Susan Goering Koehn walks through the Carriage Factory Art Gallery on a quiet afternoon, looking at the collection of artwork on the walls. She points out her favorite pieces, explaining why they catch her eye and what they mean to her.
Koehn is a passionate advocate for the gallery and for the celebration of art in the community. However, without her advocacy, the gallery might have had to close its doors. She refused to give up on the organization, which is now thriving in downtown Newton and expanding its programs. For her work, she has been nominated for one of the 2014 "Woman of the Year" awards.
"At a critical time in the life of the gallery, Susan agreed to take on the leadership role in becoming president," said Merrill and Boots Raber in their nominating letter for the award. "This was with considerable encouragement of the board rather than something she sought. While she faced many challenges, she persevered, utilizing board and community resources, and today the gallery is enjoying a vibrant role in our community."
"It brings joy and appreciation of art," Koehn said of the gallery. "It's the impact we can do on the community and surrounding area."
Koehn was born and raised in Newton and grew up in a family who valued art. She came to the Carriage Factory Art Gallery at a time when the organization's future seemed bleak. Sharon Cranston, who also has been involved with the gallery, said the gallery had lost its director and assistant director, as well as several board members. The gallery was suffering financially and it wasn't clear whether the gallery would be able to keep its doors open. However, Koehn wasn't willing to lose the community's art gallery.
"If I take something on, I'm kind of like a bird dog on a scent," she said. "... Once I had it, I was going to do it right."
She took over the presidency and recruited more board members. The gallery contracted with Strecker-Nelson Gallery in Manhattan to display accomplished artists on the main floor and rented out space to local artists upstairs. Cindy Snider and Mary Lee-McDonald came on board as the director and assistant director, respectively. The gallery now has a waiting list of artists who want to exhibit there.
Her vision also led to the creation of the book "Blackbear Bosin: Keeper of the Indian Spirit," written by David Simmonds, the stepson of Blackbear Bosin. Koehn hoped the book would help to preserve the legacy of Bosin and highlight the gallery. The book went on to receive a "Kansas 2013 Notable Book of the Year" award and is now for sale in galleries across the United States.
"Susan Koehn is a bit like the Kansas wind, full of energy, never resting," Simmonds said. "... Her energy and persistence go along with her creativity and intelligence. She continues to be a wonderful ambassador for the Newton community."
Koehn has served in other areas, as well. She was the first female senior warden at St. Matthew's Episcopal Church, and she has lectured on jewelry across the state.
She believes it is important to give back, to do something for the community beyond yourself and your own needs.
"I feel like you have a purpose in life," she said. "... If you're going to live a life, you owe it to the world to give of your gifts."