OURAY COUNTY – Nonprofit stalwart Sue Hillhouse will be the 2011 recipient of the Ridgway-Ouray Community Council’s Outstanding Citizen Award, the ROCC Awards Committee announced this week. She will be honored at the ROCC Spaghetti Dinner on Saturday, Feb. 19, beginning at 6 p.m. at the Ouray Community Center.
The featured speaker at this year’s dinner, the 17th annual, is Jim Nowak, of Ridgway, who co-founded the dZi Foundation in 1998 and serves as its executive director. Nowak, a world-class mountaineer, will give a multi-media presentation on the foundation’s work in revitalizing communities in remote villages of the Himalaya.
ROCC created the Outstanding Citizen Award to recognize and thank individuals who have made sustained contributions to Ouray County’s quality of life through service to the community at large or for the benefit of humanity.
To many county residents, Hillhouse needs little introduction. Within a few months of moving to Ouray in 1999, she immersed herself in local nonprofit endeavors, said Kelvin Kent, vice president of the Ouray County Performing Arts Guild.
“Her work as president of OCPAG for the past decade stands out as a shining example of dedicated leadership, patience, unstinting hard work and sheer ability to inspire others to perform at their highest levels,” said Kent. “Ouray County is better off because of Sue Hillhouse.”
Hillhouse is a former middle school science and math teacher. Her husband Tom was associate general counsel for Procter and Gamble Co. The couple raised their two sons in Cincinnati, Ohio, and frequently vacationed in western Colorado. Smitten with the area’s beauty, they made good on their plans to move here permanently after retirement.
But first they dedicated a year (1997-98) to environmental and educational service at the Cloud Forest School in Monteverde, Costa Rica.
While teaching there, Sue drew upon her Ohio teaching contacts to create a wildlife poster, which has been sold to raise funds for the school. The poster is now in its third printing. “Our year in Costa Rica served as a transition between Ohio and our new home in Ouray and introduced us to the world of nonprofit work and fundraising,” she said.
Once settled in the Uncompahgre Valley, Sue and Tom became active members of the Ouray County Historical Society; Tom now serves as vice president of the OCHS board. Sue was membership chair for several years, led historical tours and still organizes the annual quilt show at the Ouray County Historical Museum. A master quilt artist, she coordinated creation of the first OCHS raffle quilt nine years ago. The quilt raffle remains one of the historical society’s most enduring fundraisers.
Among Hillhouse’s most ambitious projects was revitalization of the Ouray County Performing Arts Guild. She was elected president of the organization about 10 years ago and still holds that office. When she became involved, the organization was in need of some “new blood,” as she described it.
“The organization was about to die,” Kent said. “The new board inherited a deficit of over $10,000. Sue’s hard work enabled them to work off the deficit and gain an extraordinary amount of community support from both Ridgway and Ouray.”
Under Hillhouse’s leadership, OCPAG quadrupled membership revenue, according to Kent. The Guild increased the number of music performances and broadened its scope to include jazz, country music and blues, dance opera, poetry and theater, as well as the acclaimed classical concert series, the San Juan Chamber Musicfest.
During her tenure, Hillhouse garnered repeat sponsorship from statewide foundations and many local contributors. She helped alleviate OCPAG’s financial crunch by organizing “Sunday Salons,” fundraisers at private homes featuring local talent. She also helped the organization create scholarships for Ouray County students.
Hillhouse characteristically attributes these successes to the entire group effort, saying, “The community has been welcoming and gracious. The secret to any organization’s success is simply good, committed people with the ability to take on responsibility.”
OCPAG’s educational component often complements the work of the Mt. Sneffels Educational Foundation, still another organization that benefits from her board membership. She initiated that organization’s annual Spelling Bee (recently changed to a Trivia Bowl, upcoming Tue. Feb. 8 at the Ouray School), a popular fundraising event and spirited community competition.
Hillhouse’s resume also includes the Neighbor to Neighbor program, of which she’s a founding member. The support program provides services for seniors, the homebound and disabled. She is a former member of the Friends of Ridgway State Park where she worked on grant proposals and highway clean-up committees.
“Ouray County seems to attract people who don’t need a big city for fulfillment,” she said. “They love the outdoors and being close to nature. And I’ve found most are willing to give back some of the value they receive from living here, to the benefit of all.”
Nowak’s presentation is about community building in mountain villages that make Ouray look like a metropolis. He and climbing partner Kim Reynolds decided that they wanted to give back to the impoverished communities they had trekked through. They began by raising money for a girls’ home in Katmandu, one that saved young Nepalese girls from a life of prostitution.
Nowak will share with the ROCC audience the dZi Foundation’s mission of “helping communities of eastern Nepal improve quality of life by advancing education and health, while reducing poverty.
“In the last three years, we have built 13 schools, over 900 toilets and dozens of clean drinking water systems,” he said. “And formed 83 Parent Teacher Associations.”
Admission to the ROCC dinner is $10 per adult, free for children under 12. The dinner includes spaghetti, a variety of homemade sauces, salad, garlic bread and homemade desserts. Beer and wine may be purchased. For more information contact Kate Kellogg at 970/626-3376 or at firstname.lastname@example.org