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Honored Citizen: Cindy Sullivan

Cindy Sullivan has been a familiar face around Claremont since arriving in 1983, logging countless hours as a vital volunteer for a wide spectrum of local nonprofits, civic and city organizations. And next week she’ll be honored for all that altruism as Claremont’s Honored Citizen at the Fourth of July Parade.

“I was absolutely shocked,” Ms. Sullivan said about learning of the honor. “It was very much a surprise to me. I’ve always been used to being sort of behind the scenes, helping people in the background, so I’m not used to being at the forefront and being recognized for this sort of thing.”

She may have been operating behind the scenes, but what a body of work she’s accumulated. To wit:

She’s served Claremont After School Program (CLASP) since 2011, on the board and as the group’s treasurer, bookkeeper, record keeper, development coordinator and co-chair of its annual fundraiser. She’s been a House of Ruth board member for six years and has helped raise funds for the Pomona nonprofit for more than 15 years. She also serves on Claremont Community Foundation’s board and has been chair of Claremont Senior Program’s Excursion Committee for seven years, assisting in planning, coordinating, and chaperoning the senior day trips to various interesting locations throughout Southern California.

But her volunteer work doesn’t stop there, she’s been treasurer of the theater arts focused nonprofit Curtain Raisers of the Claremont Colleges for more than 20 years and she’s volunteered as a Claremont Fourth of July Parade judge for many years.

“So this year it probably won’t be much different but I’ll be riding in a car and up on the stage instead of in the audience watching,” she said.

Ms. Sullivan, 75, grew up in Minneapolis and earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Gustavus Adolphus College, a small private school in St. Peter, in southern Minnesota named after a 17th century Swedish king.

 “There are a lot of Swedes [in Minnesota], except I’m mostly Norwegian.”

After college she taught for about five years in Edina, Minnesota, and in 1967 married architect Patrick Sullivan. The couple moved to Boston when Mr. Sullivan began working toward a master’s degree in architecture at Harvard University. There Ms. Sullivan taught in the Boston suburb of Winchester. Soon the couple welcomed their first child, Kevin, and she stepped away from the classroom.

After a year and a half of Boston winters, the family decided they’d had enough snow. They got about as far as they could from the frozen tundra, landing in San Luis Obispo, California, where Mr. Sullivan took a job teaching at Cal Poly SLO and the couple’s second son, Ryan, was born.

“There are a lot of architects in San Luis Obispo because of the large architectural school,” Ms. Sullivan said, “so, we opened up an office there.”

Claremont got a break in 1983 when Mr. Sullivan took a job as chair of the architecture department at Cal Poly Pomona, and the family settled in the City of Trees.

Ms. Sullivan thrived in Claremont. She volunteered at her boys’ schools, for their scout troops, and enjoyed the satisfaction of providing a steady home life for her kids. The boys wended their way through Claremont schools, graduating from CHS in 1991 and 1994, respectively.

She helped out in the Harvard Avenue office (now Square i Gallery) of her husband’s architecture firm, Patrick Sullivan and Associates, which opened its doors in 1987. Among their local projects were the Claremont City Hall renovation, a chapel addition at Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church and several structures at Pomona and Claremont McKenna colleges.

“He went to part time teaching,” Ms. Sullivan said about the years after the firm got started. “It was too much. We had projects all over the country and he was traveling a lot. He sort of went on a sabbatical and never went back.”

After her husband died at 66 in 2011, Ms. Sullivan threw herself into volunteer work. Several local agencies and organizations benefitted from her innate skills in budgeting, planning and fundraising.

“It picked up when he passed away,” Ms. Sullivan said of her volunteerism. “I got more heavily involved with it. I had been on the Claremont Community Foundation board and the House of Ruth board before that, but in about 2011 is when I got involved with CLASP, and that’s really what takes up a lot of my time.”

Volunteering with CLASP “kind of combines my experience that I’ve had with treasurer type stuff and my teaching experience and being the treasurer of a lot of things. It seems like I’m always a treasurer of something.”

Indeed. Over the years she’s held the purse strings for eight different candidates for school board, city council and water board, most recently Hillary Laconte’s successful bid for Claremont Unified School District’s Board of Education.

Her work with Claremont Excursions, planning the very popular monthly trips for local seniors, has been particularly rewarding.

“That’s a fun thing,” she said. “We have a great committee. A lot of seniors don’t like driving, and it helps them get out to see different things. We have had over 300 people that have gone on these trips over the years, and they’re really well received. When we have a registration day it opens up at 9 o’clock in the morning, and much of the time they’re sold out within an hour. They’re very popular.”

Her work at CLASP is also close to her heart. “CLASP has so many volunteers coordinating so many people,” she said. “They have 270 or 280 tutors that they get every year, and I think there are about 50 people outside of the tutors that are involved. Everybody works so hard. They really are a dedicated bunch. I can’t say enough about them.”

Aside from her new vantage point, her Fourth of July ritual won’t change that much this year.

“I usually go the park and walk around,” Ms. Sullivan said. “I frequently have gone to the reception, because I’ve usually known somebody who’s being honored. And then I always watch the parade. I even judged the parade for a few years. I got to sit up in the judge’s stand, and that was a nice comfortable seat under shade.”

With Claremont temps typically near triple digits on the Fourth, Ms. Sullivan was asked if she’d be able to keep cool this year with the unusual extra added element of being the center of attention.

“I probably will be nervous, but I think if the Fourth of July is like it usually is, everybody will be sweating,” she said.

—Mick Rhodes

mickrhodes@claremont-courier.com