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First Citizen: Educator and SACA board member Laura Wanker lauded

By Melissa Wagoner

It’s been 40 years, nearly to the day, since Laura Wanker became a part of the Silverton community, initially working as an educator and volunteer tutor, mentor and educational advocate for students at Silverton High School before joining the Silverton Area Community Aid’s (SACA) board.

“Laura Wanker’s impact on the Silverton community is broad and substantial,” former superintendent and fellow SACA board member Andy Bellando wrote in a letter nominating Wanker for the Silverton Chamber of Commerce First Citizen Award. 

“As an educator, Laura makes a positive impact on the lives of local students… her humble (and extraordinary) efforts have resulted in thousands of success stories, lived by students who would have otherwise experienced serious challenges. Wanker is an education warrior, consistently supporting the needs of students on her own time and without compensation.”

Co-founder of alternative education in Silverton, alongside Bellando, Wanker worked with scores of at-risk youths during her career – many of them challenged by food insecurity – which is how her interest in volunteering with SACA began.

“I was once a teacher that had granola bars in my desk,” Wanker recalled. “So, I’ve always been a supporter. I see what [SACA] does for kids.”

Initially helping with decorations during the annual Gala Fundraiser, Wanker eventually became head of the event and a member of SACA’s governing board.

“Within a few short years, Laura’s leadership changed the culture of the fundraiser from one of ‘typical’ to one of triple digit revenue success,” Bellando wrote. “The SACA auction is now a model for the community and region.”

But the Gala hasn’t been Wanker’s only means of supporting SACA. In 2017, when the organization added the procurement of a new facility to its strategic plan, Wanker volunteered to become Facility Committee Chair.

“Committed to this goal, Laura took the helm of that committee and has spent hundreds of hours (and even some sleepless nights) trying to make this dream come true,” SACA Executive Director Sarah DeSantis wrote in her nomination letter. “She is a champion for SACA and the people we serve.”

And it’s time she was recognized for her service, according to Linda Webb, who headed the nomination appeal.

“Laura is a humble and tireless friend to those who have the pleasure to know her,” Webb wrote. “She never seeks attention for her good deeds and often operates in ‘stealth mode’ to help people in need. She is kind and dedicated and… if you ask her about her good work, she tells you all about the other people in the community that have made such a difference. Her leadership style is as a servant to those who also volunteer…”

“It’s really nice to be recognized,” Wanker said, when asked how it felt to receive the honor. “But there are so many people who could be recognized. This town is full of people who do things.”

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