Stafford named SWAN Woman of the Year
By Jason Miller
Concrete’s own Valerie Stafford captured the title of Woman of the Year during an Oct. 20 ceremony in Bow. The honor was bestowed by Skagit Women’s Alliance and Network (SWAN) during its 27th annual award banquet. Stafford was chosen from a field of five finalists.
The SWAN award is designed to recognize a woman’s career accomplish-ments and community contributions, according to the event program. Organi-zers hope that the award will inspire young professional women.
Participants are nominated by commu-nity members and invited to fill out an application with questions about their career and community service. They’re asked to describe their achievements in their profession, as well as explain how they’ve promoted professionalism among women in business and contributed to their community.
The SWAN board narrows the applicant pool to five finalists, who are scored and interviewed. The board then chooses the winner.
“Being named the Woman of the Year is a huge honor and a highlight of my career,” said Stafford after the ceremony. “I’m especially pleased to represent eastern Skagit County, and hope this brings extra attention to the positive changes happening here.”
Stafford’s contributions to the communities of eastern Skagit County are numerous. She is president of the Concrete Chamber of Commerce. She and her husband, Fred West, own Concrete Theatre, which screens mainstream and thought-provoking movies every weekend. She owns Encore Fitness, whose Zumba classes are perhaps its most visible offering. She also teaches online classes on wellness, physical education, domestic violence, and sexual assault via Skagit Valley College-Oak Harbor. And her day job (yes, there’s more) is communications director at United General Hospital, where she juggles public relations, marketing, advertising, and special events.
Stafford always seems to be in motion—ask anybody. As Chamber president, she’s responsible for numerous events that already have become synonymous with Concrete. The Mardi Gras parade, Fall Color Festival, Ghost Walk, Cement City Street Fair—all are children of Stafford’s brain. When lack of funding forced the Skagit River Bald Eagle Awareness Team to end its popular eagle festival, Stafford and the Chamber drew alongside and revived it as the Skagit Eagle Festival.
Always willing to lend her brain power, Stafford sits on the steering committee for Imagine Concrete and is lending input to a newly formed committee that is examining Concrete’s options for revitalizing its town center to help jump-start economic development in Concrete and surrounding areas.
Leaving the past to create a future
Valerie Stafford’s story is even more inspiring when one considers the grit and determination she mustered to reach her current position.
“People say I wear a lot of hats, but over the years I’ve worn a lot of labels,” she said during her Oct. 20 acceptance speech.
Those labels included “high school dropout,” “battered woman,” and “alcoholic.” At one point she found herself on welfare, living on $400 a month and food stamps, and picking roadside blackberries so she could feed herself and her two children.
Stafford pushed back. She went to Skagit Valley College and earned her GED. She earned an AA degree too, then a BA, then a masters. She worked three jobs in three different towns. And slowly emerged the woman we know today.
“I couldn’t have survived all of this, I wouldn’t be where I am today, if it weren’t for a lot of strong, smart women who helped me along the way,” said Stafford at the ceremony. “I want to thank these women and all the others, who looked beyond the labels and saw the potential that I didn’t even know I had.
“I owe much of my success to the wonderful people in the Concrete community who’ve supported my projects and gone along with my crazy ideas. I’m very proud to say I live in Concrete,” she said.