For over 40 years, Soroptimist Hood River has, with the help of community nominations, honored in our midst whose professional or volunteer work have inspired others with their unsung dedication and energy to make Hood River County a better place for everyone.
“Working under the radar, volunteering in the background, always making a difference for the community,” describe each of this year’s Soroptimist Women of Distinction Award winners: Debby Chenoweth, Erma Hickman, Leslie Hidle and Kristin Reese. Please come and help Soroptimist honor these fantastic four energetic and dedicated local women at a happy hour awards reception on Thursday, May 17, 5:30- 7:00 pm, in the Columbia Room of the Best Western Hood River Inn. Tickets for the reception are $15 and include entry, appetizers and non-alcoholic beverages. A no-host bar will be available. Purchase tickets through Eventbrite.com, at soroptimisthoodriver.com or by calling June Knudson, 541-760-6050. Deadline for ticket purchase is Sunday, May 13th.
In nominating Debby Chenoweth, Beth Hartwell wrote, “I had heard Debby’s name many times before I made her acquaintance, always in admiration and praise. She seemed to be everywhere, taking the lead on so many projects. My life has been richened by her presence, as has this community.” Locally, as a member and leader at Spirit of Grace Church, Debby was instrumental in creating the partnership between the church and FISH Food Bank, located on the church’s Tucker Road property. She also feeds her dual loves of gardening and people by working as a volunteer and as volunteer coordinator for the Spirit of Grace Community Garden, growing thousands of fresh vegetables for the FISH Food Bank, according to the food bank’s Marianne Durkan.
For several years, Debby has co-led, with Gean Rains, the Community Thanksgiving Dinner that serves about 400 people in Hood River. Seeing another need, last November she brought a similar celebration to over 100 people in Cascade Locks. As a volunteer at The History Museum of Hood River County, Debby has served as its board chair for the last several years. Museum executive director, Lynn Orr, says, “I marvel at her ability to quickly assess a situation, a person, a topic, and respond appropriately, seemingly without effort. And she understands the important role history and culture play in the enrichment and guidance of community life.” Professionally, Debby was honored last year by presidential proclamation as an Important Woman in Conservation, following her distinguished career as chief of operations for the Portland District of the US Army Corps of Engineers,.
Erma Hickman almost always responds to requests for help with, “Sure!” According to her nominator, Bette Lou Yenne, she’s said “sure!” to many people many times during the decades of her career and volunteer activities as a business teacher, chair of Hood River Chamber of Commerce board, secretary for the Friends of the Hood River County Library, at the Hood River Valley Adult Center’s Bingo night, and with every Lions Club elected office and fundraising project that comes along. “Whether mixing vats of pancake batter, arranging sight or hearing exams for kids, selling fireworks from the cramped Lions’ Fourth of July trailer, leading a meeting or taking notes, Erma is one of the really important Lions Club members and an invaluable member of our community,” says her friend and fellow Lion, Trudy Tallman. As fellow volunteer, Jean Harmon, notes, “Sometimes the quiet ones are not recognized, but we need to honor those in the background who shoulder responsibilities which make our community thrive.”
Leslie Hidle is described by her nominator, Kym Zanmiller, as “the definition of a person dedicated to community service.” She has been an active volunteer with the Hood River County Christmas Project for over 20 years, as board secretary/treasurer and co-coordinator for home delivery of over 100 baskets to senior and disabled people. Similarly, she volunteers on the FISH Food Bank board and works hands-on to organize the food. She often introduces others to this important work by bringing youth sports teams and youth clubs to help with sorting donated food. Leslie spent all of her children’s growing up years as a Campfire leader or helping in every way to make a difference at their schools. She chairs the annual Mid-Columbia CROP Walk to raise funds for local food banks and for hungry children in other parts of the world. According to her friend and fellow volunteer, Kathleen Holmstrom, “Leslie is a reliable and dedicated worker and leader in all her volunteer activities. She has a heart for our community and for service.”
Kristin Reese was nominated by two different people, Heidi Venture and Wendy Herman, who each recognize the long-lasting effects her commitment to and management of the Leaders for Tomorrow Youth Leadership (LFT) program has made for our community’s youth. The mission of the program, which Kristin has organized, found support for and advised for nearly 20 years, is to empower youth to connect with and engage in shaping the future of their communities. “Most of the students who apply and participate in LFT are teenage girls,” says Heidi Venture. “Through LFT, Kristin engages youth to understand and shape the future of their hometown community. Through face-to-face contact with local business, government, and community leaders, students discover what it means to build a community.” Participation in the two-year LFT program is open to all Hood River County juniors and seniors, who as juniors learn about the Gorge businesses, from agriculture to manufacturing to health care. As seniors, they decide on and complete a project to benefit the community. Some of the many include painting the women’s shelter, landscaping the library, building and installing community book boxes from Parkdale to Cascade Locks, bringing awareness of the hazards of plastic to elementary students. “Kristin puts her heart and soul into this program because she wants to help our students understand the benefit of volunteering, as well as knowing what makes a small community thrive,” says Wendy Herman, Hood River Valley High School/LFT liaison. Kristin is also actively involved in Hood River Lions Club, as an advisor to the HRVHS Leos Club, and about a dozen other community organizations.
Community members, and there are many, who have been touched by the energy and spirit of Debby, Erma, Leslie and Kristin, are encouraged to help Soroptimist honor them with your presence at the May 17 “happy hour” awards celebration. Details are listed above.
Soroptimist of Hood River, part of Soroptimist International, is a volunteer organization dedicated to improving the lives of women and girls in local communities and throughout the world. To learn more about Soroptimist International, go to
Portraits provided by photographer and SIHR member Denise Rehse Watson.