Longtime community advocate dies

Burnett had a hand in forming several community groups

— Longtime education advocate and champion of the poor Hazel Burnett died Friday at her home.

She was 87.

After working in retail and banking, she started working for Okanogan County Community Action in 1967 as a fiscal officer and executive secretary. She became the agency’s executive director in 1969.

“She was such a giant in developing social equality and educational programs in the Okanogan,” former Omak resident Mary Koch said.

Burnett served on the Mid-Valley Hospital Board for many years, and also served as board chairwoman.

She worked for the North Central Educational Service District, and later worked to establish Wenatchee Valley College’s presence in Okanogan County. She served on the Board of Trustees, helped with fundraising and taught a class there at age 86.

“She was one of the true transformational leaders this community had,” Wenatchee Valley College at Omak history professor and former north campus dean David Lindeblad said. “She left so many, so very many positive, wonderful legacies for the Okanogan and her legacy will be felt for generations to come.”

At Community Action, Burnett helped start six senior citizen centers, Okanogan County Transportation and Nutrition, senior apartment housing, farmers markets, Colville tribal and county alcohol programs, Head Start, water and sewer systems and seven home health programs. She also assisted in development of Winthrop’s Western theme.

She retired from the agency in 1981.

“She was so feisty and a true fighter for poor people,” Omak resident Betty Fry said.

Burnett received many awards, including an award from the Governor’s Office, emeritus status on the Wenatchee Valley College board, Washington Volunteer of the Year in 1984, Soroptimist International regional Woman of the Year in 2004.

She married Cal Stevens in 1945; they later parted ways. She married rancher and Okanogan postmaster Howard Burnett in 1974, and spent many years on their ranch south of Okanogan until they sold it to their grandson, Christopher Freel, and his wife Kimberly Freel.

In recent years, she assisted at Precht-Harrison-Nearents Chapel in Okanogan.

Among her survivors are her husband, Howard of Okanogan; four children; a daughter-in-law, and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Memorials are suggested to Okanogan County Community Action and the nursing program at Wenatchee Valley College at Omak.

A service will be at 11 a.m. Friday at Precht-Harrison-Nearents Chapel, 2547 Elmway, Okanogan.

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