Susan Unk is one of the newest members of the Atascadero City Council along with Heather Newsom. The freshman councilwoman is joining Atascadero Mayor Heather Moreno and other community members in this year’s Dancing With Our Stars, which raises money for the Friends of the Atascadero Library and other local nonprofits.
Funk is dancing to raise money for AAUW Atascadero’s scholarship program, which gives scholarships to women returning to school, as well as to middle school girls studying science and math.
“I want to see middle school girls empowered, to explore their full capacity and not to be defined by traditional gender roles,” Funk said.
She decided to participate as a community star in the 10th annual Dancing With Our Stars because she wanted to capitalize on recognition she garnered running for council last year.
“I’m not doing this because I’m going to be the prettiest or most graceful dancer, but to be the dancer that allows the audience to have the most fun,” Funk said.
The annual fundraiser, “Time Machine: Back to the 80’s,” will take place March 21 to 23 from 5:30 to 10 p.m. at the Atascadero Pavilion on the Lake. Tickets went on sale in mid-January and are expected to sell out quickly. To find out more, go to FriendsoftheAtascaderoLibrary.org. Funk was one of three people vying for two seats on the city council. She and Newsom joined Moreno, Councilman Charles Bourbeau and Councilwoman Roberta Fonzi on the council with the swearing-in ceremony in December 2018. Funk’s main campaign issues were to generate win-win solutions for the city, make a vibrant downtown a reality, ensure that the city prepares for 21st century challenges and make sure that everyone has a voice for shaping the city’s future.
“That authentic, small-town feel is a treasure we are building on [as a city],” Funk said. “[To get] a vibrant downtown feel where businesses thrive, where businesses don’t fail, we [have to] preserve that downtown feel that is authentic.”
One barrier to the thriving downtown is the vacant, dirt lots that dot the downtown. Funk said that many of the owners of those lots don’t live in the area so do not have the same buy-in and don’t see the impact they have on the community.
“I’m working on a variety of solutions so we can get some leverage on that,” Funk said.
She puts her business experience to work as a management consultant for healthcare profiles and companies for the last 25 years. She particularly works for medical device companies and small drug makers who have new products. She works with them to find where they can generate savings to make their products affordable. To do that, Funk does a great deal of data analysis to find a win-win solution for the companies and the patients that will benefit from the product or device. Additionally, she develops a financial model to help the salespeople be able to sell the products. Funk said that a hospital purchasing an expensive medical device needs to know what the long-term savings will be from buying the device as many not be as evident as others.
Funk has been seeking win-win solutions for as long as she can remember. After she got her Bachelor of Arts in music from Yale, she went to work for Missouri Congressman Tom Coleman. She started as a month-to-month typist, which led to receptionist, then legislative aid, and ended with legislative assistant. She worked out of the Washington, D.C. office. One example of a win-win situation she was a part of was figuring out how to streamline processing communications with constituents so that more people were heard and received personal responses. She said it was about the time that communications began to change with the introduction of the computer.
It was the four years Funk spent working in Coleman’s office that led her to healthcare management. She often met with constituents in D.C., including a group representing hospitals. One day she asked them what degree she should get to work in their industry. She said they all told her to get a masters in business administration. So she did. She moved cross country to Palo Alto to attend Stanford and got her MBA with a focus in health care and a certificate in public management. Her first job out of graduate school was at St. Joseph’s Hospital, a for-profit Catholic teaching hospital in Omaha, Neb. She worked there for four years for training and then became vice president. Her last year there, she was loaned out to a corporation for productivity project.
“I learned a lot from that experience,” Funk said. “What I learned from that is that the hospitals that did well in this productivity project were ones where there was trust.”
She added that the trust between all levels allowed for new opportunities and for people who were invested in finding new ways of thinking. Her time spent living in Omaha brought her back to her Midwest roots. Funk was raised in Topeka, Kan., and graduated from Topeka West High School. She said her even applying to an Ivy League school was not something many people did from her high school. She was surprised she got accepted to Yale. While Topeka is one of the larger cities in Kansas, it isn’t anything like the East Coast.
“It was an eye-opening opportunity to learn from a variety of people all over the world and to meet lots of people who thought anything was possible,” Funk said.
Funk was on a path to becoming a hospital CEO, but after her time in Omaha, followed by a year in Phoenix, she decided to change her focus and move to Los Angeles.
“I realized I wasn’t going to like that job when I got it,” Funk said.
In LA, she learned the consulting business working for a company there. One of her coworkers and his wife decided that their neighbor should get a girlfriend and they introduced Funk to him.
“Now he’s my husband,” she said.
Funk has been married to Gordon Fuglie, a Los Angeles native, 25 years this coming June. They have one son, Jaron Fuglie, who is a senior majoring in theatre at Gonzaga University in Spokane. The three of them moved to Atascadero from LA in 2008 so Gordon could take a job as curator at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art.
“We chose Atascadero because it’s a community we felt comfortable in and somewhere we could afford something nice,” Funk said.
One hobby Funk has is making jewelry as a fundraiser for different causes. She started making earrings because she wanted to give earrings to her mother-in-law who does not have pierced ears. She found that she loved it and that it made for an easy fundraiser. She raised more than $1,000 to help send Atascadero High School drama students to Scotland a few years ago when her son was still in high school. She calls it Earrings for Art and has donated money to CAPS, Greybots, Canzona Women’s Ensemble and local churches. She now works with women in a remote village in Uganda who make paper beads that she uses to make her artisan jewelry. Funk also volunteers for the El Camino Homeless Organization, the Atascadero Printery Foundations and more.
So while dancing may not be her strongest talent, Susan Funk has joined this year’s show to raise money for a worthy cause—one of the many she contributes to all year long in support of the city she now serves as one of city council members.
Heather Young is a freelance writer specializing in travel, wine, food and feel-good stories about people doing good in their communities and world. Find her on Instagram @travelswithheatheryoung