The St. Helena Chamber of Commerce has a tradition of surprising the winners of its annual Celebrate St. Helena awards, but in the case of Susanne Salvestrin the honor was too great to be bestowed unwitnessed.
Tipped off by family members who’d been contacted by the Chamber, about 30 friends, family and members of the St. Helena Historical Society gathered outside Salvestrin’s bed-and-breakfast last Thursday to watch as Chamber President/CEO Amy Carabba-Salazar gave Salvestrin flowers and told her she’d received the Lifetime Achievement Award.
“I’m speechless,” said a visibly emotional Salvestrin, who appeared stunned by the news.
Unlike most of the awards that are granted every year, Lifetime Achievement is only presented when the Chamber deems a nominee especially deserving of honor. The last person to receive it was the late Peter Mondavi Sr. in 2014.
This year’s other awards went to Janet Todd of Girls on the Run for Citizen of the Year, Chris Patrick and Ahren Trumble of Sportago for Business of the Year, Kevin Gambill of the St. Helena Post Office for Employee of the Year, and La Boheme on Main Street for Nonprofit of the Year.
Salvestrin was nominated by Mariam Hansen, research director for the St. Helena Historical Society, who ticked off some of Salvestrin’s achievements with the following organizations:
- St. Helena Historical Society – founding board member in 2002, current board president, hosted the society’s 2017 holiday party at her home
- St. Helena Cemetery Board – board president since 2008, volunteer for the annual “Spirits of St. Helena” Cemetery Discovery Walk
- Federated Women of Upper Napa Valley — organized an apple pie baking day for a fundraiser at the Harvest Festival, chaired “Reading Is Fundamental” program that gives books and cookies to local kids
- St. Helena Montessori School – volunteers to teach students needlepoint, 2013-2017
- St. Helena Catholic Church – cooks for the Thanksgiving meal, creates pillowcases for families who receive holiday gift baskets, cleans linens for church mass, helped Lin Weber write a history of the St. Helena Catholic Parish
- St. Helena Catholic School – former school secretary, volunteers to teach arts and crafts
- St. Helena Primary School – tutors first-graders in reading twice a week
- Napa Valley Quilt Guild – participates in the “Quilts To Share” program that provides quilts to various organizations
- St. Helena Asset Planning Engagement (SHAPE) Committee – recently appointed by the St. Helena City Council to a committee conducting a major study of the city’s public facilities
- Inn at Salvestrin, formerly Sunny Acres – Salvestrin’s bed-and-breakfast, where she offers unique breakfast recipes and history lessons on Napa Valley pioneer Dr. George Belden Crane, who originally built the inn as his home.
According to Hansen’s nomination form, Salvestrin’s family moved away from St. Helena after World War II, but Susanne vowed to come back and eventually did. After graduating from high school in Chula Vista in 1959, Salvestrin moved back to town and started working for the Star. She married Ed Salvestrin in 1961 and moved to the Salvestrin Family Vineyard, which was formerly the estate of Dr. Crane.
“Susanne has been a St. Helena business owner in varied fields,” Hansen wrote. “She opened the Creative Needle shop on Main Street in 1981 and sold it in 1990. Later she became the chef at the Sutter Home Inn. When a new chef was hired, Susanne limited her job to pastry chef.
“Ed and Susanne Salvestrin restored the historic Dr. George Crane house in 1990 and opened Sunny Acres Bed & Breakfast in 1992. She prepared sumptuous breakfast for her guests. Sunny Acres is now the Inn at Salvestrin and guests still enjoy the delicious treats Susanne bakes.”
In 2008, Salvestrin told the Star she “fell in love with the charm of St. Helena” in 1958. She said she met her future husband Ed when he was delivering mail for the post office and she was working at Olney’s Gifts and Hardware store.
In the same article, Salvestrin talked about her passion for St. Helena history and her involvement in the historical society.
“We are … very busy taking oral histories from many St. Helena families before they are lost to us,” she said. “What a shame it would be not to have our history saved for future generations. We all benefit from our history.”