Each winter, the Idaho Mountain Express solicits nominations for its annual Woman of the Year award from Wood River Valley residents who want to honor the women who have made a major difference in their lives.
The award was started in 2010 as a way to recognize women in the valley who contribute to the community. Greg Foley, editor-in-chief of Idaho Mountain Express, said the award gives readers of the Express a chance to tell the editors about a woman who has made Blaine County a better place through her actions, contributions and positive outlook on life.
Express readers can vote for one of the nominees on the Idaho Mountain Express website, www.mtexpress.com. Click on the display ad on the home page.
The three finalists are:
A 42-year resident of the Wood River Valley, Willa McLaughlin said she is “thrilled but humbled” to be a finalist for the award.
McLaughlin is a service unit director for the Girl Scouts, and has remained actively involved for the past 28 years since her daughter Jamie was in second grade. As troop coordinator, she organizes monthly meetings with each of the local leaders to discuss activities and future plans for each troop.
“Working with Girl Scouts is something I’ve kept doing because there’s always so many great things going on,” McLaughlin said. “I feel we can get more girls to become leaders in this community if I do my part. It’s a joy to meet the young girls and work with so many nice people.”
McLaughlin has worked with the Girl Scouts to partner with Idaho Special Olympics, which will take place from Feb. 28 to March 1. She said she is excited that each athlete will receive a gift basket on behalf of the Girl Scouts.
McLauglin works with the five Girl Scout troops in Ketchum and Sun Valley, along with an additional five in Hailey.
“I always try to teach the kids the importance of giving back,” she said. “It’s very important that they work well together in a group, and it’s never about one girl’s talent that’s going to be celebrated—it’s the sum of all of them working together.”
In addition to her work with Girl Scouts, McLaughlin volunteers with Aquability, a nonprofit organization that teaches deaf and blind children how to swim.
She works as a bookkeeper for her husband, Tim McLaughlin, at the architecture firm McLaughlin and Associates.
Debra Hall is an extremely active member of the Wood River Valley community. She is an owner and broker of the real estate management company Hallmark Idaho Properties.
In addition to her work as a broker, Hall engages in a wide variety of volunteer causes. She is a new board member of the Hailey Chamber of Commerce, and also a board member of the Sun Valley Board of Realtors.
As part of her membership on the Board of Realtors, Hall works in the organization’s holiday gift basket program, which provides food and toys for local underprivileged families.
“What we do is very important because these families would otherwise be on their own without gifts,” she said. “It’s very stressful for kids not to get gifts when they see all of the things their peers are getting. However, the food part of the basket program is what’s most important.”
Last year, Hallmark Idaho Properties sponsored the local Relay for Life fundraiser at Wood River High School, which supports the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s cancer research. Hall said she is very proud of the work she’s done with Relay for Life after her daughter Marissa encouraged her to get involved.
Hall also enjoys supporting her granddaughter Thalia Zamora’s cheerleading for Wood River High School, and works to help the program.
“I feel it’s very important to support this program,” she said. “I was a cheerleader, and I’m worried about programs getting cut.”
Hall said she was surprised to learn that she is a finalist for the Woman of the Year award, and feels honored.
“I’d like to continue down the same path of running a good, honest business, seeing the best in people and bettering everything I can be a part of,” she said. “I love it here, and I can’t imagine living anywhere else.”
Nina Jonas made history in November 2013 when she became the first woman to be elected Ketchum mayor.
After serving one term on the Ketchum City Council, Jonas defeated incumbent Mayor Randy Hall by a vote margin of 851-429.
Following the election, Jonas said she was proud of the way she ran her campaign.
“I’m excited because I tried really hard to express my desires during my campaign,” Jonas said after the election. “I really wanted to reach out to young professionals and bring in long-term residents, so I’m glad that resonated with the voters.”
Jonas graduated from Smith College with a degree in art history and the London School of Economics. She also co-owns and operates Rickshaw restaurant in downtown Ketchum.
As mayor, Jonas has focused on making Ketchum an attractive locale for new small businesses, as well as bringing faster broadband Internet for the city’s residents.
Eric Avissar: email@example.com