Why she was nominated: "Linda is an incredible resource for every new mother in the Wood River Valley. Linda opens her doors the moment each baby is born to help with questions about everything—feeding, rashes, developmental steps, diaper rash, you name it. There are no classes for embarking on a new journey of motherhood and Linda has the experience and knowledge to help with all those questions. Linda provides an incredible support service and a priceless network, and is a friend to children in this valley forever."
Current job/role: Leader of the Vamps (Vomen And Muffy's ProgramS). "VAMPS focuses on Nordic skiing, teaching all levels of women how to ski," she said. "It's a camaraderie of women. Women like to be together in groups—they feel more supported, they feel happier and they can say and do anything they want—no one's judging them."
Length of time in role: 15 years
Length of time in the valley: 22 years
Organizations/activities involved in: "I'm also on the board of the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation, Galena trails and advisory committee, Boulder Mountain Tour executive committee and a committee to get a Nordic Olympic training site here in Sun Valley, as well as a Sun Valley Nordic Festival committee member," Ritz said.
What do you love most about the Wood River Valley? "Through living in the Wood River Valley and through VAMPS, I have met some great people. People make the Wood River Valley special. If you are willing to open up your heart to others and truly care about them, they respond in a way that makes you really glad to be a part of their lives. Of course, I also love the lifestyle here, the recreational opportunities are endless, the access to the mountains is immediate and I love the change of seasons. Each season brings new life in a sense."
Why she was nominated: "Muffy Ritz has made a huge impact on this community in many ways. Perhaps most significantly through the VAMPS Nordic ski program she started. Year after year, Muffy pushes, coaches and inspires 150 women to believe in themselves. And one by one, they do. Who else in this community has done just that for the past 12 years?"
Current job/role: Founder and director of the Winter Feast for the Soul, a worldwide 40-day interdenominational spiritual practice period that welcomes all people. The feast has taken place from Jan. 15 to Feb. 23 each year since 2008.
Length of time in role: five years
Length of time in the valley: nine years full-time, skiing here since 1979
Organizations/activities involved in: "I am a oneness blessing giver, a teacher of meditation and other spiritual practices according to my own spiritual tradition," Skonie said. "I am an ordained interfaith minister and consider this work my ministry for now. I have devoted myself to the Winter Feast for the last five years. I have Lyme disease (contracted from a tick 20 years ago), and that challenges my life in lots of ways."
What do you love most about the Wood River Valley? "I love this valley because of the amazing people that live here," Skonie said. "There are few places where such a variety of incredible natural beauty can be found if one simply opens one's eyes."
Why she was nominated: "Valerie has dedicated her life to service. She proceeded to evolve the feast in 2012, overlooking the suggestions of her doctor to hand it over to another. She is a deeply caring person and has offered this feast globally to encourage people to develop a spiritual practice and connection. She is a Sufi practitioner and her life exemplifies it: kindness, caring, service." Alexandra Delis-Abrams