Susan Hankins is every where. Name a function or meeting in North Bend or Snoqualmie, and chances are
she’s there — smiling, socializing, making everyone feel comfortable or
entertaining them with her stories.
But now after serving as the director of the Upper Snoqualmie
Valley Chamber of Commerce for seven years, she’s going to take time for
her family, her garden, herself. Hankins is retiring at the end of the year, as
she said, to “get a life.”
“I really want to be a grandma to my grandchildren, and it’s time
to leave,” she said, adding that she also craves the time to cultivate her
garden, volunteer at church and “just play catch-up with some old friends.”
“This job just got all-consuming,” she added.
Hankins is known by her friends for the time and energy she puts
into everything, whether directing new visitors around town or arranging
a Chamber luncheon. They know her for the soft touch of her hand on
their shoulder and for her friendly greetings, such as “Well, hello, honey.
How are you?”
Unlike some people who just say that as a formality, she really does
care how you are.
“She’s a very caring person,” said Sue Beauvais, co-owner of
Wilderness Glass in North Bend and Chamber board member. “But I know, too,
that though she is retiring, she’s going to be there for the new person to help
her ease into [the position].”
Beauvais added that Hankins has always emphasized `shopping local.
“She just really has always believed in getting it from the
Valley first,” she explained.
Besides rooting for local merchants, what does a Chamber
“First and foremost, I help people,” Hankins said.
In her position, she answers relocation questions, represents
the Chamber at a number of different functions around the Valley and
region, assists committee chairs on their projects and plans the
organization’s monthly luncheons and after-hours parties, which require different
caterers and speakers each time.
And all this on only 20 hours’ worth of pay — the director
position is a part-time paid position, with the rest of the hours as volunteer.
Sometimes those hours are too numerous to count, several of her friends noted.
“And I take out the trash, too,” she added.
Hankins’ office is located in the North Bend train depot, right off
“I had a woman [who came into the depot and] wanted to know if
she could catch a train to Arizona,” Hankins mused. “I said to
Richard [Anderson]: `You need to get to building some of these tracks!'”
Through the Chamber, Hankins made other connections and
became involved with many other committees and groups, including the
Northwest Railway Museum board, the Sno-Falls Credit Union supervisory
committee board, the Bureau of East King County Convention and Visitors Bureau
Board and the summer Tour de Peaks event.
In the past, she was on the community task force for planning a
new community center on Snoqualmie Ridge and has helped with
the Snoqualmie Railroad Days and Alpine Days festivals.
Hankins has also served as the secretary for the Eastside
Legislative Coalition, an organization comprised of the eight Eastside Chamber of
Commerce groups that present a unified voice to the state Legislature on
issues that concern local businesses and thousands of jobs on the Eastside.
Because of her immersion in the community, Hankins appears to be
a native Valley resident.
But that is not the case.
Hankins came to the Valley in 1981 after living most of her life
Her husband had been raised in a rural area and wanted to reclaim
the lifestyle, and Hankins had just retired from her 27-year job as a secretary
at Rocket Research in Redmond.
“I came kicking and screaming because the only thing I
remembered about North Bend was getting stopped at the old stoplight on the
highway,” Hankins explained. “Everybody would come from skiing and have
this big pileup at the stoplight.”
“And now you couldn’t make me move,” she added.
When she and her husband Barry moved to North Bend, she didn’t
know a soul.
While having coffee at Isadora’s in Snoqualmie, a man told
Hankins she should get involved with the Chamber of Commerce.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Hankins’ skills as a secretary and her people skills made her an
invaluable part of the Chamber, although she had a few other jobs in the Valley
before delving into the director’s position.
One job was at the Jeweler’s Bench, another was a advertising
rep at the Valley Record.
It was there she met advertising manager Marie Everett, someone
she shares a close bond with to this day.
Everett, who is the current Chamber secretary and past president,
explained that there were two Chambers 10 years ago — one for North
Bend and one for Snoqualmie. A couple of years after merging the two, it
was apparent to board members that they needed to hire a director.
“Susan had been on the membership committee and she was just
everywhere,” Everett said, explaining that she was the best choice for
the position and the Chamber is lucky she accepted. “Susan had a way about
her and everybody wanted to be part of what she was doing — she’s
so friendly and outgoing.”
“She’s brought the Chamber a long way and it’s a lot more
professional,” Everett added. “The
biggest thing is she brought heart to it, she cared about everybody’s
business, which is unusual in today’s business world. She really understood the
small business world and a key to her success was that she really felt their pain.”
Hankins also helped launch new Chamber events, including the Bite
of the Valley, which is a membership drive held in February, and the
Santa Pancake Breakfast.
Now that it’s time for Hankins to slow down and enjoy her personal
and family life, Everett said her shoes are going to be tough to fill.
But the humorous and sincere Chamber director isn’t worried
because she helped fill the position.
“I’m totally thankful to have found someone to take this job [who] is
so beautifully qualified,” Hankins said of her replacement, Snoqualmie
Pass resident Diane Heacock.
“It’s been really fun to watch the Chamber grow and change and
now it’s going to be fun to watch it grow to the next level,” she said.
And for her parting words as Chamber director, Hankins wants
to thank everyone for their support and wants them to know that it’s the
group of people who belong to and run the Chamber of Commerce that make
Valley Portraits is a monthly feature that takes a look at people
who contribute to the community. To suggest someone for an article,
call Michelle Gisi at (425) 888-2311 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.