Meet the Board of Directors: Wanda Quinn

Wanda Quinn 

Past president 

Board Member since: 2016  

As our beloved Past-president Wanda Quinn reflects on the state north Idaho today, versus when she first came to the community, she finds that our local nonprofits are what continue to give her hope and make her proud to be a north Idahoan. She celebrates other outstanding women here in north Idaho, and shares about her passion for education and vision for our community’s youth. Wanda also vulnerably reflects on her heritage as a native Hawaiian and the complexities and rewards of embodying this identity. With her aloha spirit, we’re so proud and lucky that Wanda chooses to #LiveUnited. 

[*The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.] 

Wanda Quinn

What makes you proud to be living in north Idaho? 

That’s an interesting question. I was prouder to be here when we first moved here than I am right now; it was a different community then. I guess it’s hard for me to say if I am proud to be in north Idaho right now, because so much of our structure is under attack. I served on the Coeur d’Alene school Board for 12 years, but right now I wouldn’t even entertain the idea. I have a good friend who is on the Board, and another friend who is now on the NIC Board and it’s just so contentious. I think during my time we did a lot of good, and there was a lot more community support. Back then, in the 90s, we passed a bond to build the Hayden Meadows and Fernan schools, growing the district for the first time since the ‘70s. But now, it’s a trying time. Outside of education, my husband, son and daughter are all in healthcare, and that’s been made really difficult with the pandemic.  

What’s given me hope is our nonprofit community. I am very proud of the work United Way does, and I get that same satisfaction and enjoyment working with United Way that I used to get from doing work in the community back then. A girlfriend and I started the Excel Foundation in 1986, and now almost 40 years later it is still a totally volunteer-directed organization that has given out over a million in grants directly to teachers for their projects. Nancy Sue, who was instrumental in our success, insisted on establishing a foundation and an endowment fund, which I had no idea what either of those really meant at the time. But now we have a million dollar endowment. So there are certainly sectors of the community I’m really proud of. Our education and our healthcare systems are really tops, and if allowed to do what they have the potential to do could be truly phenomenal. I am really proud of our nonprofits, because they do a very phenomenal job. I think of all those services UWNI’s been working with through the COVID Relief fund, and each one is very deserving and doing really great work.  

How did you come to connect with our local United Way? How long have you been serving on the Board? 

When Mark joined our Rotary club and I had an opportunity to listen to him while he was sharing about the ALICE project. I just happened to walk out of the presentation with him and said, “Hey! I would be really interested in serving on the Board if you’re seeking members,” and that’s how it happened. I really respect United Ways and what they’ve done across the country and Mark as a leader.

Who inspires you in our community? Who are the hand-raisers and game-changers in your life? 

Certainly my dear friend Heidi Rogers inspires me. She always has something. I’ve always jumped in with her and she certainly is one that always has her hand raised. Mary Lou Reed, is another game-changer, along with her deceased husband, Scott Reed—I mean, any time I’m on the Centennial Trail or hiking Tubb’s Hill I realize I wouldn’t be doing this if it weren’t for them. I’ve also always admired Mary Lou’s commitment to early childhood and education. 

The last person I'll mention, though there are plenty more, is Christi Wood. We served on the Coeur d'Alene School Board together, and she’s remained quite passionate about education, now serving on NIC’s Board and also on the Coeur d'Alene City Council. She is one of the leaders of the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations, which was the group that actively opposed the Aryan Nations. These days, I still see that leadership in the Kootenai County Task Force. Christi and Tony Stewart have stuck with it, even in more challenging and divisive times like these.

Success can mean different things to different people. In your eyes, what would it look like when every youth in north Idaho “succeeds”? 

In my eyes, for every youth to succeed would mean that we have prepared them, at a high level, for their career choice in life, whatever that might be. It would also mean that wherever they go, they feel prepared and confident, whether that's going into the workplace, or college, or something unique. We’ll know we have succeeded when they have been prepared both academically and emotionally. 

As youth, we’re developmentally disinclined to empathize with the complexities of adult backstories. Tell us about a challenge you faced as a youth that influenced your adult life. What’s something you are proud of in your life now that a younger you would not have expected? 

I think the biggest challenge I faced during my youth was learning to read, but fortunately my mother was a reading teacher. She was the one that really coached me and gave me the confidence to be successful. I credit my mother with a lot of support now, in retrospect, that I didn’t appreciate at the time. 

Another piece is that I’m part Hawaiian, and was raised in the islands. My parents were both part Hawaiian. Of course, Hawaii has its own complicated history. When the missionaries arrived, very similarly to the Native Americans here, they discouraged us from practicing our culture, so we never had the opportunity available to us to learn the language in school. I always thought we were appreciating our culture at home, but one of the things I realized when I went back for my 50th high school reunion was that where I thought we had a strong Hawaiian identity, I realized that we were more "haole" than some of my classmates, who really continued to practice a lot of the Hawaiian traditions. I regret not having been able to engage with my Hawaiian heritage more deeply. I always thought once I graduated from college I’d return to the islands and do more in terms of helping Hawaiians, because they face the same challenges other indigenous peoples endure in terms of culture, education and work. I still haven’t made it back! 

Another story I'll share is that on the islands, there were two main private schools. One was started for children of native Hawaiian ancestry, and the other was for the children of the missionaries. Both schools focused on delivering a college prep coursework, and today include Hawaiian language and culture. I attended one of these schools and believe having the benefit of that education really set me on the course to where I am today. I wanted my children and their classmates to have the benefit of a college prep education through our public schools and while on the Coeur d’Alene School Board worked towards that goal.

Which youth success projects and partnerships are you most proud of at UWNI? Where do you see a need in our community that has not yet been filled? 

I am really happy with the work we’re doing with early childhood. It’s so essential. Early child care is the need in our community that still needs to be filled! We need to have businesses engaging with it, especially as we continue to work through COVID, which has made it more evident than ever. Employees are dependent on child care, and if it’s not great child care, then it’s a disservice to our kids. I think we have very good programs here, just not enough. 

What does it mean to you to Live United? 

To me, "Live United" is like "Live Aloha" as we say in the islands. It’s that sense of aloha, where you really care about your neighbors, always sharing and giving. That's what Living United means to me.