`Paul Revere with a pager’ only latest community role for Hakanson
Sue Hakanson is wearing yet another hat these days.
Besides her hospice and school board hats, she’s now donned a hat to act as community liaison for the Mitchell Creek neighborhood.
Hakanson, 42, who lives directly in the path of a potential Mitchell Creek flood, has been the point person for notifying her neighbors of an evacuation. In the aftermath of the Coal Seam Fire, which denuded slopes above the creek as well as nearby Storm King Mountain, the potential flooding and mud flows have posed a clear danger to residents.
The Hakansons have been through this before.
Sue and her husband, Don, and daughters Anna, 15, and Brigitt, 16, were evacuated in 1994 during the Storm King Fire.
When they were evacuated again during the Coal Seam Fire, Sue Hakanson immediately thought about her family cabin on Buffalo Creek on the Front Range as the perfect refuge.
But that area was in the eye of the storm as well. It was narrowly missed by the Buffalo Creek Fire in 1996 and the Hi Meadow Fire in 2000. Shortly after being evacuated from her Glenwood Springs home, Hakanson got the word that the Hayman Fire triggered evacuations at Buffalo Creek as well.
What keeps Hakanson going, through natural disasters and the rigors of her work, is a strong feeling of community. She believes “it take a village” to make a world.
“I believe it takes all of us. If we give our time it will come back to us ten-fold,” she said. “It really takes all of us to be good neighbors.”
That’s why she volunteered to coordinate the evacuation plan with her neighbors in the Mitchell Creek area. In the meantime, her own house is being shored up with sandbags and jersey barriers.
“It’s fairly intense in my neighborhood now,” she said.
In the last two weeks, warning systems have been put in place that will make evacuation much easier.
At first there was a phone tree that Hakanson would initiate on a signal from the sheriff’s department, in which neighbors warned neighbors of an impending flood.
The sheriff’s department “told me I was Paul Revere with a pager,” she laughed.
Now the Reverse 911 system is in place. The automated system allows the sheriff’s department to call people directly with the warning.
“I’m really happy with the mud and flood team,” Hakanson said.
“Tom Dalessandri said we had to take action before the disaster. He stirred the pot hard,” she said of the county sheriff.
She also credits Glenwood Springs Fire Chief Mike Piper for helping get the emergency plan in place.
“People know an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” she said.
Hakanson has deep roots in the valley, indeed in the state. She is a fourth-generation Coloradan. She spent some of her childhood in Aspen and some in Summit County, graduating from high school there.
She and Don, a construction supervisor, moved to Glenwood Springs 12 years ago.
“I decided a number of years ago that with my volunteer work, it had to be what I feel is important,” she said.
She began her hospice work in the valley nine years ago as a volunteer and is now with Roaring Fork Hospice as the director of development and public relations and the volunteer coordinator.
“It’s amazingly rewarding,” she said. “What brought me to hospice was the rapid succession of deaths of family members. We counted 11 in three years.”
One of her best friends died under hospice care and it made a great impression.
“It was like a bolt of lightning. I think hospice is like the natural childbirth movement. It can be a very beautiful phase of life. If we can acknowledge that it’s a part of our lives, we could walk the Earth differently,” she said.
Instead of being a medical event, death should be a personal one shared with the family, Hakanson said.
The aim of hospice is to help people die with dignity.
“We want patients to be in charge of their own care,” she said.
The word hospice comes from the name of the way stations where medieval travelers stayed during pilgrimages.
“I have seen the most amazing family happenings surrounding the time of death,” Hakanson said. Going through such an experience of watching a loved one die “can help us understand how to move forward after we lose someone. It makes an amazing difference.”
That urge to be involved in the life of the community has also driven her involvement with schools. She has taught music and art and volunteered in the classroom as well. She’s joined parent teacher associations and served on the strategic planning committee for the Re-1 school district.
Three years ago she took another step forward when an outgoing school board member suggested she take his place. She won election to the Roaring Fork School Board, representing the Re-1 district’s northern end.
“It is important work but it can definitely be frustrating,” she said. “We in Colorado are still having a hard time accepting that funding and support is needed for public education.
“We expect excellence to happen before we have adequate funding. That’s expecting the cart before the horse,” she said.
Hakanson sees her role on the school board as advocating for kids, supporting teachers and staff in the district, and advocating for public education in general.
“It puts our entire society at risk if we don’t value public education,” she said.
With all the work she does, the thread that runs through it is simple.
“I have a real sense that it’s important to be part of the betterment of society,” she said.
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