Local real estate broker and community activist Emma Amiad has been selected as the grand marshal for this year’s Strawberry Festival.
Chamber of commerce Director Jim Marsh said Amiad was chosen because of her seemingly tireless work for island causes.
“It’s like anything awesome happening on the island Emma is somehow involved with,” he said.
Amiad is known on the island as a straight-shooting buyer’s broker who represents people purchasing homes on Vashon. But her work extends far beyond her small real estate office in town.
Amiad is the founder of Vashon’s land trust and Audubon society, served for many years on the park board and currently helps lead the Interfaith Council to Prevent Homelessness (IFCH). She also organizes an annual event for Martin Luther King Jr. Day and has been active in and done pro bono work for many other nonprofits.
“Someone asks is there anyone willing to do this, and most of the time I step up,” Amiad said in a recent interview. “My wife always tells me I should learn to say no, and I haven’t really in 73 years.”
Amiad, who says she’s always been civically involved, grew up in California. She graduated from San Jose State University and served in the Army during the Vietnam War.
She and her wife Susan White moved to Vashon 28 years ago, drawn to the rural setting as well as what she calls an accepting community. As a lesbian, Amiad said, she’s experienced discrimination her whole life. An advocate of women’s and gay rights, she’s spoken at events and been active in the American Civil Liberties Union. She also founded a gay and lesbian Jewish congregation in Seattle.
“Coming to Vashon, no one said anything. It was ‘Oh my God, I can be me,’” she said.
And being herself has meant being busy. Amiad was on the board of the Vashon Park District when it took over several parks from King County. A lifelong lover of the outdoors, she also led a small group of people who founded the Vashon-Maury Island Land Trust 25 years ago in order to protect the Whispering Firs Bog. She was also instrumental in protecting Christensen Pond, and Vashon Household formed out of a meeting she called about land preservation.
Amiad still volunteers for the land trust, which is preparing to celebrate its 25th anniversary. Tom Dean, the organizations director, noted that Amiad once had a goal for the land trust to protect 1,000 acres on Vashon. It has now preserved close to 2,000 acres.
“It’s very clear she’s left a huge legacy,” he said.
Amiad has since been involved with many local nonprofits and tells how even organizations she typically might not be a part of have come to her, including La Leche League and Mothers Against Drunk Driving. She’s currently the president of IFCH, as well as its “token Jewish member,” she joked.
Janie Starr, another IFCH volunteer, called Amiad fiesty, fearless and a woman of great integrity.
“A dog with a bone, she is relentless in her efforts to procure housing, jobs, medical care and transportation for low-income islanders,” she said.
Amiad, however, was quick to call Vashon the most generous community she has lived in, saying she’s constantly surprised by others’ willingness to give of their time and money.
She also called the work she’s done a sort of repayment for the acceptance she has felt on Vashon. And while she’s been pleased to watch recent progress in gay rights, she said her civic work is far from over.
“Now we’re going to roll up our sleeves and do the next things,” she said. “I can’t imagine not doing that, not looking where the light needs to shine now. There are plenty of other dark places.”