Last year I started posting stories about unsung heroes – people who don’t get a lot of public praise but do a lot of great things for the community. I’m thrilled that Hastings on Hudson resident Sue Smith will be honored at the 2nd annual Martin Luther King Day breakfast at the James Harmon Community Center in Hastings on Monday morning at 9:30 AM. Sue is most deserving of this honor. As you will note from the article that appeared in the Rivertowns Enterprise (posted below), Sue has been involved in numerous causes over the decades. At the town level she has successfully worked with the Town Board to create affordable housing opportunities in Hastings/Greenburgh. Some town employees live in affordable apartments she actively pushed for.
Sue Smith is an amazing community leader who works hard fighting for the quality of life improvements that Martin Luther King pushed for.
On Monday there is another great event happening—The African American Men of Westchester will hold their annual Martin Luther King luncheon at the Doubletree Hotel in Tarrytown from 11 to 2:30 PM. They honor student leaders from around the county.
The link to their event is below…
Tireless volunteer pauses to accept award
By Jackie Lupo
HASTINGS — In Hastings, if you’ve strolled around the farmers' market, enjoyed an exhibit at the historical society, admired the floral plantings downtown, or received a lift to your doctor’s appointment, it’s likely that your life has been made better by Sue Smith. Smith will be honored for her innumerable contributions to the village on Jan. 20 at the second annual Martin Luther King Day Breakfast at the James Harmon Community Center.
Her many roles in service to the village can be traced as far back as 1967, when she and her family moved to Hastings.
She has promoted civic engagement as president of the League of Women Voters, and was one of the founders of FISH (Friends in Service Helping) and Hastings Helps the Hungry. FISH provides rides to medical appointments, while Hastings Helps the Hungry contributes a meal to a soup kitchen once a month.
When she became interested in politics during the fight to preserve Hillside Woods, Smith ended up serving as a village trustee for six years, beginning in 1990. Over the decades, she has been president of the Hastings Historical Society several times (she also oversaw the renovation of the Observatory Cottage and its gardens in Draper Park, and supervised the society’s relocation there).
She has tirelessly advocated for a diverse community as chair of the village’s Affordable Housing Committee, and has held many offices at the First Reformed Church. One of the founders of the farmers' market, she now serves as the nonprofit organization's president. Smith not only chairs the Village Beautification Committee, but also leads volunteers through the village on flower-planting and holiday- decorating expeditions.
Smith was born in 1939 and grew up on a farm in northern Ohio. She graduated from Vassar College and came to New York City to study interior design, but her civic involvement began when she moved to Hastings.
“My parents were very involved in community and church activities and responsibility, so I have that model before me,” she told the Enterprise. “Initially when I came to Hastings I started a family and then when I could have gone back to work I wasn’t interested in interior design anymore, so I got involved in the League of Women Voters and church things. From there, particularly the League, I got to know the political scene of a small community. I would go to village board and planning board meetings as an observer for the League. That brought a new perspective to my life and a new way to be active.”
Smith has a son and a daughter, and five grandchildren. Divorced in 1997, she now lives in an apartment in the village, while her son and his family moved into the house where she and her former husband raised their two children. Her daughter and her family live in California. When taking time off from her myriad projects in Hastings, Smith enjoys traveling, playing golf and kayaking. “There are a lot of things that are fun to do right here,” she said.
“Sue is being given the award because of her outstanding community service,” said Jerry Sternberg of Hastings. Sternberg and his wife, Merle, organized a committee to hold the MLK breakfast event for the first time last year. This year the event has grown, with the official co-sponsorship of the Village.
“She’s been a real power behind good things in Hastings,” Sternberg continued. “If you drive around you will inevitably see Sue planting something or fixing something up flower-wise. She has been the main keeper of beautification in Hastings.”
For all her considerable contributions, Sternberg pointed out that Smith “doesn’t blow her own horn.”
“We thought, what better way to honor Dr. King’s legacy than to honor someone who works and does good deeds for the community in a very unselfish way,” he said.
Beautification Committee member Elisa Zazzera told the Enterprise, “Sue Smith is Hastings. She just brings together community service and having fun, and getting to know neighbors in Hastings you wouldn’t ordinarily get to know.”
Zazzera added that Smith also helped her and her husband when they were looking for a new apartment. “She’s got her finger on the pulse of a lot of things and she’s a great resource,” she said.
Smith’s work on affordable housing issues goes beyond political advocacy. She had always been interested in home restoration — she bought and restored some old houses in the village herself and she worked in the office of Dobbs Ferry architect Stephen Tilley. When she became interested in affordable housing, her experience enabled her to get involved in a hands-on way in every phase of the acquisition and renovation of properties in Hastings. In fact, Westchester County’s affordable housing monitor recently singled out Hastings as a rare example of a municipality that is making significant progress in increasing its affordable housing stock.
Smith is known for her tenacity, for persevering in the face of obstacles. “There is no one in the village who works harder than Sue on a broad range of causes that address a broad range of the community,” said Hastings Mayor Peter Swiderski. “She’s really a remarkable individual. The honors she’s being given are the least that she deserves. Villages thrive on the backs of a few people like Sue, and without her I don’t know what we would do.”
“This would be a different village without Sue Smith,” agreed her longtime friend and fellow volunteer Muriel Olsson. “We rely on her for everything. She’s just a wonderful person with a great deal of devotion to the causes she undertakes.”
Olsson, who has also served as president of the Hastings Historical Society, has worked with Smith on diverse causes ever since they both were involved with the establishment of FISH in the 1960s.
“She’s also been very instrumental in working with some of our newer young volunteers on the [historical society] exhibits we do,” Olsson said. “She is a tireless worker with profoundly good judgment in most things. We rely on her for everything.”
Last year’s MLK Breakfast honoree, artist Madge Scott of Hastings, has known Smith for 10 years and was the first to nominate her for this year’s award when the event committee discussed possible honorees.
“I was very thrilled to nominate her,” Scott said. “She is so respectful of other people — very kind and fair.”
Smith touched the lives of members of Scott’s family, such as providing rides to doctor’s appointment for Scott’s late husband. When Scott’s daughter was sick recently “[Sue] was one of the first persons to turn up when she was in the hospital. She is very involved in making people feel better. She has a great heart — a very, very good heart.”
After 46 years in Hastings, Smith is still passionate about finding ways to strengthen and enrich the community. She said, “I get a tremendous amount of satisfaction, friendships, and personal reward from seeing the things I care about being moved ahead.”
In addition to the presentation of the community service award to Smith, the MLK Breakfast will include a talk titled “From King to Mandela” by Randall McLaughlin, a Dobbs Ferry attorney who teaches at Pace University Law School. The organizers of the event will also announce the winners of an essay contest on the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., with awards for elementary, middle and high school students. Each winner will receive a certificate from the Village and a $50 savings bond. The breakfast begins at 9:30 a.m. and will be catered by Dobbs Ferry Diner. Admission is $12 in advance (call 914-231-5286 or email firstname.lastname@example.org) or $15 at the door.