BY SUSAN KNICKERBOCKER
When you think of someone with class, what are the attributes of that person? An example of a local person with class is hometown hero Cynthia Patereau, according to those who know her.
“There is something so deep about Cynthia,” says Clinton volunteer Elisa Miller. “Cynthia never speaks negatively or gossips about others. She exudes humility, kindness and grace, and has an incredible work ethic, for any job she is capable of doing. You never hear her complain or make excuses. She doesn’t get upset over life’s trails and tribulations, but pushes through any problems and makes it all seem effortless. She’s so very, very smart. She includes anyone, and listens more than speaks. She genuinely loves us all, and we feel it.”
Knocking on the Patereaus’ door, a smiling Cynthia opens the door and gestures in with her arms, as she says, “Welcome, welcome.” Before walking in, one hears a variety of birds singing, and flitting hummingbirds. She says, “Aren’t the birds marvelous? Please sit wherever you are most comfortable. What can I get you?” as she makes suggestions of food and drink.
She lives with her husband Jim and cattle-dog Sophie, in their small cozy home.
Patereau says, “The reason I agreed to be featured is to encourage people to consider volunteering, if they aren’t already. Even a couple hours a week can make a difference.”
“I first started volunteering for the library and community hall when we moved to South Whidbey, and it has opened up many friendships and passions for me I didn’t know I had.”
She suggests, “If one chooses to volunteer in Clinton, I promise an enjoyable time with the remarkable people at the Clinton Progressive Hall and the Clinton Library. You will feel needed, appreciated and welcomed,” she says, excitedly.
“It’s a classy, as in decent and respectable, thing to do to give of one’s time for a good cause.”
She offers examples of locals she sees as having class:
“People like Kitty Adams, come to mind. The first thing you notice is her smile. It just makes you feel good to see her. She is unpretentious, has a positive nature, is generous and always ready to help with community projects.
“Randy Hudson, of the Rural Characters, is another example, being easy-going, good-natured and self-effacing. I could say this about many others, but Randy truly stands out in a crowd. And his willingness to help fundraise is legendary.
“My neighbor, Marti Anamosa, is another classy lady… a poised, well-informed woman with an interest in literacy and public service. She’s self-confident, pleasant and always ready to stop and ask ‘how are you doing?’”
And of course Jim Patereau: a gentleman of distinction! He is even-tempered, soft spoken, thoughtful and encouraging. His work ethic and generosity are enviable. And he’s a fun-loving guy and a dedicated volunteer, always ready to help out or do a favor.”
Patereau states, “People who think of others before themselves, know the value of giving. I realize there are many important volunteer options — feeding the hungry, homelessness, animal welfare, the environment…” but she says community halls and libraries are worthy causes too. Our community hall for instance is also an emergency Red Cross warming center.
Patereau says her hope is that she can inspire people to volunteer wherever they feel called, “Just as Joan and her late husband Don Sr. inspired Jim and me, by their example.”
And she adds that it has been a perfect way to meet people and become integrated into the community.
Linda Falken, an avid volunteer, says, “Cynthia was one of the original group of doers and concerned Clinton [residents] who helped to get the library building actually purchased, remodeled for use as a library and then open to the public 17 years ago. Since then, she has served in several volunteer roles, and securing grants. She can still add up the sales totals at the end of the day without mistakes. The rest of us are getting old enough that our math skills are fading! But rather than getting older, Cynthia just seems to get better. She also has volunteered as everything for the Clinton Progressive Association. But mostly, I consider her to be one of the bravest and strongest individuals that I have ever had the privilege to know and to befriend.”
Patereau gives credit to Debby Colfer for doing an outstanding job as the Clinton Library manager. She says, “Being involved there has been like being part of a warm family.“
Patereau says it was natural for her to volunteer for a library as she has always loved books.
She begins to talk of some of her favorite books, one she is currently re-reading: “100 Years of Solitude.”
She closes her eyes, and animates her hands as she reflects on the book.
“The author uses beautiful language in such a unique style with amazing, unforgettable imagery.”
Asking her if she has a library of them, she says, “Oh, yes.” She looks up and points to a spiral staircase that leads to a loft. “They are all my friends.”
She knows she may not be able to walk stairs again, but she pretty much has all the books memorized to be able to ask for help retrieving them.
Patereau refers to herself as a tree hugger, former flower child, unorganized; but never mentioned health issues that sap her energy. That is not her focus or identity. She is about what she is able to do.
She says “Everyone at some time will probably have physical, emotional or mental challenges. Some we can see, some are unseen.”
When asked, she adds, “When I was 13, two friends noticed me walking differently all of a sudden. They went to my parents to discuss this, and it turned out I had a spinal cord tumor that had to be removed.
“After surgery, I was unable to walk. I credit my friends for their concern, my parents for their support, and a physical therapist who taught me to visualize my way to walking.”
Unable to go to school at first, she attended classes via a dedicated phone line where she could hear her teacher and fellow students, and participate by pushing a button.
Eventually after many months of hard work, she was able to walk unassisted. The years and arthritis have taken their toll, however, and after hip surgery last summer she now rolls along using assistive devices.
Presently her husband, Jim, and Sophie come in from Jim’s shop. Patereau says, “We met at a mutual friend’s gathering. We talked and discovered we both had friends in common, and each had a daughter close in age. We were lucky to find each other.” Jim agrees and says, “Dumb luck.”
They gaze at one another and smile. Jim politely excuses himself as it’s time for Sophie’s walk.
Patereau closes her eyes and thinks about what it means to volunteer in this community. “It gave us a feeling of being a part of this special island, led to invaluable, long-lasting friendships, and the satisfaction of contributing to community improvements.”
“I met Cynthia more than thirty years ago,” said Gail Malizia, founder of the Yoga Lodge. “True to her generous nature, she credited me as an inspiration for whatever well-being she experienced. As many times as I’ve tried to tell and convince her otherwise, she doesn’t truly realize that she has been an inspiration and role model for me. She is one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, loving, giving, and forgiving people I have the honor of knowing.”
WHAT OTHERS SAY
Cynthia? Nothing synthetic about our angel of the Clinton Library Sale. She is a clear running brook, an open river. Superlatives barely suffice in describing Cynthia. She is fearless, funny, smart, wise and tough. Warm and welcome as that first basking-grade spring day in March; she makes everyone around her smile and shake their heads in quiet wonder. She meets the challenges of life with such apparent grace and aplomb that our petty self-absorbed whining wings off like a bug-sprayed mosquito.”
Elliott Menashe, friend
She has volunteered for many community activities. She is an extremely nice person, who works well with everyone.
Jack Lynch, Clinton volunteer
Always with a beautiful smile, with such a positive attitude and drive, she is such an inspiration. She never speaks a bad word about anyone. Need encouragement? Call Cynthia. Need a volunteer? Ask Cynthia. Need a shoulder to cry on, go to Cynthia. To me, she is one of the kindest, smartest, most sincere, loving people I know and feel so fortunate to be her friend.
Joan Nelson, volunteer
Cynthia is a brilliant, organizational guru known for her ability to research and get to the kernel of what each organization personifies. She is a successful grant writer, as well as an unusually intelligent woman who has strengthened many non-profit Whidbey Island groups with her thoughtful participation. This woman is clearly a star in Whidbey’s community.
Lois Packer, fellow
She has been a steady presence at the library over the past 17 years. She served on the board for many years, in numerous capacities. She is one of those incredibly bright and capable people who jumps in and does a great job at whatever she is in charge of. She wrote numerous grants over the years. Cynthia is one of those quiet, steady workers who never draws attention to herself. She does a great job on behalf of the mission. I’ve never heard her say a negative word about others, and I’ve never heard anyone say a negative word about her.
Debby Colfer, Clinton Library manager
Anybody who would meet Cynthia for 30 seconds (and I am not lying, just 30 seconds!), they would say, ‘Who is that beautiful charming woman?’ Most of us have to try real hard to get people to like or love us. You just sit there and say hello and everyone falls in love with you. She has inner class.
Roberta Gentry, volunteer
We go back nearly 40 years. We have sweet and hilarious memories of connection in a completely different life, and now, in present time, our friendship is still an oasis for both of us. There’s nothing else like it in my life.
Paula Kerby, friend
Cindy wastes little time or energy on negatives but focuses on the positives in life. This makes her someone who tends to lift one’s spirits when in her gentle presence.
Ginny Kuehn, fellow Clinton Library volunteer and friend
She held many positions, and through her wide range of contacts has recruited many Friends of Clinton Library’s board members. She wrote many grants for the Clinton Library. She will let the others comment before she contributes to the conversation. When she does speak, it is thoughtful and at time, leads the conversation in a new direction. She will put your interests before her own. What I find most inspiring is that Cynthia is always upbeat. If she is having a bad day, you would not know it.
Bill and Arlene Stebbins, volunteers
Cindy is always supportive, honest and humorous. Cindy and her husband Jim is one of the wonderful folks on Whidbey who believe in giving more then they take.
Victory Lee Schouten,
The courage and radiance Cindy shows in her health struggles make it easy to overlook what a talented artist she is as well. Often working together with Jim to put just the right finishing touch on a piece. While energy for creativity has gotten harder to come by, she will always be an artist in heart and soul.
Rob Schouten, gallery owner
I have always admired her dedication for the 20 years I have known her, to getting volunteer jobs done cheerfully and in a timely manner. She was instrumental in creating the Don Nelson Book Shed. She has worked behind the scenes, always with cheerful efficiency.
Sara Benum, volunteer
Cynthia Patereau is one of the first people I met when we moved to Whidbey. I immediately recognized her as a kindred spirit, fellow book lover and a kind and generous friend. She quietly does what she can for the Clinton library and other community groups, and always has a smile.
Betty Freeman, Clinton resident