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Saturday, August 24, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Clark: Volunteer shows true hospitality

Tom Summerson was named Hospitality Volunteer of the Year. (Dan Pelle)
Tom Summerson was named Hospitality Volunteer of the Year. (Dan Pelle)

Tom Summerson, aka “Mr. Hospitality,” credits a “love of aviation” when I ask what motivated him to become an award-winning champion for Spokane.


I know a dodge when I smell one.

Summerson loves flying, sure. He’s been nuts about planes ever since he made them out of balsa wood as a kid growing up here in the 1930s.

He’s a pilot. He once sat on an airport board. He belongs to the Experimental Aircraft Association …

I get all that.

But none of this accounts for why Summerson was named “Hospitality Volunteer of the Year” at the Inland Northwest Tourism Awards for his work at the Spokane International Airport’s Visitor Information Center.

Summerson’s love of airplanes didn’t win him that aluminum trophy at the event, which was held earlier this month at the Red Lion Hotel at the Park.

This was all about the man’s love for people.

And in that respect our story gets slightly complicated.

See, it’s a damn shame only one person can receive this annual award.

Although this 87-year-old ex-Kaiser worker deserves every bit of the praise, it’s also true that he performs his good deeds with his wife, Sue, right there beside him.

For the last 10 years, they have aided passengers coming into Spokane in ways that can only be described as beyond the call of charity.

Sometimes way beyond.

Take the young Korean man who flew into Spokane from Seattle not long ago.

He arrived too late to catch the bus to Washington State University, where he was enrolled in a language program.

Short of funds and somewhat confused about what to do, the traveler took his troubles to the Visitor’s Center, where the Summersons happened to be working a shift.

Sure enough, they solved the guy’s problem.

They took him to their home, gave him a bed for the night and let him use their computer to contact his parents. Next day, the Summersons drove their guest to Pullman and made sure he got to the right place.

Over the years, Tom and Sue have reunited passengers with lost wallets and even loaned some of them cab money.

Hearing stories like this makes me proud of my hometown.

I dropped in on the Summersons’ South Hill home on Wednesday morning. Being so, well, hospitable, they welcomed my request for an interview just as long as I showed up after they got back from their aerobics class.

Aerobics class?

Yes. These two octogenarians told me that they started attending aerobics classes back in the mid-1990s.

Sue had the coffee ready when I arrived. We sat around the kitchen table and believe me when I say that being around these two trim seniors soon made me feel about as fit as a plump garden slug.

Summerson wasn’t the only person to win something at the Tourism Awards, of course. The event recognized winners from a slew of categories that I’ve never heard of.

The Summersons entered my radar thanks to a call from their daughter, Lyn.

“Dad looks like Dennis the Menace’s father,” she told me. “They play bridge and golf and, trust me, they are a team.”

Lyn was right. The public did need to know about these remarkable people.

So what does Tom think about getting his award?

“I think he was pleased,” said Sue, “but TJ (Tom’s nickname) wasn’t going to tell anybody.

“I’m the one who does all the telling.”

Doug Clark can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by email at

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