Susan Ashe has spent decades working for Kaiser Aluminum, the city of Spokane and now the Health Science and Services Authority of Spokane. She used to serve on the board of the YWCA and one year chaired the annual Women of Achievement award luncheon.
This year, she was surprised to be selected for the Women of Achievement community enhancement award.
“I was humbled,” she said. “I knew many of these women and they were great women. For me to be included in that group is a high honor.”
She said she was also honored because she believes in the YWCA’s mission to help women and children impacted by domestic violence and to fight against racism.
“I care about that because my family is multiracial,” she said. “I just don’t tolerate hate. I just try to do the little I can to make positive changes.”
Ashe is one of 10 women selected by the YWCA to receive a Women of Achievement award at the organization’s annual luncheon set for 11:30 a.m. Friday, Oct. 11, at the Spokane Convention Center. Tickets are $125 and available by calling (509) 789-9312.
Ashe grew up in Omak, the daughter of a nurse and a carpenter. She attended two years at Wenatchee Valley College, then got married and divorced. She was a single mother when she started working in the regional public affairs office at Kaiser Aluminum in 1978. She would stay there for 24 years, retiring as regional public affairs manager.
“The company was good to me,” she said. “It paid for my education.”
Ashe took classes at Eastern Washington University early on in her career but never graduated. That bothered her, and in 2012 she finally did something about it and called EWU to find out what she needed to do to finish. She discovered that she’d had enough credits to graduate all along and only needed to pay a $50 fee to collect her diploma.
“I’m the first person in my immediate family to receive a college degree,” she said.
She said she encourages young people to finish what they start, particularly college.
“Don’t do what I did,” she said. “Then you beat yourself up for not finishing.”
She worked in the legislative affairs office at the city of Spokane for more than five years before she left in 2008. After she left the city, she created her own company, Ashe Public Affairs, in 2009. One of her first clients was the Health Science and Services Authority of Spokane, a new organization that needed someone to set things up and get it running.
Ashe worked on an annual contract for the HSSA until a search was done for a permanent executive director in 2012 – and she was selected and hired.
The organization is funded by a .02 percent sales tax in Spokane County. The money is used to invest in health science research and public health. Ashe said the organization provides grants to fund research and has also provided grants to help people get medical care.
“We have funded maybe six researchers at Washington State University,” she said. “We have given to a lot of organizations in the community – SNAP, Catholic Charities, Spokane Prescription Assistance. This organization is wonderful. What a way to end my career.”
Ashe has spent that career encouraging women to follow in her professional footsteps.
“I like to mentor,” she said. “I love to talk to women coming up.”
Mentors are important, particularly for women, she said.
“I really want to say it was my ability, my work ethic and my results that helped me be successful,” she said. “But it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a mentor. I certainly had that help in my early years.”
Ashe said the YWCA Women of Achievement awards help highlight the fact that Spokane is a community of strong women leaders.
“We still have a long way to go,” she said. “I’m so excited about the younger women coming behind us.”