After a conversation with this week’s Friday Feature, I exclaimed, “You have the most interesting story I’ve ever heard!” The life and career of Jo Sabel Courtney is a collection of places and people that she has touched throughout the years, and those myriad of experiences perhaps explain why she would make a great State Representative in her upcoming election.
Growing up as a farm kid in Indiana, the path decided Jo decided to take while attending university seemed untraditional. She studied Theatre at Purdue University and followed that passion for the arts all the way to New York City. Studying voice, acting, and musical theater in a city like that surely had its allure, but the crime at the time in NYC repelled her from city life and she eventually moved out West to be a ranch hand in Colorado. It was at this point during our conversation I knew that Jo’s life experiences were unlike anything I’d heard before, but she was far from explaining the whole story. Jo and her then-boyfriend married at the top of a mountain in Colorado and lived a simple but fulfilling life. It was at this time when Jo’s husband decided to pursue a career as a professional golfer. His job took them to the East Coast and eventually to St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. They spent three years there, and Jo’s fondest memories came from the time spent with the locals and immersing herself into their culture. While on St. Croix, Jo continued work in the theater but her career path took her to radio. A promotion at her job eventually moved her and her husband to Newport, Rhode Island where she was the Music Director for the first 24-hour jazz station in New England. A few years later Jo and her husband had their son Will, and the family they had built decided to make the move to a state that they had loved for many years—Vermont.
Jo’s numerous jobs and involvements in her town made it possible for her to connect with the people of Stowe. “I got to know my community inside and out,” she said. The relationships she formed over those first few years endured and are what make her such a valuable member of her community. Continuing to follow her dedication to music and the arts, Jo worked at Stowe Performing Arts as Managing Director and in 1995 she co-founded the Stowe Theater Guild which is still running today. She’s especially proud of all the talented people who started their theatrical journey in the STG who have now made successful careers for themselves in the arts. Jo’s achievements aren’t limited to the arts: in 2001 she co-founded the Stowe Weekend of Hope whose mission is to provide services and information to cancer survivors and their families. Their tagline is “A celebration of life and learning for cancer survivors and those who love them.” The organization is going into its 20th year, and Jo’s proud of the work she did for survivors, their families, and caretakers.
She served as International Marketing and PR Manager for Stowe Area Association, successfully promoting Stowe as a premier destination throughout Europe and in securing earned media for the members.
Jo joined Cabot Creamery Co-operative as a member of Marketing’s “Department of Gratitude”. Through that position, she met with a number of nonprofits and volunteerism organizations in an effort to express the farmer-owners appreciation for the vital work they do—much like the farmers themselves—in their community through speaking with rotary clubs, service clubs, Leagues of Women Voters, and through many Random Act of Cheddar.
Jo’s introduction to Emerge Vermont started at the very beginning of our time in the state. Jo and a friend went to a talk hosted by Emerge Vermont many years ago, and it was at that event when her friend turned to her and said, “Why don’t you run?” At the time it wasn’t on Jo’s immediate agenda, but she said it “planted the seed.” She said that seed was fed by the influence of Bernie Sanders—someone she’s looked up to for many years.
After years and years of community engagement in Stowe and surrounding towns, Jo decided it was time for another voice. For many years, Stowe has been represented by Republicans in the Statehouse even though the town itself has become increasingly more Democratic, proven by the strong showing by Marina Meerburg for the seat in 2018. This fall, Jo will run for State Representative for the town of Stowe. “I will present my case and will do it in a considerate way….We live in a democracy and having one person or party running over and over again does not represent that democratic ideal.” So far the campaign trail has not been traditional due to the pandemic, but she hopes that by the fall in-person canvassing will continue. Until then, Jo’s ties to the community and its people will keep her in the running as a more than qualified candidate. With the support of her Emerge alums on her side and a dynamic team of women supporting her campaign, Jo’s future in politics is sure to be bright.
After hearing what I’m sure is just one piece of the puzzle that is Jo’s life story, I was in awe of the constant drive and determination she has to be an active member of society. She gave great advice on how to get involved in your community if you don’t know how to start that process. “Start to show up, say yes, and volunteer,” she said. A simple and concise answer that captures the necessary steps to any community engagement. Jo was also adamant on defining an area of interest and honing in on that sector. Whether it be racial justice, migrant justice, Rights and Democracy, or anything you are passionate about, find your niche and stick with it. Jo’s ability to convey such a daunting endeavor in a concise and resonant manner to a person like me who is just starting to find their way is part of the reason why I think she will make a great State Representative. Using her voice for the right reasons and using her connections to make her community even stronger is a rare but welcomed sight in the Vermont political sphere.
Emerge has one goal: To increase the number of Democratic women in office who are reflective of the incredible diversity of the Democratic party by recruiting, training and providing a powerful network.