Sue Dings receives Auburn Cultural Award

By: Loryll Nicolaisen, Journal features editor
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Sue Dings believes Auburn deserves to toot its own horn. “I think it’s incredible, what Auburn has to offer,” she said. “There is so much going on now. We can brag about it.” Dings is the 2011 recipient of the Auburn Cultural Award, to be presented at Auburn’s State of the Community Dinner April 15. As far as local arts go, if you enjoy hearing it or seeing it, there’s a good chance Dings has a hand in it. Her cultural exploits involve the Auburn Symphony, the Auburn Arts Commission, Auburn Art Walk, the Auburn Placer Performing Arts Center, Auburn Community Concert Association and more. “If there’s anybody involved with giving to this town, it’s Sue,” said Randy Mealhow, Auburn Arts Commission chairman. “She’s always smiling, she’s always there for whatever’s needed.” Dings, now 80, moved to Auburn after graduating from the College of the Pacific, now known as University of the Pacific, where she studied music therapy. Her first job out of college, which she started in 1953, was at the DeWitt State Hospital, where she worked as a music therapist. This is also where she met her future husband, Robert J. Dings, who was chief of the medical laboratory. They married in 1958. Dings worked as a music therapist for five years before leaving to start a family — she and Robert have two children, Karen and Robert. Dings and her husband, now deceased, shared 34 years of marriage. Dings said she was asked to form volunteer groups to provide activities for former DeWitt patients living in care homes, which led to the formation of the Volunteer Bureau of Placer County, which later became the Volunteer Center of Placer County — now known as Seniors First. It was after her retirement, after serving as executive director of the Volunteer Center of Placer County for 17 years, that Dings really turned her focus to contributing to the arts. “It sort of started after I retired,” she said. “I wanted to learn more about the arts. I got into the arts to learn more about it, and I’m still in state.” Dings serves on the Auburn Art Walk committee and has coordinated the live music for many Art Walk evenings. She was appointed in 2001 to the Auburn Arts Commission, where she served as secretary for several years and as chairwoman in 2010. She serves on the Auburn Placer Performing Arts Center board, and is a longtime member of the Auburn Community Concert Association. Dings, a lifelong musician, is not content just belonging to the Pioneer United Methodist Church congregation. She has been chairwoman of the church’s Music for Humanity concert for 22 years, and has been choir director for 17 years. Dings is a charter member of the Auburn Symphony. She has played both first and second violin, and currently plays in the viola section. “I’ve seen it grow and flourish,” she said. Dings is also a longtime participant in the Symphony in the Schools program, in which the Auburn Symphony performs a kid-friendly program at area elementary schools. “That’s fun, to see the kids — their eyes light up when they hear the music,” she said. Robert Haswell says Dings is an asset to the Symphony and to Auburn at large. “Auburn is blessed to count Sue Dings among its citizens,” Haswell, Auburn Symphony business manager, said. “Few people have touched as many people’s lives in such a positive way as Sue. Her musical footprint in town is surpassed only by the size of her heart.” Dings shows no signs of stopping, and not even a broken ankle will get in the way of her attending next week’s Auburn Art Walk and State of the Community Dinner. “I like to keep busy doing things I enjoy,” she said. “You can go to work eight hours a day, but there’s more to life than work. You have to have something more that stimulates your heart and soul and to me, that’s enjoying what we have in Auburn.”