Sandpoint Sports the Luck o' the Irish
A visit with the (self-proclaimed) Queen of Ireland and new Sandpoint Chamber CEO, Kate McAlister
It took only a few minutes for me to want to write a column about Kate McAlister. I met our new Greater Sandpoint Chamber of Commerce president/CEO for the first time at last month’s skijoring competition. She and her helpers were registering participants for the new Winter Carnival event.
Speaking of skijoring, congratulations to Matt Smart, his family, the volunteers, sponsors and participants who pulled off a wonderful weekend of exciting action at the Bonner County Fairgrounds.
I think skijoring is here to stay. It will only get better, thanks to Matt’s vision and Kate’s firm desire to turn Sandpoint into a “skijoring Utopia.”
So, who is this Kate McAlister?
On paper, she’s the new face for the Chamber, having served since last August. Kate came to the Chamber after a lengthy stint with Itron, an international company with corporate headquarters in Liberty Lake, Wash.
One soon learns that Kate wears her Irish heritage on her sleeve. On Facebook, while promoting ticket sales for Angels Over Sandpoint annual Follies production, she wears a crown, telling readers, “The Queen of Ireland requests your presence.” I also detected a little Irish flair when she sang the “National Anthem” at the skijoring event.
In my first meeting with Kate, I observed an upbeat, charming spitfire who shows up to do a job and does it well. She’s surrounded by people who obviously love to work with her.
“What you see is what you get,” Chamber Visitor Center manager Melody Circo says. “She’s a hoot and a holler, and she lights up a room.”
Katherine ‘Kate’ Anne McAlister lists her age as over 50, adding “I believe in the Masai Tribe philosophy when asked their age: Why does it matter when you were born; it only matters that you were born.”
Born in Steamboat Springs, Colo., she lived on a ranch 40 miles from town until her parents divorced when she was 12. Her mom “remarried another alcoholic,” and the family moved to Nampa, Idaho, where she graduated from high school. Kate attended Idaho State University and later Boston College as an adult.
In 1984 she moved to Spokane. Her marriage to local forester Dave Lovejoy brought her to Sandpoint.
She’s especially proud of her four “lubs,” Krista, Christopher, Jessica, and Matthew, and her six “dubs” Kyleigh, Isabel, Moira, Jackson, Conner and Henry.
“I always told my kids they were the first beat of my heart, and they are the “lubs,” she explains. “Now the grandchildren are the “dubs.”
Kate’s interests include reading, acting, singing, volunteering, cross stitch and gardening. A basic dinner of steak and baked potato suits her just fine, while her favorite musical genre varies with what’s happening, i.e., writing activities require Mozart while Spanish guitar suits her needs while driving.
“My favorite books to this day are any of the Pippi Longstocking books: she was a crazy little redhead like me, and she said, ‘Don’t you worry about me I’ll always come out on top”: my motto for many years,” Kate adds. “Also, the Velveteen Rabbit... I have a lot of scars and things I’ve overcome, but I have people in my life who love me no matter what. That is what’s important.”
Recently, she shared with me a few highlights of her life’s journey and some of her personal perspectives. Kate clearly exemplifies a fierce determination for rising from the ashes and using her talents to create a little sense of Utopia wherever she goes.
Significant childhood memories with family: My childhood would have been good material for a lifetime movie. Not pretty. I survived, despite my family. However, I never allowed my childhood to define me. Instead, it helped shape me into the person I am today. Truly, the only influence my parents gave me was how not to behave in the world. I learned self-reliance and problem solving from a very early age.
Education: where, when, what and what motivated you to choose the field you did: My entire lifetime has been a great education, learning where I fit in the world. I believe I can do anything if my heart is in it, except math. I tend to be a visionary and see where we can be. Life is change, and we have to change with it or be left behind.
Tell about your husband. The wonderful Mr. Dave Lovejoy and I have been together for over 16 years, and I still dig him like dirt. He’s my best friend. Dave has worked for Inland Forest Management as a contracting forester and a wildland fire-engine boss for more than 20 years.
Our adventures in the woods and surrounding areas are too numerous to mention. We both love Ireland and have traveled quite a bit in our short time together.
Who influenced you to be the person you are today? First and foremost my children. As I watched them grow, I knew I had to be a better person for them. I had no role models for parenting or even how to act in the world when I was younger, but I knew I didn’t want to continue in the cycle of abuse and welfare.
I was a single mom for years, working two and three jobs. When I found myself wanting to quit and give up, all I had to do was look at them... they believed in me, and I could not let them down. We had our struggles as most single-parent families have, but we made it, and we all still adore each other.
My first husband (the children’s father) and I are great friends, spending holidays at each other’s houses whenever possible. We were too young when we married, but I will always love him for the gift of our children. He and Dave call each other “ex-husband-in-law.” We can be together, and everyone has a good time. The kids always came first.
My physician in Spokane, Jim Bingham, was a tremendous person in my life and still is. He was the first person ever to ask me if I had been abused. I was 29. He sent me to Tom Stebbins, the greatest therapist in the universe. I literally would be dead without these two amazing human beings.
They took care of my mental and physical health. Then, came LeRoy Nosbaum, former CEO of Itron, Inc. I served as his executive administrator when he was VP of Marketing and the company’s COO. When he moved up to the CEO position, I did not want to go with him and was ready to leave the company. However, he saw something in me, and didn’t want me to go.
He gave me the assignment of starting a Community Investment program at Itron, which included corporate philanthropy, community partnerships, employee volunteer programs, education initiatives, and executive volunteering in every office location. My responsibilities also involved working with the foundation and with public and media relations for the corporation.
I had no idea how to achieve this feat until my research brought me to Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship in the Carol School of Business. Itron paid for my education in Corporate Citizenship, and I remained with this career the last 15 years.
I served on several national leadership panels and helped to write the Standards for Corporate Community Involvement.
I also founded the Itron Employee Emergency Foundation, an internal employee crisis foundation to help those experiencing crises such as a fire, cancer treatments, accidents or death. Wherever we could help we did. When we started this foundation, there were only ten like it in the world. Levi Strauss’s ‘Red Tab’ Foundation was the first.
Working at Itron was a fabulous ride. I met people from all over the world, doing amazing things. I will always be grateful for LeRoy and his mentorship.
What do you consider your most notable lifetime challenges? Becoming who I am. Finally liking myself in my 50s. Knowing it’s okay to be my lovable, eccentric self.
When and where are you happiest? Thanksgiving. All my children and six grandchildren come to our house. While the other adults play our annual Maude Butler poker tournament, I get to play with the grandchildren.
We’ve always been the family who takes in Thanksgiving guests. My oldest son Chris was always bringing home homeless people. All I asked was that they shower, and we gave them clean clothes. When the kids were in college, we had every kid who didn’t go home at our tiny house. No one should be alone in the world. They can come to my house.
What motivates you each day? Knowing there are others out there who need someone to say, “You can do it, I believe in you.” Stand up and we’ll walk together. If I could make it through my life, anyone can make it.
This is not to say I am a pushover. I know when someone is scamming me. I believe in accountability. I will go out of my way to help others, but they need to participate as well. Nothing is free, and if you want your life to be easy, be a well-loved dog, not a human being. It’s all about the experience of being deliciously human.
I take umbrage with those who espouse we are all “sinners.” We are all humans, living the human experience. Why do we have to start from the negative? Start from the positive. Everything we need for survival is already inside of us. We just don’t believe it.
Believe me, I still experience depression and down times... I do a lot of self talk and have an amazing family and the best friends in the world. There is no other alternative; we have to keep moving forward with our life. I’m sure if I wanted, I could cry every day until I die, but what’s the point? That solves nothing.
What do you consider the “adventures” of your life? Parenthood, visiting Ireland, playing with my grandchildren, riding a “diggler” at Schweitzer, traveling all over the United States and Internationally for work. Every day is an adventure. No expectations.
I lived in Boise for a time and was one of the founders of Camp Rainbow Gold in McCall, Idaho. It’s a camp for kids with cancer. It was amazing. I became involved when my niece died of a brain tumor at the age of three.
Because of her, I also was involved in Hospice of Spokane, volunteering for 10 years and sitting on the board for several years. I also helped in the fundraising for the Spokane Ronald McDonald House. Once it was built, my kids and I were weekend managers once a month, for five years.
Being a member of the Angels Over Sandpoint. What a group of movers and shakers! I love this organization because we are all “doers.”
Tell about your first impressions of Sandpoint. Same story as so many: I came across the Long Bridge, and there it was. I lived in Spokane for years and never even heard of Sandpoint, until Mr. Lovejoy came along and introduced me to the community. He has lived here more than 30 years.
I love this town. I love how we care for each other, and I love how we all have to be more accountable for our actions because everyone knows us.
What do you like to tell people about Sandpoint these days? My impressions are even better now. I tell all my friends in other places they need to come and “experience Sandpoint.” The people are amazing, as are the art, the music, the lake and the mountains. It’s Heaven. Plus, here, in our little part of the world, we can all effect change.
What inspired you to seek your present position? For 15 years I drove back and forth to Spokane and only slept here. Other than the Angels Over Sandpoint, I wasn’t involved in anything. Now, I’m involved in everything.
I was considering working for the Gates Foundation in Seattle but didn’t want to move and didn’t want to work there during the week and only be home on weekends.
I read an article about Amy Little (Kate’s predecessor) leaving and was intrigued by the job. I applied and am now enjoying the challenge.
The Chamber staff is incredible and getting to know them and work with them is a pleasure. They are all very competent and brilliant people.
What are your overall Chamber goals for Sandpoint? For local businesses and our community, I see a great year. I’ve been spending some time going to businesses and asking how they fared during holiday season.
The answers were what I was hoping to hear: “We did better than expected!” A few were even with where they were last year, but for the most part, all were up. Surely this is a sign of great things to come in 2011.
As I contemplated what this year’s goals for the Chamber would be, I came up with the following four areas to concentrate our efforts: Business Promotion and Support, Destination Marketing, Visitor Services and Special Events.
These goals, and others, can be achieved if we keep up the momentum of the New Year and know we are all in this together working toward the same goal: a stable and thriving community.
The Chamber’s new tagline is “Succeeding Together.” That is my number-one goal for 2011 and beyond. Together we can do anything.