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Suzanne Pfister

 It All Started with a Cooking Class and A Family’s Commitment to Higher Education

Suzanne Pfister’s relationship with the Maricopa County Community Colleges District (MCCCD) goes way back.  It all started with a cooking class at Rio Salado Community College.  Wanting a break from academics after graduate school, Suzanne signed up for a class taught by renowned Chef Barbara Fenzl, who at the time, was just starting her culinary career.  The class gave Suzanne the escape she was looking for, as well as a fond memory of Barbara getting in trouble for leaving wine in the refrigerator of a home economics classroom at Arcadia High School, where the class was held.   This experience led to Suzanne taking even more classes at both Rio Salado and Phoenix College, including woodworking, darkroom photography and auto maintenance, “all of which served me well,” she said.

Today, Suzanne, who serves as President and CEO of Vitalyst Health Foundation, is also continuing a tradition of community service that started with her father’s tenure on the Maricopa Community Colleges Foundation board. She’s been drawn to serving MCCCD through her support of public radio and in particular, KJZZ’s SPOT 127 program.

Suzanne’s father, Jack Pfister, served on the Foundation Board because he wanted to give others a chance to obtain a higher education.  His father died when he was just 3 years old and the family struggled financially.  However, thanks to a life insurance policy that Jack’s father purchased at a relatively young age, he was able to attend The University of Arizona.  Later on, Jack saw the policy as a type of a scholarship, and was devoted to passing along similar opportunities to others. Jack started the Pfister Family Scholarship at the District, and when he passed away in 2009, the family asked people to support the Scholarship fund in his memory.

During this same time, Suzanne was working for Dignity Health Arizona and began working with KJZZ to organize a health, technology and sciences information exchange group comprised of numerous communications leaders throughout Maricopa County. The goal was to help KJZZ expand its health, science and innovation reporting and to make sure it had good connections to the organizations making news in this sector.  “The Maricopa County Community Colleges District provides an important infrastructure with the health education continuum in metro Phoenix,” Suzanne said.  “They can be nimble to create new programs when the demand has expressed itself, and they work hard to partner with employers to develop appropriate curriculum to address emerging needs.

Suzanne later became a board member of Friends of Public Radio Arizona (FPRAZ), and through her service saw the need to support KJZZ’s SPOT 127 youth program. This serves low-income and at-risk high school students by helping them find their voice and engage with their communities through photography, as well as audio and video storytelling. In 2016, Suzanne allocated the funds within the Pfister Family Scholarship to participants of SPOT 127. So far, 12 SPOT 127 students have benefited from the scholarship, with six attending college fall semester, 2019. “The feedback from these students has been extremely positive,” Suzanne commented. “I’ve received some lovely notes and videos from our scholarship recipients. I’m so thrilled that through this fund we’ve been able to provide them with the opportunity for higher education.”

Suzanne now serves as Vice Chair on the FPRAZ Board of Directors, which is committed to improving the quality and accessibility of public radio throughout the state for all Arizonans.  And perhaps someday, thanks to her generosity, one of her Pfister scholarship students, will be joining her at the station, reporting on one of their many successes.