Kay Comer-Lupton had the look of shock on her face at the last Chewelah Valley Lions Club meeting as it was revealed that she was the 2016 Chewelah Honored Citizen. It came as no surprise to many community members who sent in letters to nominate Kay for the award after years of donating time and energy to local groups and being a teacher in the Chewelah School District.
“Besides being one of the most-liked teachers in Chewelah, Kay has taken part in many civic organizations and community projects,” wrote Holly Peterson. “When the Children’s Pavilion at Chataqua needed new leadership, Kay stepped up to organize activities and recruit volunteers to help out.”
Art is a central theme for Comer-Lupton, who was born in Salt Lake City and lived in Pateros before moving to Chewelah.
“I’ve always dabbled in visuals and drawing,” Kay said. “Pencil and paper to me as a kid were just a treasure.”
Kay moved to Chewelah after he friends Bob and Judy Lynch recommended the town roughly 35 years ago. She taught 5th grade in Pateros but switched to 8th grade when she joined the Chewelah School District. For 22 years, Comer-Lupton taught at Chewelah and made many impressions on students. Kay gave students real world experiences, pairing them on job shadows with police officers and professionals to give them a taste of how adults go about their careers.
Comer-Lupton also coached basketball, and when she retired from Chewelah, she was an adjunct professor at Eastern Washington University. She continued her career of helping develop young minds working as a student teacher supervisor.
“I first met Mrs. Comer while attending Jenkins Middle School,” Kevin Herda wrote. “During that time she influenced me in many ways. Opening my mind to art and the beauty of the area in which we live, to name a few. Her positive attitude and commitment to her students was obvious and contagious throughout the building.”
As current president of the Chewelah Arts Guild, Kay said she constantly marvels at the natural beauty in things like spider webs and feathers. Kay remembers when the embryo of the guild was beginning to form.
“Diane Evans and I would have conversations about the artistic local talent in the area and how they needed a support group,” Kay said.
Now years after its inception, the Arts Guild holds various events in the town and continues to keep the culture of Chewelah vibrant and in the spotlight. Kay is also the chair for the annual Student Pencil Drawing Contest which includes students from several area school districts, heads the Lions Club Peace Poster Contest and boosts the Arts Guild Senior Scholarship by donating her own money.
“Kay is an innovator and a collaborator,” Susanne Griepp wrote in the letter nominating her as honored citizen.
Comer-Lupton has partnered with the Chewelah Farmers Market and the Arts Guild on the newly-formed Artists in the Park program, participates in the Adopt-a-Highway program and has worked on the Light Up the Park event. She and her husband Bill also help with Music on the Mountain, the annual Fall Spokane Symphony Show at the Chewelah Peak Learning Center.
“She volunteers her time, support and ideas to Chewelah’s Chamber of Commerce,” Griepp said. “She regularly attends meetings, supporting its mission.”
Kay has painted the “Welcome” signs alongside Highway 395 north and south of town, realizing a few years ago that they had gone into disrepair and needed detailed hand-painting.
“She took her time to repaint each sign to welcome those who enter this community,” Herda said. “Many Saturdays a year, you can see her along the highway picking up trash as a roadside cleanup volunteer. She has spent countless hours in the rain and snow painting seasonal window scenes on the businesses downtown for a donation to the Rainbow Fund. This community is a better place because of her. I am a better citizen because of her.”
Griepp called Kay exceptionally welcoming to newcomers, encouraging them to become involved in community events.
“She creates a network among service groups because she is a vital part of so many, increasing collaborations and overall service to important community missions and goals,” Griepp said. “Not only does Kay go beyond what many of us do as volunteers, she is always looking to improve and enhance this community, expanding upon her current service.”
Comer-Lupton is also a member of the Chewelah Valley Lions Club of Lions Club International, which she says is a “great group working to help people with blindness, deafness and diabetes.”
“We help out a good percent of Stevens County,” Kay said. “Our main effort with glasses and hearing makes me feel like I’m helping people see and experience art and music.”
Kay is also a member of the Creekside Writers group, the American Legion Auxiliary, and the General Federation of Women’s Clubs – Chewelah Woman’s Club.
One of her favorite events is the Chewelah Community Art Show.
“I’ve never been to an art show before that showcases art from a six-year old and then a professional right alongside one another,” she said.
The Children’s Pavilion holds a special place in her heart. She spends countless hours arranging, planning and then teacher art and craft lessons as well as painting faces.
“Much of what Cathryn has accomplished has been ‘under the radar’ as she hasn’t promoted her actions,” said her husband Bill Lupton. “She is constantly trying to make the community more attractive.”
Lupton added that he didn’t realize that marrying Kay meant he was also marrying into the entire volunteering population of Chewelah and much of Stevens County.
“When we married 10 years ago, I knew she was strongly attached to Chewelah and I did not think I could convince her to move to my home in Bremerton,” Lupton said. “We decided to stay and establish here in her Chewelah home. It was a very wise choice.”
So how does Kay find time for all these activities? She says being retired helps but it’s also her philosophy when it comes to community.
“I truly believe everybody can give back and not just take from the community,” Comer-Lupton said.
Kay has three children, six granddaughters, two grandsons, three great grandsons and one great granddaughter.
“I could build a city,” Comer-Lupton laughs. “I have family that’s a police officer, a teacher and a nurse. We all have our aspects of a town covered.”
But considering her commitment to Chewelah and the impact she’s had on the community, it appears she’s already built a city.
By Brandon Hansen/The Independent Staff