Despite her level-best efforts to avoid the spotlight, Susan Hankins of North Bend will dazzle the crowds this Saturday. As Railroad Days grand marshal, she’ll make her rounds in a Dazzling Sunset convertible, and, talking about it a week before, she was clearly hoping the car would get more attention than she would.
“It’s an old, a Mitsubishi something, sports car,” Hankins said to friend Jennifer Osborn, marketing director for the Northwest Railway Museum and Railroad Days organizer. “It’s what they call Dazzling Sunset, the color is kind of this … metallic watermelon color, with matching upholstery. It is the cutest car ever!”
Cute as it may be, the car is not as sweet as why Hankins will be riding in it.
The car belongs to Tim Huber, the physical therapist helping her with rehabilitation following a spinal cord infection that took much of her mobility, and all feeling in her legs. As with most people she meets, Hankins quickly forged a personal connection with Huber. When she told him her concerns about being able to get into a convertible for the parade, he immediately offered to drive her, in his beautiful car.
“This is the physical therapist who’s led me back … he has really helped me with a lot, being able to try to walk,” Hankins told Osborn.
Hankins is endearingly obvious about shifting attention from herself. She frequently refers to her mentor and former mayor of Snoqualmie, the late Jeanne Hanson, and tries to draw comments and opinions from everyone around her.
Even the topic of business, one of her long time passions, is shared all around.
“We need businesses to survive. We need businesses to make a community viable… the more resources that we have available here, the better it will be,” she said, then turning to Osborn, “What do you think, Jen?”
Hankins and Osborn followed similar paths, both working at the Chamber of Commerce, then for the Northwest Railway Museum, where Hankins has been on the board of directors since retiring as Chamber director.
Before the Valley, Hankins worked for Rocket Research (now General Dynamics) in Redmond for 25 years. She retired 11 years after she and her husband Barry built their home in North Bend, and discovered, “I didn’t know anybody.”
This was the first of several so-called retirements for Hankins, who now says “You can’t just retire, because you can’t let your mind be not involved, or not active.”
So, she got involved, riding her bicycle every day to Isadora’s (now the Black Dog) in Snoqualmie where she met people active in the community, and volunteering for the Chamber. By 1990, her work at the Chamber had evolved into the paid director position, which she held for 10 years. Although she left her position, she’s never let up in her support of the organization, and still recruits new members for them.
“I think what you put into it, you can get out of it,” she tells prospective members.
Hankins joined both the Mount Si Senior Center and the Northwest Railway Museum boards in 2000.
“I was the first ‘outsider,’ to come onto the railroad museum board” she recalled, joining a group of long-time volunteers, all men. “They met on Saturday nights at the fire station in Kirkland,” she said, “and it was just a riot… their language was so bad!”
“So the first thing I had to do was say, ‘OK guys, now you’ve put this woman on the board, and you’ve got to clean up your language,’” she said, laughing.
Later, Hankins joined the Sno Falls Credit Union board, and since 2002 has served on all three boards. She left the senior center board in February, happy to have been involved in developing a Valley transportation system (Snoqualmie Valley Transportation).
She claims she’s “done joining things,” but remains on the board at the credit union and museum, in support of local business and things like the museum, that support her community.
“I stay on (the museum board) because of what it’s doing for the community, and what it’s going to bring,” she said.
The museum’s expansion plans include a library and public restrooms at the train shed, which will allow the frequently sold-out docent-led tour package to increase, Osborn said.
Hankins’ goals going forward are ultimately to follow in the footsteps of her mentor.
“Jeanne was able to bring people together,” Hankins said, “and I just thought that’s a great quality.”
• The Railroad Days parade begins 11 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 17, in downtown Snoqualmie.