Mercer Island Citizens of the Year
The City Council began recognizing outstanding efforts of citizens in 1990, and has continued this tradition for more than 20 years. Honorees are individuals or entities whose achievements may have gone unrecognized in some settings, but who have improved Island life through a broad base of community service, fundraising, or other means.
Next time you visit a City Council meeting or come to City Hall on other business, you can view a gallery of Citizen of the Year photographs in the lobby immediately adjacent to the City Council Chambers.
Click here to view the Citizen of the Year criteria.
The first citizen of the year was Barbara Swier. She was thanked by the Council for organizing daffodil bulb planting in Mercer Island’s Central Business District. She had single-handedly organized volunteers to plant the Town Center with bulbs to make a great splash of color in the spring. Her work was done with little help from the City and was much appreciated. Since the Council did not have a citizen of the year award at that time, the Council recognized her at a regular meeting.
That same year, the Council also thanked Phil Flash for organizing a volunteer litter patrol along the sides of roads. He demonstrated his further commitment to Mercer Island as Santa at the Merchant's Munch, as member of the Historical Society and participant on many community occasions.
The second year, the Council decided to pick a member of the community who had been active in many different ways. They chose John Nelson because he had served as founding member and president of the Arts Council, was a member at large for the Youth and Family Services Board, was active starting and running the Rotary Marathon, volunteered to be a starter at the annual all school track meet, was on the Community Fund board and as such had acted as auctioneer at various auctions. He also was very active in Mercerversery, the occasion of the 25th year since the City of Mercer Island incorporated. Whenever there was a task for volunteers, John was there helping. John ran for City Council in 1994 and won. He served four years before stepping down to become a Regional Governor for Rotary.
The third year the Fire Department brought the Council the name of an unsung hero that they wished to see honored – Dr. Floyd Short. He was the trainer for all the firefighters to become emergency medical technicians (EMT). He created the first trained EMTs who were able to provide first response before the Medic One arrived. When Hunter Simpson, then president of Physio-Control donated a defibrillator to the Mercer Island Fire Department, Dr. Short began training fire fighters in its use. His experiment got him a 20 year volunteer position as trainer.
By 1993, the Council felt that rules of how and why we chose a Citizen of the Year would be helpful. At that time we felt that we wished to make the award fun and meaningful to us all. We agreed to a set of criteria that would guide the Council in its selection of its Citizen of the Year.
That year there were two nominations of people who had similar activities and were of similar advanced age. Instead of waiting for another year, we agreed to honor them both. Anna Matheson was very active in starting and maintaining the Council on Aging. This group had advocated for seniors and had been instrumental in starting Meals on Wheels, transportation for seniors by volunteers, and many other senior support activities. Delores Erchinger was volunteer extraordinaire for the Chamber of Commerce. She often called every business member to remind them of the monthly Chamber Meetings and worked countless hours answering the phones there. She further volunteered at the Council on Aging, and helped start the Historical Society.
Pam Eakes was chosen this year because of her national activities for Mothers Against Violence in America (MAVIA). In the year that she started this organization, it had grown to 30 chapters across the state. This organization has grown nationally and has also created a school based group called Students Against Violence Everywhere (SAVE).
The year that John Steding died, we realized that he had given many years of service to our community and that the Council had not yet recognized someone who was active in the schools. With this in mind, the Council posthumously awarded John Steding its Citizen of the Year. John was the keeper of the statistics for most sports at Mercer Island High School.
Faye Whitney was honored for her 20 years of service to seniors and youth on Mercer Island. She had just completed Blossoms and Burgers, an event that partners the seniors at the Parks and Recreation Department with the Crest Learning Center. She helped start and run this event for many years. She also is active in the Council on Aging and Meals on Wheels program. She volunteered at the Mercer Island Thrift shop since 1978, raising funds for Youth and Family Services.
Pat Braman was active for many years as a teacher and union activist. But her nomination came from a year of devoting personal time to bring the Youth Asset training to Mercer Island Schools. This program was part of another position she held as the City's only representative on the Community Network of Mid-East King County. These Networks were formed by the legislature to meet the challenge of increasing youth violence and teen pregnancy. Pat's work on both these projects took time and energy to find funds from the private sector and to advocate for people in the community to get trained to be more supportive of kids.
The Clergy Association was chosen because the Council was so appreciative of their overwhelming support and advocacy for affordable housing. This group was not used to taking political or public stands and yet became a moving force in our community. Their support culminated in the purchase of Ellsworth House in 1999. They also had developed a chaplain support group for the Public Safety Department.
For the second year in a row, the Citizen of the Year award went to a large group -- the Aircraft Noise Abatement Committee. This group of over 260 citizens vigilantly opposed operational and policy changes proposed by the Federal Aviation Administration that would cause increased aircraft noise over Mercer Island.
Don Cohen received the 2000 Citizen of the Year award for his decade of service on the Mercer Island Planning Commission. Having served as its Chairman for four years, Don contributed to the development of many important pieces of land use legislation including the Mercer Island Comprehensive Plan, Critical Lands Ordinance, Mega-House Ordinance and the Unified Land Development Code. Don garnered respect for his experience, sense of fairness, environmental advocacy, leadership and legal knowledge.
The 2001 Citizen of the Year was Eugene Ferguson. Eugene “Gene” Ferguson received the Council’s appreciation for his 25 years of service to the children and families of Mercer Island. As Band Director and long-time music educator, Eugene worked tirelessly to introduce music into the lives of thousands of Mercer Island students. He made great contributions to the success of the music program in the Mercer Island School District bringing it national, state and local acclaim.
Jan Deveny was chosen as Citizen of the Year for 2002 in recognition of his 28 years of service as Mercer Island’s Public Safety Director. His law enforcement career spanned almost 40 years, during which he was President of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs and active in the International Association of Chief of Police. He was a tireless supporter of Special Olympics, and co-founded the Washington Law Enforcement Torch Run.
City Council members honored Myra Lupton for being an involved citizen in every sense of the word. She was complimented for being an independent thinker. Mayor Alan Merkle said. ``She is one person who has been able to praise and criticize in one breath, and we feel good about both.'' Ms. Lupton retired from teaching English in January 1992 after 31 years with the Bellevue School District. She has been active in numerous civic committees on Mercer Island, including the local chapter of the League of Women Voters.
He’s been called the godfather of Puget Sound transportation and credited with coining the phrase “we don't want to hear it, see it or smell it” as a condition of Interstate 90's expansion across the Island. His colleagues have said that, “He's flunked retirement several times”, with a career in public service that has spanned six decades Aubrey Davis is honored with the 2004 Citizen of the Year Award.
Aubrey first moved to Mercer Island in 1960 and was elected to the Mercer Island City Council in 1968, remaining on the Council until 1978. He served as mayor for two terms from 1970 to 1973. Throughout the years since leaving the Mercer Island City Council, he has headed the regional office of the U.S. Department of Transportation and has led the federal Urban Mass Transit Administration.
He served 32 years on the Group Health Board of Trustees, including eight terms as chair and in 1988, was named president and CEO of Group Health a position he held for four years. Aubrey recently retired after serving more than 12 years on the Washington State Transportation Commission.
He’ll remain active on the transportation committee at the Puget Sound Regional Council and on the committee reviewing the options for replacement of the Highway 520 Bridge. He also currently serves on the Citizens’ Oversight Panel monitoring Sound Transit.
The City Council chose Ben Wolfe as the 2005 Citizen of the Year. Ben was hired by the Mercer Island School District in 1963. For his first two years he taught French. In 1965 he was appointed as the Vice Principal of North Mercer Junior High. He worked in that position until 1980.
During his time at North Mercer Junior High, Ben was in charge of much of the disciplinary process, as the Vice Principal. He was a very stern administrator as far as following the rules and the law. Ben developed a very close working relationship with the police and fire departments during this time. His quick wit and outstanding personality were always a hit.
Ben used to refer to himself as the ”Captain of the North Precinct” because he felt as if he was the cop in the school for us at the Junior High School. Soon this nickname spread and Ben was proud of this nickname. Ben would call the department and say this is Captain Wolfe from the North Precinct and I have one in custody for you.
In 1980 Ben was appointed as the Director of Maintenance Operations for the Mercer Island School District. He worked in this capacity until he retired in June of 1992. Ben had 36 total years of working in the field of education, 29 of which were with Mercer Island. Ben made several trips to Europe and enjoyed talking about his experiences there.
A good joke or war story usually started the meetings he attended serving as a citizen volunteer on the City’s Police and Fire Disability Board. Ben served 15 years, and was the Board Chairman for many years.
Longtime Mercer Island residents, Margaret and Kenneth Quarles were chosen as the 2006 Citizen of the Year for their generous and selfless contribution to the City’s park and open space system this year. The Quarles’ were the owners of pristine open space located west of East Mercer Way and adjacent to Pioneer Park. In 2006, the Quarles agreed to transfer this rare open space property consisting of nearly 7 acres to the City of Mercer Island in order to preserve this property for park and recreation purposes.
This significant gift to the City will serve as a lasting legacy to the family’s strong ties to the Mercer Island community and represents their strong desire to preserve the property from potential future development while providing recreational trail opportunities for future generations.
“Tonight we honor a fixture in our community who has been involved in almost everything for decades,” said Mayor Jim Pearman in naming Jim Trombold the 2007 Citizen of the Year on June 16, 2008. In addition to being a respected physician and Rotarian, Trombold was a community activist, environmentalist and defender of Mercer Island parks.
Jim was a Rotarian who served as president from 2005 to 2006, the chair of the Planet Earth committee, an avid lover and defender of the Mercer Island parks system. He fought to preserve and improve Mercerdale Park, including the establishment of a group native garden. He helped set up the display of crosses at Mercerdale Field by Vietnam Veterans against the war in Iraq. In 2005-06, when he was president of MI Rotary, he helped expand support for the Half-Marathon to raise money for colon cancer awareness.
The 2008 Citizen of the Year Award honors not one, but dozens of Island residents. On Monday, July 6, 2009 the Mercer Island City Council announced “the organizers and volunteers of the inaugural 2008 Mercer Island Farmers Market” as the much anticipated Citizen of the Year.
This group was recognized for their contributions to providing a vibrant community setting that offers fresh, locally grown foods, promotes and supports sustainable agriculture, and connects residents to each other and to local farmers. The Mercer Island Farmers Market enables residents to purchase local food from local farmers and in doing so, contribute to the local economy.
The City Council presented the 2009 Citizen of the Year award to Blair Rasmussen, executive director of the Mercer Island Boys &Girls Club and former NBA player, in honor of his service to the community’s children and families. The award recognizes Rasmussen’s leadership as executive director of the Mercer Island Boys & Girls Club, where he spearheaded the development and construction of the PEAK youth facility. The 41,300-square-foot PEAK facility will house the new Mercer Island Boys Girls Club, a teen center, infant and child care centers, and a multi-sport field house. The $15 million facility opened in August 2010. Prior to heading the PEAK project, Rasmussen helped lead the remodel of St. Monica’s, sat on the board of the Boys and Girls Club, and coached a number of Island youth sports teams. A 15-year resident of the Island, Rasmussen and his wife, Sarah, have five children, Christine, Sam, Sabrina, Joe and Jack.
The City Council chose Susan Kaplan and Terry Pottmeyer as the 2010 Citizens of the Year for their decades of selfless service to the Mercer Island community. Susan and Terry chaired the Mercerversary 50 Committee in 2010 and helped provide a wonderful celebration that acknowledged the past and welcomed the future. Months of preparation, planning, and effort went into creating the anniversary event. A website was created to post stories and lists of longtime residents, a brief history of the Island, and celebration events. A hugely successful birthday party was planned with special recognitions of 80+ year residents and welcomes extended to those who had just arrived. Cakes were cut, candles blown out, and many recognitions were given to those instrumental in the development of Mercer Island as a City.
Susan and Terry have both been active in PTA at every level, from the Preschool Association to the Mercer Island High School and received recognition and numerous awards for their work. They have both been board members and the President of Mercer Island Schools Foundation, the Mercer Island School Board and the Mercer Island Community Fund. They have been members of the Committee for Mercer Island Public Schools (CIMPS) and the committee to raise money for the new Mercer Island High School Band uniforms. Susan and Terry have both been involved in the MIYFS Foundation and the Mercer Island Youth & Family Services Giving from the Heart Breakfast steering committee. Both Susan and Terry work to build a strong community. They make community connections, start and follow through with new initiatives, and have given countless hours and selfless acts to the betterment of our community.
The City Council presented the 2011 Citizen of the Year award to Dr. Michael Copass. He is one of the founding fathers of the Medic One Program – a medical system that Medical Professionals worldwide continue to study and emulate. For thirty-five years, he was the Director of Emergency Services for Harborview Medical Center – the only Level 1 Trauma Center in a five state region. He continues to be the Medical Director of Medic One for the Seattle Fire Dept, and the UW Paramedic Training program which trains ALL of the paramedics in Seattle and King County. Dr. Copass founded Airlift Northwest in 1982, a nonprofit air ambulance service that is unrivaled anywhere in the United States and is responsible for saving thousands of lives. Dr. Michael Copass is a legend in the Fire and EMS community. He has demanded excellence from those that have worked for him or in his programs. His work ethic and devotion to patients is legendary. No single person has done more for the health of this community than Dr. Copass.
The City Council selected Fran Call as 2012 Citizen of the Year in honor of her extensive service to the community. For 26 years Ms. Call taught English, history and outdoor fitness at the Junior High and Middle Schools on the Island and is known for her motivational talents and no-nonsense but caring nature. Always an outdoor enthusiast, she developed a legendary outdoor fitness program, a "P.E. Plus" class, that had kids running, bicycling, hiking, canoeing and learning survival skills. Motivated students could even join an annual self-supported bike ride led by Ms. Call to various destinations across the country. Since her retirement 20 years ago, Fran hasn't even considered slowing down, instead starting a walking group for people over 55, offered through the Mercer Island Parks and Recreation Department.
This year, the Council selected Mercer Island Preschool Association (MIPA) as 2013 Citizen of the Year.
Founded in the 1920’s, MIPA was one of the first community groups to organize on the Island and has maintained an enduring focus on education and advocacy, community building and parks. As a group of volunteers, its guiding principle is an unswerving commitment to the education and well-being of children from birth through Kindergarten, often working in conjunction with the City. For example, in partnership with the City’s Youth and Family Services Department, MIPA provides funding for pre-school scholarships for families in need; and with the City’s assistance, MIPA supports emergency preparedness in the preschools. And annually MIPA recognizes an outstanding preschool teacher via its Exceptional Educator award. In October 2013, the City opened a very special, ADA-accessible, remodeled playground at Luther Burbank Park which celebrates the importance of play for children of all physical abilities: MIPA provided design assistance and almost $100,000 in donations toward the project. In its 80+ years of existence, MIPA has been a tremendous contributor to the sense of community all Islanders enjoy, and fully deserves this honor.
Council selected Roger and Nancy Page -owners of Island Books- as 2014 Citizens of the Year. Founded in 1973 by Lola Deane, Island Books was already a beloved fixture in the community when Roger Page came to work there as a part-time Christmas gift wrapper in 1984. Intrigued by the business, Roger was soon promoted to bookseller, then floor manager, and in 1991 he offered to buy the store. The Pages' business and personal goal is to serve the community in a welcoming and caring manner, which includes hosting special events and countless fundraisers over the years. Many Islanders, for example, will recall the 2,000 midnight attendees at a Harry Potter release, with bookstore staff in costume. To date, the Pages have raised more than $300,000 in donations to a variety of community causes, are are widely known by many Islanders.
At the July 5, 2015 Council Meeting, the Council honored Nancy Stewart as the 2015 Citizen of the Year. Nancy Stewart moved to Mercer Island in 1981, with her husband Judge Wayne Stewart, and has used music and songwriting to build local community and bring generations together ever since. She’s known for enthusiastic appearances at all manner of Island festivals and events, in the library, the local bookstore, and City’s community center. Her Sing With Our Kids program began as a pilot project on Mercer Island in 2012, in which she created, tested, and documented singing events that foster early learning and literacy, while connecting children to their surroundings. Her program goal has always been to create a national model that any school, library, family or community can use – free of cost.
“Simply put, music powers the young brain,” says Nancy. “Singing with a child connects neural pathways and increases the ability to retain information. In other words, it builds memory. Music builds a strong sense of rhythm, which leads to a better ability to understand and produce language. Singing develops spatial reasoning with allows children to recognize patterns, and later helps in problem-solving. Songs are rich in vocabulary and by nature build phonological awareness.”
After launching her career at the age of fifteen, and spending a decade touring and performing at clubs nationwide with well-known stars like Lily Tomlin and Burl Ives, Nancy decided to turn her musical talents to children and created her Animal Crackers program. She’s promoted the connection between singing and learning for kids ever since, including training teachers how to incorporate music into their lessons. As a winner of numerous local and national awards and a recording artist, Nancy explains her passion: “Musicians don’t choose to become musicians. It’s what they are. What they are born to be. Music chooses them. It’s not about money; it’s about loving music. It’s about getting to share something that they love more than themselves.”