Champions of community

Two selfless women who have given endlessly to the community of Mercer Island were named “citizens of the year” last month by the Mercer Island City Council.

The list of Island institutions and initiatives that Susan Kaplan and Terry Pottmeyer have been involved in over the years is extensive. Each has long been part of efforts to educate and enrich the lives of children. Their work has been a key part of shaping the Island community.

The examples are numerous. The pair recently chaired the Mercerversary 50 Committee last year, a celebration of Mercer Island’s 50th anniversary as a city and the people who were part of it.

“The 50th was a chance to organize something fun and happy,” Kaplan said. “We had a great committee of community volunteers and city staff.”

The event is typical of the work by the pair — much of the work is unseen and unsung — just the way they like it.

Kaplan and her husband, Hank, have lived on Mercer Island for more than 30 years. They have one grown daughter, a 1994 graduate of Mercer Island High School, who is married, and a grandchild, Julia, who is two.

Kaplan has been active in Island schools for nearly as many years from the preschool level to high school, to the Mercer Island School District Board of Directors. She has served as a board member and president of the Mercer Island Schools Foundation and a board member and president of the Mercer Island Community Fund. Kaplan was also instrumental in organizing Mercer Island Youth and Family Service’s first “Giving from the Heart” breakfast.

“Mercer Island is a very special community, and the relationships I have with people are very important to me,” Kaplan said.

She said kids are her passion, but she enjoys doing what she can to ensure a great quality of life for all people on the Island.

“The people I’ve gotten to know, and friendships I’ve developed, are meaningful and long-standing,” Kaplan said.

Also long involved in education as a volunteer and a leader, Pottmeyer, a graduate of the University of Washington School of Law and University of Washington, Michael G. Foster School of Business, is currently the CEO of Friends of Youth, a nonprofit organization in existence since 1957 to assist at-risk youth.

After many years as a Mercer Island band booster and an organizer of Showcase, she founded the Mercer Island School Band Boosters, a 501c3 nonprofit earlier this year.

For the band, both Kaplan and Pottmeyer led the “March to March” fundraising campaign in October 2009 and received over 280 individual donations to get new uniforms for the MIHS marching band. The old uniforms had been used since 1979.

Pottmeyer was also honored as one of Pi Beta Kappa’s six Pathfinder award recipients for 2009. The honor society’s award is given to those who have helped others learn about new worlds around them.

Pottmeyer and her husband have four children.

Longtime Islander and schools volunteer, Mary Jo Bruckner, has been on “a zillion” committees with both women.

“They’re phenomenal,” Bruckner said. “The thing I appreciate the most is they step up to leadership roles but are happy to step away when everything is set up. I think’s that’s unique these days. A lot of people don’t want to take on the leadership role.”

Bruckner said the two search for the right person to pick up where they leave off, looking at a broad spectrum of individuals, not just those in their sphere of influence.

“Both Terry and Susan are just happy to step forward to help kids and the community,” Bruckner said.

She said any time either Kaplan or Pottmeyer has asked her to do something, she didn’t even have to hear the entire plan, because she knew it would be good.

“I just say ‘I’ll do it,’” Bruckner said. “It gets me into trouble sometimes.”

The 2011 Citizens of the Year will be honored during Summer Celebration and will be featured in the Grand Parade on July 9.

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