In the dead of winter with roads covered in snow, 86-year-old Lilo Rustman refused rides home from her late-night volunteer shifts at the San Juan Community Theatre.
“She is fiercely independent,” Diane Mancel, who has known and worked with Rustman for years. After 13 years on the island, Rustman has moved to Colorado to live with her daughter after some health concerns arose last June. Mancel, and Parin Columna, the volunteer coordinator with the San Juan Community Theatre, pulled together a surprise farewell party at the Mullis Center Aug. 5, toward the end of the center’s community pancake breakfast. More than 40 islanders attended the goodbye party with gifts, hugs and tears. The community made it clear that Rustman will be sorely missed. Friday Harbor Mayor Farhad Ghatan was also on hand, reading a proclamation that Aug. 5 be declared Lilo Rustman appreciation day.
“She is the epitome of the San Juan Island community,” said Mancel. “Gives without expecting anything in return, keeps to her own council and treats everyone equally.”
Rustman moved to Friday Harbor in 2005 to be closer to her brother, but shortly after, he passed away. She immersed herself in the community nonetheless, volunteering not just for the theater, but for the Mullis Center and the San Juan Chamber of Commerce as well.
Rustman also regularly attended the German Club, a group that meets once a week, communicating only in German for the duration.
“I just love the people here,” Rustman said with a smile.
Rustman was awarded Citizen of the Year by the Journal of the San Juans in 2011, and received the Volunteer of the Year award at the theater in 2017.
“Our entire staff would like to say thank you. You have always gone above and beyond,” Megan Kilpatrick-Boe said, on behalf of the San Juan Community Theatre.
“You are not getting away easy,” Mancel said. “For all that you have done for us, we are now giving back to you.”