‘Restored community’s trust’ in the arts center

The dynamic partnership of Sheri Rochford Figgs and Terry Swan led the turnaround of the Durango Arts Center during the last two-and-a-half years. He was one of the people she thanked during a reception at Sorrel Sky Gallery. Enlarge photo

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald

The dynamic partnership of Sheri Rochford Figgs and Terry Swan led the turnaround of the Durango Arts Center during the last two-and-a-half years. He was one of the people she thanked during a reception at Sorrel Sky Gallery.

It took just one look around Sorrel Sky Gallery to understand the regard and affection our community holds for Sheri Rochford Figgs. The occasion was a thank-you party she and her husband, Dan, held for all the people who worked with her to save the Durango Arts Center after its darkest hours two-and-a-half years ago.

(I guess it was also an opportunity to see just how many people from every walk of life it took to save the DAC.)

Shanan Campbell Wells opened the gallery for the event, as Figgs wanted her hard-working staff to be able to relax at the party. Figgs is the first to give credit to the DAC crew for helping make the turnaround possible. So bravos go to Jeanne Berger, Diane Panelli, Sandra Butler (no relation), Jonas Grushkin, Julie Madden, Mary Puller and Elizabeth Silverstein, who work behind the scenes to keep the DAC hopping.

In addition to opening the gallery for the party, Wells also teamed up with Kirk Komick to donate champagne for a toast, and Kris Oyler, CEO and co-founder of Steamworks Brewing Co., threw in the beer.

Between her 30 years at Fort Lewis College and her rescue of the arts center, Figgs worked at Sorrel Sky, so she asked her former colleague from the gallery, Sue Pederson, to handle the food, and she put on quite a spread.

While Figgs was the hostess saying thanks, the DAC board of directors thought the party was the best place to say their thanks, too.

“Sheri’s vision and leadership restored the community’s trust in the Durango Arts Center,” Rochelle Mann, the president of the board, said. “All her work was part of keeping the DAC an integral part of the community.”

The board, which already established a scholarship in Figgs’ name for the DAC’s Girls Opportunity for Arts and Leadership Program, wanted to give her something tangible to remember her contribution to the arts center. They presented her with a beautiful Nambé platter as a memento.

Figgs also was delighted to show off her “bonus family” as she call them – stepdaughter Melissa Johnson and bonus granddaughters Maya Johnson, 11, Kyree Johnson, 9, and niece Selena Figgs.

One person Figgs particularly wanted to thank was Terry Swan, who, as board president during much of this critical time, worked side-by-side with her to revitalize the arts center, raise much-needed funding and bring the community back through the center’s doors. Swan, and his wife, Dinah, continue to be a vital force at the DAC.

Someone who doesn’t get enough thanks for holding the DAC together before Figgs agreed to take on the task as executive director is Scott Hagler. What this man does for the local arts scene is incalculably important, so consider this my shout-out to him. Please thank him personally the next time you see him running from one commitment to the next.

An assessment of the DAC showed that it would take 1,000 members to make it financially sustainable. In a county with a population of 50,000, that should certainly be achievable. So, in honor of Figgs, if you’re not a member yet, why not sign up today? One of the greatest gifts she could receive would be to see her “baby” continuing to thrive.

Stop by the DAC, 802 East Second Ave., to join or visit www.durangoarts.org. While you’re there, check out all the upcoming classes, exhibits and activities.

Kudos also go to Peggy Zemach, who will be picking up the reins from Figgs as executive director May 14. She has been attending countless events and meetings before she’s even on the payroll, and the two women will work together next week before Figgs’ final day May 18. (I think chocolate will be in order that day – for both of them.)

Figgs asked me to make sure people understand she’s not retiring, she’s just ready to get out of the fundraising business. (To say it’s a stressful job would be an understatement.) She and her husband are building a home outside of Ignacio, and she’s looking for a job in that part of the county.

The party was Figgs’ way of saying thanks – this column is mine.

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These birthday celebrants already got some much-needed precipitation as a gift – Diane Welle, Roger Folk, Virginia Fuhrmark, Ace Hall, Jim Lewin, Don Mapel, Nicholas Mimmack, Susie Robertson, Teagan Mapel, Samuel Murphy, Diane Estes, Betsy Morris, John Loftis, Jack Llewellyn, Diana Longwell, Winston Marugg, Greg Sparks, Mark Dickmann, Karen Mordi, Leigh Melville, Violet Trujillo and Sue Jackson.

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Break out the tissues for this item – my colleagues in the newsroom got worried when I kept sniffling while writing it.

A little boy named Reese Martin, 5, has had a rough couple of years fighting one cancer and then another at St. Jude’s Hospital for Children in Tennessee. One of the things that got him through surgeries and chemotherapy, a bone marrow transplant and radiation, was watching the film “The Polar Express.” Are you guessing where I’m going with this yet?

Enter the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which fulfills the wishes of seriously ill children to have some fun again. The entire community of Durango came together to make Reese’s dream of driving the steam engine of a train just like the one in “The Polar Express” come true.

“Y’all rolled out the red carpet for our family and treated Reese like a rock star,” his mom, Regennia Martin, wrote in her recollection of the trip. Dad Barry and little brother Riley, 1, also came along for the adventure.

“Reese simply wanted to drive a steam engine train, but because of the city of Durango and the superb organizational skills of Jola Schraub from Durango Mountain Resort, Reese enjoyed far more,” Regennia Martin wrote.

I’ll say. Reese did get his train ride wish with an escort by owners Al and Carol Harper, no less, but he also went dog mushing with Gretchen Dubin from Durango Dog Ranch, rode in a snowcat with Mike McCormack from Durango Mountain Resort, worked with Amber and Jeff Bardin behind the counter of their business Top That Frozen Yogurt, made chocolates at Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory with Ed Dudley and enjoyed a carriage ride with Dean Mize from San Juan Outfitters.

Enterprise Rent-A-Car provided the wheels and car seats to get the family to all of its adventures, and Brennan Exxon kept the tank filled.

The Martin family arrived at their “home away from home” at DMR to find it filled with toys for both boys courtesy of more than 20 businesses and individuals including Deborah Anderson and Jeff Baker, Lisa Ward, Tami Duke, Amy and Michael McCardell, Maria’s Bookshop and its customers, Beth and Bob Drum, Bill Frownfelter, Tekla Miller and Chet Anderson, Laurie and Ken Bates, employees of Bank of the San Juans, The Glacier Club, First National Bank of Durango ... the list goes on. Two and half pages long of donors, to be exact.

People donated everything from hand warmers to diapers for Riley (thanks, Albertsons), massages to photos.

Shand, Newbold & Chapman and T. Strauss paid to ship all those toys to the Martins’ home in Chattanooga, Tenn., after their visit.

On the first night of their stay, Abi May prepared a scrumptious meal at DMR, and the family found gift baskets from Dietz Market, Honeyville, RMCF, Starbuck’s and Fuzziwigs Candy Factory in their lodgings, flowers in every room from Wildwood Florists and a pantry filled by south City Market, Nature’s Oasis and Sunnyside Meats.

Local restaurants were not to be outdone. The Martins received so many gift certificates, they had to return several.

“We are so grateful to each person and business that extended such a warm welcome to our family,” Regennia Martin wrote. “We want to thank everyone who had any part of making our son’s wish grander than even he could have imagined (and believe me, he dreams big!). Reese said, ‘I want to come back when I have hair and drive that train, pull that whistle and throw snow balls at my Daddy in snow bigger than me. I love Durango, Colorado!’”

But this story is about something more important than Durango’s generosity, which once again did us proud.

Reese had been given a 0 percent chance of survival when doctors found a brain tumor in January. One week before he arrived in Durango, the scans showed no live cancer cells in his body.

The Martin family has been through a horrendous chapter of hospitals, treatment and fear. Here’s hoping their visit to Durango continues to be part of a new chapter of happiness and healing.

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Gardening at our altitude presents some unique challenges. So the Garden Club of Durango’s annual plant sale is a bonanza for locals who want some Southwest Colorado tried-and-true survivors for this year’s garden.

Members of the club have spent the last couple of weeks digging up several hundred of their hardiest perennial specimens for the sale, which will be held from 9 to 10:30 a.m. Saturday near the Rose Garden at Santa Rita Park. That’s an entirely appropriate location, because the funds raised from the sale will be used for the club’s garden projects at the park.

Make sure to arrive at the beginning of the sale to get the best selection.

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Enjoying gardens coming into bloom for their anniversaries are Al and Sue Mages, Tom and Karla Sluis and Mary and Duane Mykra.

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Regennia Martin and her 5-year-old son, Reese, are excited to take off on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad as part of his Make-A-Wish trip to Durango in early April. Reese had just concluded treatment for his second bout with cancer before the trip. Enlarge photo

Courtesy of Martin family

Regennia Martin and her 5-year-old son, Reese, are excited to take off on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad as part of his Make-A-Wish trip to Durango in early April. Reese had just concluded treatment for his second bout with cancer before the trip.