For Paul Stewart, the grand marshal honor bestowed on him for this year’s Snowflake Festival is representative of the efforts of the entire organization, rather than any individual effort on his part, he says.
For the past three decades Sky Lakes CEO Stewart, and his wife, Suzanne, have called Klamath Falls home. They moved to the region from Missouri to be closer to family in Utah and to take advantage of outdoor opportunities otherwise lacking in Kansas City such as skiing. They didn’t plan to stay long-term, but with kids and grandkids now calling Klamath Falls home as well, the Stewarts have become a mainstay of the community and a key cog in the ongoing efforts to rejuvenate Klamath’s economic and cultural vitality.
For the 34th rendition of the Snowflake Festival, Oregon’s largest annual holiday celebration, Stewart has been granted the honor to lead the parade down Main Street on Thursday evening. The title is purely ceremonial, but the recognition is one that Stewart does not take lightly on behalf of all of Sky Lakes employees.
“I think I was selected because I am the face of the organization, but this is more about recognition of what this entire organization is contributing to this community,” said Stewart.
“It is recognition of all of our employees who work day-in-day-out to make this a better place, recognition of our board and leadership team who are passionate about the mission behind creating a healthier community. The grand marshal selection is recognition of this institution’s investment in the community, I just happen to be the lucky one who gets to ride on the float.”
Joining Stewart on the float will be much of his family, including nine of his 17 grandchildren who reside in Klamath Falls. With this year’s Snowflake Festival theme of “Christmas Through the Eyes of a Child,” he sees it as essential to include family in the honor.
Sky Lakes Medical Center’s involvement in the community goes well beyond being the local health care provider and largest employer in the region, Stewart said.
Under Stewart’s direction the medical philosophy in the Klamath Basin has changed from largely acute care of symptoms to preventative measures embracing healthier lifestyles. Through the Blue Zones Project, Stewart has been a strong proponent in encouraging healthier eating habits, more physical activity, and a supportive social and cultural atmosphere to reduce medical risks.
“Research will show that 80 percent of health status has nothing to do with access to a health provider,” explained Stewart. “It is lifestyle, the air you breathe, healthy food, physical activity and recreation, being gainfully employed, and having a healthy social structure.
“Those are the things that create health. With Blue Zones Project we are trying to educate, not force people to live a certain way, but we want an environment that fosters healthy behaviors.”
Stewart laughed that in a way the philanthropic community efforts Sky Lakes has undertaken are trying to put the hospital out of business. He sees the hospital’s role beyond health care as an engaged part of the community utilizing assets and partnerships to encourage community activism for a better future. In doing so, Sky Lakes has also seen rapid growth in services, technology and structure to enhance health services accessibility.
While a new building is going up on the Sky Lakes primary campus in partnership with Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU), Sky Lakes has also invested heavily in development of the new Sixth Street Klamath Works Campus that incorporates multiple partner organizations including the Klamath Gospel Mission and Department of Human Services. A new park is also under construction in downtown Klamath Falls under Sky Lakes’ direction.
“It is a little counter-intuitive, but I’d love nothing more than a situation where we remain economically viable so that we can be there when trauma does happen, while at the same time reducing diabetes, chronic pulmonary disease, congestive heart failure, fewer heart attacks,” said Stewart.
“That is where we are deploying our resources and investment in Blue zones Project, hiking and biking trails, parks, and making it easier to be physically active.”
Stewart takes particular pride in Kit Carson Park, which underwent a total overhaul recently thanks in large part to Sky Lakes’ substantial financial backing. Once a rarely used blight, he now drives by it nearly every day with immense pride whenever he sees kids and families actively playing at the renovated site along Highway 97.
“This is a mission-driven institution, our vision is to create a healthier community,” said Stewart. “We deliver on that by being here in your moment of crisis, but we also recognize that if we really want a healthy community we have to do more than wait for sick people to show up at the hospital. We have tried to be a good civic steward, reinvest in the community, and partner with other entities to leverage our assets.”
The Snowflake Festival is one more example of community pride and involvement in which Stewart and Sky Lakes staff happily participate.
Beyond sponsoring various events, Stewart is proud that there will be multiple floats entered into this year’s annual Snowflake parade, including one that staff members made entirely on their own accord without any prompting.
He sees the festival as one more example where community groups working together have improved the community and instilled a sense of pride through this annual celebration, symbolic of the ongoing effort of Sky Lakes and other partners to revitalize the Klamath Basin.
“This community has gone through some cycles, and for an extended prior was complacent and headed downward,” explained Stewart.
“What that generated was a core group of businesses and organizations that have coalesced around the notion that we need to create a different future, and what’s encouraging to see is local entities roll up their sleeves and work to generate jobs and economic vitality that attracts people and new businesses to the area.”
“I love the whole festival, there are so many great events that take place throughout,” added Stewart. “I love events like this that create the cultural fabric of our community, the Snowflake Festival is a great contributor to seeing things happen in our community.”