2003 Sandy Matheson

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Sandy Matheson named Tri-Citian of Year

This story was published Sunday, March 16th, 2003

By Nathan Isaacs Herald staff writer

Community volunteer and businesswoman Sandy Matheson made history Saturday night when she was named 2003 Tri-Citian of the Year, the first time a woman has been honored individually with the award.

The community’s most prestigious civic award recognizes a person who has provided outstanding leadership and personal contribution to the growth and quality of life in the Tri-Cities.

“I can’t tell you how touched I am,” she said, wiping tears from her face. “None of this happens without a team.”

Included on Matheson’s team is her family, which kept the secret by leading her to believe they were doing something else on Saturday.

Her husband was supposedly in flight school in Tucson. Her Chicago-based daughter was going to the library. Her mother was on the links in Denver and her son was traveling in California.

All made the trip to the Tri-Cities for the occasion and were quickly, and humorously, admonished for their deception.

Matheson, 50, has left her fingerprints over the last three decades on nearly everything in the Tri-Cities. Her efforts include volunteer work in health care, economic development, education, tourism, the arts and social services.

Her supporters credit Matheson’s leadership skills in helping give lasting direction to whatever project she embraces. They also credit her ability to help raise millions of dollars for those projects.

“She puts her heart and soul into the community,” said her husband, Superior Court Judge Craig Matheson.

The civic award dates to 1962, when Owen Hurd, a leader in the energy community who served as general manager for the Benton PUD, became the first Tri-Citian of the Year.

Attorney Fran Forgette earned the honor in 2001 and semi-retired businessman Red Rutherford won last year.

The two past women recipients — Mary Gallant in 1981 and Billie Jane Lampson in 1992 — shared their honors with men.

The award is given by local Rotary clubs to a Tri-Citian who demonstrates “service beyond self.”

Matheson was nominated by Pasco resident Bill Moffitt, a retired Hanford executive. In his nomination, he wrote that Matheson “makes a difference everywhere you turn in the Tri-Cities.”

“She exemplifies what it means to be a community developer through her leadership by example,” he wrote. “She has worked and led in many community areas that improve our quality of life and attract others to our community.”

Matheson was president and chief executive of the Hanford Environmental Health Foundation from 1993 to 2000. She now owns a consulting company in the Tri-Cities.

She also has held, or holds, leadership positions with United Way, the March of Dimes, the Tri-Cities Corporate Council for the Arts, the Tri-City Industrial Development Council, Tri-City Cancer Center, Three Rivers Community Foundation, CREHST, Washington State University Tri-Cities, Columbia Basin College, Mid-Columbia Reading Foundation, Kennewick General Hospital, Kennewick School District and the Tri-Cities Visitor and Convention Bureau — among many others.

In fact, Mike Schwenk introduced her last year at a press conference for the Tri-Cities’ 9/11 Memorial Ceremony as “Sandy Matheson, chair or past chair of everything in the Tri-Cities.”

However, Dick Hoch of Kennewick wrote in his endorsement of Matheson’s nomination that she does not push herself into these things.

“She does not have a political or personal agenda to promote,” he said. “She never seeks the limelight, and typically credits her accomplishments to others. The community simply turns to her when something needs to get done. When asked, she steps up and does it.”

Hoch said many people likely are surprised she hadn’t been honored as Tri-Citian of the Year earlier.

But Matheson has some past honors on her rsum including Leadership Tri-Cities Volpentest Leadership Award in 2001 and Kennewick Woman of the Year in 1993.

She and her husband raised two children, Michelle, 23, and Doug, 25. That could be considered three children if one counts Lucy, the family’s 3-year old pug, for whom Matheson is known to sew canine outfits.

Matheson graduated from Northwestern University in Illinois, where she also met her husband. She returned with him to the Tri-Cities in 1976.

She said she has no regrets and no plans to quit, which is a good thing for the Tri-Cities.

“Every decade, a few people emerge in our wonderful community, people with charm, talent, energy, vision — in short, leaders whom others are ready and willing to follow,” Jim Cochran, former dean at WSU Tri-Cities, wrote in his endorsement letter. “Sandy Matheson is one of those people.”

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