home People Soroptimists honor two special Coronado women

Soroptimists honor two special Coronado women

Soroptimist International Coronado’s annual Legends Luncheon on April 11 at the Coronado Island Marriott will honor two generous and inspiring women, Susan Keith and Carol Raiter. The event, beginning at 10:30 a.m. with a silent auction and champagne reception, is the signature fundraising event of the Coronado chapter of Soroptimist International and is now in its 12th year.

Meet Legend Susan Keith

To really know and appreciate Susan Keith, borrow a copy of her book, Weaving the Colors, a loving retrospective of her extraordinary extended family, and start reading. The book is a fascinating repository of amazing travels, stellar military careers, encounters with the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Bob Hope, Burl Ives, Jack Benny and Danny Kaye. Included are hilarious bits of family lore, which breath life and humanity into Keith’s remarkable family. Her lifelong commitment to public service, love of local and military history and passion for historic preservation seem to be in her DNA. But, as Susan says, “family always comes first.”

Susan Ring Keith, the only girl and youngest of three siblings, was born on December 3, 1941 at Naval Air Station North Island, Coronado, four days before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The first two weeks of her life were spent on a military base, in complete lockdown, where patients spent time folding bandages and assembling first aid kits for the war effort.

The Ring family’s lives and travels were largely shaped by the career demands of Susan’s famous father, Vice Admiral Stanhope Cotton Ring. Young Susan attended schools in Coronado and Naples, Italy, and graduated from Holton Arms in Washington, D.C., where she played on every varsity sports team available to women. While attending Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, Va., Susan decided to return to the family home in Coronado to help her mother in the face of her father’s deteriorating health. Shortly before marrying her fiancé, Taylor Keith, Susan, her aunt and a friend embarked on an adventurous trip around the world. But throughout her exciting, transient life, Coronado was always home.

Susan points to her mother, Eleanor Reynolds Ring, as her most admired and influential role model. Just weeks after Susan’s birth, Eleanor Ring was up at midnight scanning the skies for enemy aircraft as a volunteer aircraft observer. Her years of devoted service to the Red Cross and local, state and national political issues culminated in her appointment as the Republican National Committeewoman for the State of California. Photos of her mother with three presidents, senators and congressmen appear in Susan’s book. But to Susan, her mother’s most exceptional trait is that “she always opened her heart as well as her home to everyone.” The same can be said for Susan.

All of Susan’s significant volunteer efforts involved large investments of time and hard work. Organizing a youth soccer team saw her lining the fields and wearing the coach’s whistle around her neck. In addition to all the social responsibilities of a Navy wife and mother of three, Susan volunteered years of service to the Coronado Flower Show, Floral Association and Crown Garden Club, where she was never just a club member, but always in the trenches giving generously of her time, talent and gifted leadership.

In 1986, with her children busy at school, Susan’s community service took on the life of a full-time job.  She volunteered for the Coronado branch of the American Cancer Society, served the first of many terms on the board of the Coronado Historical Association (CHA), and began her public service with the city, which included serving on the Citizens Advisory Panel and Coronado Planning Commission. She served six years on the Coronado City Council where her genuine love of her community and constituents guided every decision.

During her many years as an active member of the CHA board of directors she served as president, worked on every committee, organized the annual CHA home tour for years and spoke before city council on innumerable preservation efforts. She currently serves on the city’s Historic Resource Commission.

In 2011, Susan was honored to learn that the Navy had selected her as the sponsor for their newest USS Coronado (LCS 4).  An initial two years of festivities included the ship’s January 2012 christening in Mobile, Ala., and March 2014 commissioning in Coronado. Susan’s active sponsorship continues as she regularly delivers goodies to the crew and includes them in family and local events. On a recent visit to the ship, Susan was thrilled when she was piped aboard with the traditional boatswain’s pipe and the words, “sponsor arriving.”

When volunteers are needed, Susan Keith’s hand is always in the air. She opens her large historical home to host charitable events, meetings, fundraisers, and welcome friends and family.  Like her book, her home is filled with personal and historic treasures, lovingly preserved for the families of her three children and nine grandchildren. Amid all of her exotic travels and lifetime of public service, Susan says her proudest moments come when she hears the words, “Mom,” “Grandma,” “Gramma,” or “Gaga.” The image of Susan’s friendly wave as she buzzes by in her open-air electric vehicle on the way to her next meeting has to make you smile.

Meet Legend Carol Raiter

Ever since her move to Coronado in 1981, Carol Raiter has been a part of new, inspired and successful fundraising charitable galas. Born in Los Angeles, one of two sisters, Carol completed a five-year combined elementary education/speech and hearing bachelor’s degree at the University of the Pacific in just three and a half years. Carol headed south to teach first in Poway and then in Tucson, Ariz. Her career choice, to teach young children with speech difficulties, sprung from a compassionate nature and commitment to enhance their lives.

Before moving to the island for the good schools, small community, and proximity to the Navy, Carol and husband, Eric (LCDR USN ret.) lived in Bonita with their three young children. Ten years of devotion to teaching and the demands of motherhood motivated Carol to consider a new and very different career.  In 1979, her passion for design and business acumen motivated Carol to start her own interior design business, RT Interiors.

Carol brought the same passion and drive that ignited her to start her own business to her charitable endeavors.  She donated her design talent to decorate the former maternity ward at Coronado Hospital. “We added pictures and wallpaper to make everything more mom- and baby-centric — not so ‘hospital-ish’,” she said. In the San Diego Court building, she designed a room for foster children waiting to appear in court, which would feel welcoming and comfortable in an otherwise anxious situation. “It was just a plain little room, and these kids were in a scary situation — waiting sometimes all day to go talk to a judge about the future of their family. We brought in toys and a TV and painted it with friendly colors. We made it kid friendly,” she explained. A client, a court appointed special advocate (CASA) for foster children had pointed out the need to Carol, and she didn’t hesitate to deliver.

Carol introduced her daughter, Carrie Allard, to the importance of charitable involvement at an early age when the two of them joined the National Charity League. From grades 7 through 12, the league exposed Carrie to a variety of issues including homelessness, autism, and the plight of foster children. Carrie went on to become a CASA as well. Now an adult, Carrie and her husband, Eric, have fostered more than 20 children and adopted two of them.

Carol also has two sons, Eric Allard, who lives in New Mexico and Kurt Cusanovich, who lives in Phoenix.

Carol’s commitment to improving the lives of women and children also inspired her years of dedicated, time-consuming volunteerism on several fronts.

In 1986, Carol introduced the idea of a silent/live auction gala to the Coronado Schools Foundation. The event was so successful that she ended up as gala chairman four out of the next five years. Word of Carol’s gala success and willingness to dedicate hours of hard work spread. For five years, she chaired the United Through Reading gala, a charity that unites military families by video recording stories from the deployed parent to be played for their children.

Under Carol’s five-year chairmanship of the Soroptimist Legends Luncheon, record funds were raised for scholarships and charities that directly improve the lives of at-risk women in our community. Carol’s superb sustained efforts on behalf of this worthwhile organization were recognized by her selection as Soroptimist of the Year in 2008.

“I feel very proud that events I have started have continued to support these organizations and raise funds for very worthy causes,” said Carol. Despite these notable philanthropic successes, Carol remains quite humble: “The women who chose me this year are so amazing and accomplished themselves — for them to think I was anything special amazes me. And to be honored as a legend puts me among very august company. I’m humbled.”

Carol’s volunteerism always exceeds the expectations of the philanthropic group she is assisting. When she joined the board of directors of the Coronado Historical Association six years ago, she revamped its annual fundraising event to focus on history using a similar gala template that had been so successful for the other philanthropies. The event became a tremendous success under her tutelage.

The Raiters generously offer their home for meetings and events and their rooms for temporary storage of silent auction items. Carol claims that none of these hugely successful events would have been possible without the calm, steady support of her husband of 42 years.

In addition to paying tribute to the significant contributions of this year’s Legends, Soroptimists’ signature fundraising event will focus on the important work the organization does to improve the lives of deserving women and girls. The program will highlight the transformative power that educational assistance, access to adequate health care, and eradication of domestic violence and human trafficking have on the lives of the women assisted by Soroptimist donations.

Luncheon tickets are $75 per person. For more information visit coronadosoroptimist.org

Susan Keith (left) and Carol Raiter
Susan Keith (left) and Carol Raiter
Photo by Lauryn Nicole Photography 

CLM Starfish

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