Lifetime of achievement: Snoqualmie honors Gloria McNeely with key to city

The key to the city is in the keeping of Gloria McNeely, a nearly 70-year resident and active participant in civic affairs.
The key to the city is in the keeping of Gloria McNeely, a nearly 70-year resident and active participant in civic affairs. 'All I've done is lived here all these years, and loved the place I lived,' she says.
— image credit: Carol Ladwig/Staff Photo

When the city of Snoqualmie celebrated Gloria McNeely Day last February on the occasion of her 90th birthday, the nearly 70-year resident assumed that was the pinnacle of her recognition as a community leader and volunteer.

That's why she was "totally blind-sided, and still in a state of disbelief" when Mayor Matt Larson presented her with a Lifetime Achievement Award and key to the city.

"Why would the city do anything else? Why would they do this at all?" she wondered.

The answer is clear after even a brief conversation with McNeely, or a glance at her accomplishments, which include years of dedicated service on the first library board, two arts organizations, the Snoqualmie Chamber of Commerce, a business women's organization, various non-profits, and the Snoqualmie Valley Historical Museum Board.

"Gloria has given so much to the city of Snoqualmie," said Snoqualmie Communications Coordinator Joan Pliego, who organized the Dec. 10 award luncheon. "We give out the key rarely, and always to a very significant person."

McNeely was delighted and grateful to receive the beautiful plaque and the honor, but said, "All I've done is lived here all these years, and loved the place I lived."

About 20 of her family members and friends attended the luncheon, to surprise her when she received the award. Despite the number of people who knew about it, the surprise was complete, and emotional.

"I almost lost it when my children and their families came forward," she recalled. The city "got me there by telling me they were recognizing some of the city commissions, including the arts commission....they wanted me to sit with my back to the main room, but I wouldn't have stayed there long, because I usually wander around and see who's there."

It's that energy and interest that the city wanted to honor, and also what kept McNeely going in 1987, after her husband, Denton, died of cancer. He'd truly been the love of her life.

"I met Denton McNeely when I was 16, and I never looked back," she said. Despite her mother's best efforts to keep the boys away, she joked, Gloria and Denton married in 1938, a year after she graduated from Franklin High School in Seattle. They moved to Snoqualmie in 1940, to the same house where she lives today.

After Denton's death, "I was absolutely at a loss. I started getting out and volunteering for stuff, because staying at home was not an option," McNeely explained. "That's what motivated me. How do you fill this gaping hole? Well, it turns out, you don't."

Instead, McNeely focused on her family, and her passion for history and the arts. She joined the museum board in 1987 because she enjoyed history and wanted to preserve the city's heritage for her children. Also, she said "One of the reasons it's so pleasurable for me is we have a great board."

Later, she got involved with Snoqualmie Valley Arts Live, and served on the Snoqualmie Arts Commission since it was established in 2000. As chairperson of the Snoqualmie Valley Arts Live, she helped schedule five or six major concerts each year in the city.

"It was a wonderful thing to be doing," she said. "We had some really great shows here."

She also travelled, to Europe, New York, the Grand Canyon, and with a granddaughter and her friends to Grand Cayman, where she says "I was a beach bum before we unpacked!" She spent as much time as she could snorkeling, and one of her prizes from that trip is a conch shell that she found while exploring the shoreline.

McNeely loves water and says she "collects" the bodies of water that she's visited. There are a few that she's missed, though, such as in the Grand Canyon. "I would love to do a rafting trip," she said. Also on her list, parasailing on Lake Union, a hot air balloon ride, and more traveling.

"My family knows if you say 'go,' I'm on the front porch with my bag in my hand, saying 'where?'" she laughed.

Closer to home, her list of accomplishments continues: active member of the Snoqualmie Chamber of Commerce and later the Snoqualmie Valley Chamber of Commerce; past finance committee chairperson and current Chancel Choir member at the Snoqualmie United Methodist Church which named her Mother of the Year in 1993; member of the original Voices of the Valley Singers; and member of the former Mount Si Business and Professional Women's Association, a group that provided a network of support for businesswomen, and awarded an annual scholarship to a high school student.

In her career she's also been deeply involved in the community, working for about 12 years at the Snoqualmie Valley Record, and then for the King County Flood Control District. She helped plan the city's centennial celebration, and meticulously documented the area's history.

At no point did she ever expect or seek her much-deserved accolades, and even as she graciously accepts them, she tries to share the credit with others. Also, she says, "My family loves it."

The plaque that McNeely received states:

Lifetime Achievement Award

In honor and grateful recognition of exceptional leadership,

generosity in years of civic contribution,

integrity in all actions, and

earnest friendship to the community,

a key to the City of Snoqualmie is presented to

Gloria McNeely.

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