By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN
VISALIA – Dena Cochran has dedicated half a lifetime helping her community by preserving its history, health and horizons.
The 2018 Visalia Chamber of Commerce’s Woman of the Year has raised money for countless good causes, none greater or more impactful than making Kaweah Delta one of the premiere hospital districts in the Valley. Since joining Kaweah Delta in 1980, Cochran has helped the hospital raise more than $55 million, expand the hospital beyond its original walls and cross streets, and fund the Lifestyles Center, the first medically-based fitness facility in Tulare County. She spearheaded campaigns to fund the hospital’s helipad, daVinci Surgical Robot, Acequia Wing, Breast Center and Labor and Delivery Unit.
“Relationships are key,” she said. “I have become a better listener and try to understand others’ points of view. You can’t be an effective leader if you don’t.”
As vice president of development, Cochran is in charge of the Kaweah Delta Hospital Foundation, oversees the Lifestyles Center and is charged with negotiating additional office space, parking spaces and space for outpatient facilities. Her negotiating has helped the landlocked hospital built in 1965 to now encompass four city blocks in the downtown area.
“I am a much better negotiator than when I started,” Cochran said. “It makes it easier that it’s a good cause and we are helping people in our community.”
Even before her career began with Kaweah Delta Cochran was finding ways to help her community. In the mid-1970s she was a member of the League of Women Voters, helping to educate all voters about local politics with unbiased information. That election background would serve her well when she turned her knowledge into results as part of the Yes on Measure I committee for the College of the Sequoias. Measure I was the $28 million bond passed by voters in Visalia, Farmersville, Exeter, Woodlake and surrounding communities in 2008. Strictly for the Visalia campus, Measure I, among other things, upgraded technology and equipment for the nursing program and leased classroom space for the Health Professions Continuing Education program both benefitting Kaweah Delta. But the bond also provided funds for Cochran’s other passion of preservation by renovating the aging COS Theatre and the Porter FieldHouse gymnasium.
“I like working on a lot of different things,” she said. “There are always new challenges.”
One of her most rewarding challenges was the restoration of the Visalia Fox Theatre. After the theater’s grand auditorium was ruined by a conversion into a three screen multiplex in 1976, the theater’s ticket sales slowly declined as residents flocked to newer movie theaters until it finally closed in November 1996. Cochran was a key member of a small group of community members known as the “Friends of the Fox” who gathered their talents to restore the 1930s theatre to its former glory. In just three short years, the group was able to undo the multiplex conversion, resculpt the genie above the state, repaint the interior murals and reopen on Nov. 20, 1999.
“I think the Fox is the anchor of downtown,” Cochran said.
Cochran said restoring the theatre’s architecture was one thing, but restoring its reputation took a little bit longer. She said the theatre went through a difficult learning curve of how to return quality performers to downtown while simultaneously turning a profit. The board and the staff went through several iterations before finding the right mix of creative artists, sound business people and effective leaders, something Cochran says is evident in the recent concert announcements such as the timeless Beach Boys, comedian Brian Regan and the Moscow Festival Ballet.
“They don’t really need me anymore and that was the point,” Cochran said.
While Cochran is quick to give others the spotlight, she rarely gives people a peak behind the curtain at the tireless work she does behind the scenes. She quietly helped the City of Visalia set its growth boundaries for the next 30 years on the General Plan Update committee and broke barriers when she was welcomed as the first female member of the original Rotary Club in Visalia. It was at a recent Rotary Club meeting that Cochran received news of her latest accolade. She said she knew something was out of the ordinary when her husband Richard, who doesn’t normally attend many of his own meetings anymore, was in attendance at one of her meetings.
“I was totally surprised when Gail Zurek handed me some balloons and made the announcement,” Cochran said.
When Cochran takes the stage at the Visalia Chamber of Commerce’s 65th Annual Awards tomorrow night, June 14, she will be the fourth woman with Kaweah Delta to be named Woman of the Year. In 2004, Kaweah Delta’s Director Marketing Dru Quesnoy won the award. She was followed by Lynn Harvard Myrviss, who represents Zone 2 on the Kaweah Delta Health Care District Board of Directors. And in 2015, Barbara Mayeda, director of Kaweah Delta’s Private Home Care service , won the award.
“It’s an honor to be on that list with these great women,” Cochran said.
Cochran is looking forward to the event, not only because she is receiving an award but because she doesn’t have to put on the event. After four decades of fundraisers, Cochran has preserved her love of community events and a good party, especially those where she doesn’t have to plan, prepare and produce proceeds.