AVON — Alternately described as the “SWAG Queen” and the “Mom” of the massive Vail Valley Foundation volunteer group, Tenie Chicoine says what she’ll be missed for most when she hangs up her volunteer spurs this year is her brownies and her dry socks.
A 21-year veteran of the VVF volunteer cast of hundreds that steps up year after year, event after event, Chicoine, 74, is “retiring” from volunteering to focus on the family business in Gypsum and on her actual family here and in California. But the 2018 Vail Valley Foundation Volunteer of the Year will miss her extended family of brownie consumers and sock-wearers.
“I have a fantastic crew of people, and we do this all together,” Chicoine said. “It’s like family, and we just have a good time doing events. We’re all on the same page, we’re here to help out and to have a good time — and we do.”
Chicoine started with the Vail Valley Foundation as a way to meet people after first moving to the valley in 1996, and her first event was a World Cup mountain bike race in 1997. Soon, she was coordinating and dealing with all the products coming in from the sales force — the goodie bags, gifts, sponsor materials, volunteer uniforms. Basically, the SWAG, or “Stuff We All Get.”
“She has more energy than any other person I’ve ever met. She runs circles around like 20- and 30-year-olds. It’s just incredible,” said the Vail Valley Foundation’s Jen Mason, who has organized the nonprofit’s volunteers for more than a decade. “Tenie has a big truck and trailer and she’s constantly running, going to Denver and picking up large shipments, all the products. She’s literally like a machine, like the little engine that keeps us all going. We’ll miss her. We love her. She’s going to leave a large hole in this organization.”
A large hole figuratively but not physically. A Louisiana native, Ernestine Chicoine came by her nickname “Tenie” because of her diminutive frame and huge heart, but she credits everyone else in the organization for winning the volunteer award.
Chicoine is also the first person to win the award twice — first in 2005, and in 2018 a second time as a special way to send off this one-of-a-kind, veteran volunteer.
“It’s been a fantastic run. I enjoyed it. I appreciate everything everyone’s done,” Chicoine said. “I mean, without the team that I’ve had through these years, I could have never done it. Everything’s a team effort; it’s not just me. It takes the whole group.”
That means 650 volunteers for the annual Birds of Prey World Cup ski races and nearly 3,000 for the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships — second only to the Winter Olympics in terms of prestige. Chicoine also worked at the 1999 Alpine World Ski Championships in Vail and Beaver Creek.
“It’s been a fantastic experience, meeting people from all over the world,” Chicoine said. “Having lived all over the country, it’s amazing the amount of volunteers we have up here that we can count on for any event we do. And that’s something you don’t see in other parts of the country. That’s what this community is great at doing.”
Chicoine also loves how volunteering for the VVF is the great equalizer.
“It doesn’t matter here who you are, what you’ve done, everybody just chips in and everybody’s even,” Chicoine said. “That’s the biggest thing. And all sorts of backgrounds and walks of life, from all over the country and from all over the world even.”
But in the winter months during a major international event, Chicoine says some of the construction workers and other younger volunteers, who remind her a lot of her own two sons and grandsons, need some reminders at times.
“I’m the first one to yell at the boys because they’re wearing wet socks or other kids going out there without sunscreen and stuff like that,” Chicoine laughs. “Come on, guys.”
Chicoine says she’s passing the products torch to Jim Lee, who she’s been working with for six or seven years (he can have her brownie recipe, too), and she’s confident the show will go on without her. But she will miss her extended family.
“What I say is, this is the longest I stayed with any particular thing in my life, except being married to my husband,” Chicoine said.