Woman Crush Wednesday: Suzanne Savell

This week’s #WomanCrushWednesday goes out to Suzanne Savell, Development Director of Crag Law Center and lifelong social justice and environmental warrior. Suzanne grew up in east Tennessee and spent much of her childhood on beautiful mountain trail hikes with her family – no wonder she’s such a great friend of the planet! She earned a bachelor’s degree from Warren Wilson College, along with some real world experience and a passion for nonprofit work. In order to graduate, students are required to do 100 hours of community service – 60 with one nonprofit – and follow that up with an open letter to the community about what they’ve learned.

Suzanne Savell started graduate school in Memphis. She learned a lot, but it felt like an ivory tower. As a woman who’s proud of her roots, that didn’t feel right. So she transferred to Appalachian State University and completed a degree in Appalachian Studies. Her first job out of grad school was at Appalshop, a war-on-poverty project started in 1969. She became well-versed in asset-based community development (figuring out what your assets are and how best to use them to address systemic problems and needs of the community). She also learned to fundraise, thanks to an NEA grant which required her to raise matching funds. 

Suzanne Savell is passionate about the arts, as well. She started playing the banjo in grad school. Before moving to Oregon, she worked in the mountains of Southeastern Kentucky, organizing multi-generational events and programs based on traditional Appalachian music, dance and storytelling. These events helped folks living in rural communities to reconnect with their neighbors and their culture.  

Suzanne first drove through Oregon in the early aughts on a road trip. In 2005, she was invited back to attend the Portland Old Time Music Gathering. Seeing 300 people square dancing simultaneously was something she’d NEVER seen and it made quite an impression! A few years later, after the death of her beloved grandmother (of whom she’s the spitting image – her own mother mistook Grandma for Suzanne in a photo!) Suzanne realized nothing was holding her in Appalachia anymore, so she drove across the country with her three cats and a dog, moving to Oregon permanently in 2008. 

She serves on the board of Bubbaville – the group that runs the Old Time Music Gathering – and has worked with our long-term partner The Right Brain Initiative. But finding Crag Law Center – her “day” job – is one of the best things that’s ever happened to her. She’s been there nearly a decade and is energized to be fighting the good fight with her fellow activists – highlights include preventing coal export developments along the Columbia River and fighting for the folks of Cascade Locks – remember when Nestle wanted to bottle their water for profit? Where Suzanne comes from, it feels like the environmentalists never win – so those victories, and Crag’s work on behalf of the planet, are just that much sweeter.

Becky Meeuwsen Berger