Suzanne and John

Suzanne and her her husband, John, who passed away in August. 

Suzanne MacPherson has deep roots in the Upper Wenatchee Valley and her long-term perspective and relationship skills led to making contributions as an educator and as the first (and to date only) female mayor of Cashmere.

Suzanne and three other folks from the valley will be sharing what they’ve learned at the Elder Speak event put on by the Ripple Foundation on Sunday, Sept. 8, 2 p.m. at Snowy Owl Theater. The event is free to the public.

Suzanne’s connections to the Upper Wenatchee Valley date back to 1906, when her mother’s family came to the valley from Nebraska. “Had I been on that train, I probably would have stayed on it to Seattle because the countryside was desolate,” she told me.

I recorded a conversation with Suzanne for my Art of Community NCW project, which celebrates community building in our region.

You can hear our discussion by accessing artofcommunityncw.com.

Her grandfather had a farm near Dryden and she spent some time as a child visiting. Suzanne was in the valley visiting during the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle when she met John, who she would later marry.

“We didn’t hit it off right away but three or four years later we did and then we were married and moved to Cashmere,” she told me.

MacPherson grew up in a small town in California. After graduating from college, she got a job as a substitute teacher in art and journalism, which gave her a sense that she might pursue a career in education.

Even before she had children, Suzanne considered herself a mother figure in the classroom. The students “sometimes had great and wonderful things to confide and other times had sadnesses,” she recalled.

After getting married, she arrived in Cashmere without a job. Then she met new Superintendent Dick Johnson and a lifelong friendship and collaboration ensued.

She started out with a job as a paraprofessional at Vail Elementary School teaching music and then became secretary to the principal. Later, she got a degree in library science and took a job as librarian in the high school.

“He was so passionate about education,” she said of Johnson.

They have disagreements, such as the time she got pregnant and Johnson said it was standard practice for pregnant teachers to resign. She objected and with the backing of a letter from physician Dr. Charles Conner, convinced Johnson and the school board to keep her on.

Suzanne learned great lessons from her mother, who died of breast cancer at age 46. When Suzanne was stewing over something, her mother would say “just let it be and live in the now,” Suzanne recalled. “She taught me how to laugh and how to love.”

That sense of joy and her deep sense of empathy led her to become the first woman elected to the Cashmere City Council and then succeeded retiring Mayor Dick Braun. She served from 1984-1988.

Her relationship building paid dividends and even though she was the lone woman around men, she thrived in that role. During her time as mayor, she’s proud of the civic projects they accomplished, such as upgrading the sewage treatment plan and finding a second source of water for the community. They also closed the landfill that later became a park for the community. Parks became a big deal when she was mayor.

Thanks to the efforts of attorney Steve Crossland, Cashmere became a Tree City during her term.

Even when citizens brought up issues that were not the city’s responsibility, Suzanne made it a point to follow up when they raised questions. She also had to learn that she couldn’t fix everything and instead suggested where they might get help.

“Relationships, in the end, are all that matter,” Suzanne said. The list of accomplishments pale in comparison to fostering a sense of community.

“No man is an island,” said Suzanne. “We do not want to live in a world of isolation,” she added.

“I like weaving experiences and people together,” said Suzanne. It is that gift of facilitation that has left quite a mark on the city of Cashmere and gives us a great example to follow to build community for the future.

The Art of Community Project is devoted to fostering creative community building in North Central Washington. See all of the stories at artofcommunityncw.com.