Here’s to you, Susan Lander!

Susan Lander, center, was the woman of the hour during a reception to thank her for 11 years as executive director of Music in the Mountains. Shanan Campbell Wells, left, hosted the gathering at her Sorrel Sky Gallery, and Julie Brown has worked with Lander for several years at the music festival. Enlarge photo

Courtesy of Margaret Hedderman

Susan Lander, center, was the woman of the hour during a reception to thank her for 11 years as executive director of Music in the Mountains. Shanan Campbell Wells, left, hosted the gathering at her Sorrel Sky Gallery, and Julie Brown has worked with Lander for several years at the music festival.

Susan Lander learned how much she is respected and loved at a reception Friday night to honor her 11 years – 10 festivals – of service to Music in the Mountains as its executive director.

“It’s amazing what a wide reach she has,” said Shanan Campbell Wells, who hosted the party at her Sorrel Sky Gallery. “People from all walks of life came to thank her.”

Wells, who said her gallery holds 200 “comfortably,” called the party a crush, and indeed it was. Terry Bacon, Music in the Mountains’ board president, served as the master of ceremonies, and everyone, from board members to donors to friends from her days at the Women’s Resource Center, took a few moments to laud her.

Commendably, and despite the fact that she had worn waterproof mascara “just in case,” Lander managed to avoid crying as person after person took the mike.

Steve Short, chairman of the board of First National Bank of Durango, could get a second job as a comedian if his banking gig doesn’t work out. When Lander started at Music in the Mountains, Short convinced her to join the board of the Durango Area Chamber Resort Association, now the Durango Chamber of Commerce. “You owe me one,” Lander told him at the time.

“Am I done paying yet?” he asked, a bit plaintively on Friday evening. First, he agreed to serve on the festival’s board at Lander’s request, and now he’s serving as the treasurer. “And you promised me you weren’t going anywhere when you asked me to do it!” he said as his punch line.

Some remembered meeting Lander when she arrived to ask for money, others remembered her stepping up when they needed something.

Wells said this was the first time she had hosted a party “just for a friend,” as opposed to a fundraiser or exhibit opening, and she and her staff members clearly have it down to a seamless operation.

PR Gourmet & Catering, also known as Pam and Rick Irwin, who used to own Durango favorite Mai Thai, prepared the food, and it was a spread. Fresh basil, tomato and mozzarella on grilled flatbread wedges; roasted red pepper hummus and mixed-olive tapenade with baguettes; seasoned softened goat cheese and black caviar canapés; baked raspberry brie en croûte; cheese platter with fresh fruit; grilled skewers of rosemary-oregano chicken with Provence-accented aioli; pork-filled dumplings with sweet chili sauce; and, for a sweet touch, chocolate-covered strawberries and miniature cream puffs.

Leah Deane from National Republic Distributing arranged for the wine, and Kirk Komick from The Leland House and Rochester Hotel, donated the champagne. He has done that for more than one party – maybe we should call him “Mr. Bubbly.”

The evening was full of surprises. Richard Taylor drove 16 hours to get to Durango just in time for the party. (Lander recently spent five weeks sailing on his boat around Banderas Bay near Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, some much needed relaxation after all those years of carrying the weight of the classical music festival on her shoulders.)

In another surprise, the Music in the Mountains Board of Directors chipped in to buy Lander a beautiful piece of jewelry from Sorrel Sky created by Toby Pomeroy. Using reclaimed metals and conflict-free diamonds, it was not only beautiful to see, but beautiful for what it represents. (She’s wearing her new bling in the photo.)

The attendees who spanned the Durango interest spectrum touched her. And when she got home and found the lights on, there was one more surprise. Julie Brown, operations manager for Music in the Mountains, and more importantly, Lander’s friend, had organized a group of friends to purchase new teak patio furniture so she can enjoy her yard this summer. Brown drove to Denver to get it, and they set it up while Lander was at Sorrel Sky. The merry group inaugurated the furniture with a pizza and wine after-party.

To give an idea how Music in the Mountains grew and changed under Lander’s tenure, when she joined, the budget was $350,000 for 13 or 14 concerts. Before the meltdown struck, the budget was at $1 million, with about 42 concerts. The festival this year will cost about $800,000 and feature 38 concerts, lectures, workshops and classes. Ticket prices account for less than one-third of that cost, so you can see how much fundraising is needed every year.

(I personally am looking forward to Linda Mack Berven’s free preconcert lectures at 4:15 on July 14 and 21 at Purgy’s. She gave a class series of lectures about the 25th season’s performances in 2011 through Fort Lewis College’s Continuing Education Program that I was unable to attend.)

But I digress. Lander wasn’t alone in making Music in the Mountains what it is, of course. It takes engaged presidents, board members, staff members and scads of volunteers to make it happen. But Lander was the eye in the middle of the hurricane, the steady hand on the tiller, the ... well, you get the drift, and I’m out of analogies.

The board also has established an endowment in Lander’s name to help students attend Conservatory Music in the Mountains and other musical programs. If you would like to honor Lander’s contributions and help young musicians learn and grow, send donations to Music in the Mountains, P.O. Box 3751, Durango, CO 81302.

Annie Simonson as festival director has ably stepped into Lander’s shoes at Music in the Mountains, but no one can take her place in the community. Luckily, she’ll still be here in a new role, as a nonprofit adviser, something she’s well-equipped to handle.

Consider this item my toast to you, Susan, for all you’ve contributed to music and our community.

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Happy birthday wishes to those on the cusp of Gemini and Cancer – George San Miguel, Sharon Kinton, Danial Grinnan, Amanda Pierce, Ham Wright, Tiffany Mapel, Calan Barnhardt, Cheryl Lillard, John Waters, Ann Willard, Liam Lacey, Ann Tidwell, Emma Russell, Ricky Hermesman, Tyler Erickson, Erin Sparks, Mollianne Eckart, Erin Carman, Matt Redbear, Elizabeth LaFortune, Ben Bader and John Gardella.

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As an obituary writer who grew up in this community, I often see obits for people I know, friends of my parents or my own. But Friday, one came in my email that made me want to write a personal remembrance, because her husband is too modest to say some of these things himself.

Wynafred “Wynkie” Plunk was the epitome of gallantry. Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when she was 21, just two weeks before she was scheduled to marry Joe Wade, she tried to call the wedding off. I guess you could say he’s pretty gallant, too, because he told her that all it meant was that they already knew what the sickness would be from the “in sickness and health” part of the vows.

When she lost the use of her hands, she never complained, nor when she ended up in a wheelchair. She just used what she had left, her Southern charm and graciousness, to serve as the ultimate phone volunteer. She won much-deserved awards for her volunteer efforts, but after she finished all those tasks, she became the ultimate phone friend. She never failed to call on my birthday or around the holidays, and she always let me know when my “Jeopardy” aired on the Game Show Network.

She also called after every time I wished the Plunks a happy anniversary. “It’s been 25 years, do you believe it? It’s been 30 years, do you believe it?” Wynkie would say, and then she would laugh, and I’d tease her for being a saint to put up with Joe Wade.

And oh, the stories, told over margaritas or wine, of escapades while they were children in Alabama. I never have laughed so hard as when Joe Wade and Wynkie got going on the stories, especially when we were playing croquet on Wednesdays at Rod and Robin Turner’s house more than two decades ago.

I think many people felt sorry for “that nice woman in the wheelchair,” but they didn’t know the Wynkie who felt joy in her friends’ joys, who found meaning in helping others, and who loved her husband so very dearly.

There’s no doubt there were dark hours, times of despair and hopelessness, but when Wynkie had her game face on, she was bright-eyed and smiling.

I know I have readers who are atheists and agnostics, readers who are Buddhists and Jewish and other faiths that don’t necessarily believe in any kind of afterlife.

But in my idea of heaven, Wynkie is up there doing flips and cartwheels and making the angels laugh.

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Oops! Ruth Parkinson wisely pointed out that Chapter CS of P.E.O. is not only not the second oldest women’s club in Durango, it’s not even the oldest P.E.O. chapter as I suggested in my Saturday column. Chapter BR is the oldest, founded in 1923, which means it will turn 90 next year. Mea culpa.

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Continuing with the multitudinous list of June anniversaries are Jeff and Brenda Nelson, Danny and B.J. Pierce, Tim and Cheryl Birchard, Jonas and MoniGrushkin, John and Christine Priaulx, Carl and Linda Curtiss, Brett and Holly Englund, Tyler and Jackie Fischer, Tom and Penni Compton, Deck and Diane Shaline, Bill and Sheri Collins, Amos and Julie Cordova and Art and Donna Chase.

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Here’s how to reach me: neighbors@durangoherald.com; phone 375-4584; mail items to the Herald; or drop them off at the front desk. Please include contact names and phone numbers for all items.

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