Community Faces 2008 |

Community Faces 2008

CARBONDALE ” To Amber Sparkles, we’re all artists. She just wishes we’d believe it.

“I think everyone needs to tap into that,” she said. “That’s my message.”

And it’s splashed all over Carbondale.

She’s the one behind those wild, happy, glitter-friendly paintings and sculptures you’ve surely seen. They’re always up at The Lift and Dos Gringos Burritos, and they frequent The Village Smithy. She likes to leave little messages on telephone poles, as well. If you’ve ever smiled at handmade signs that read “Dance” or “Peace Now,” that was probably thanks to her. Even more ubiquitous are her unmistakable light switches and “open” and “closed” signs, which fill Main Street shops. Her stuff is bright and fun and a bit girlie, covered with layers of puffy paint. It fits right in with that distinct, freeform friendliness of her community ” and she knows it.

“People tell me that I own Carbondale,” she said.

Some say, Amber Sparkles is like a rock star.

“And I’m like, ‘Really? When am I going to get some revenue from this?'” she joked, laughing a little.

Of course money is nice, but it’s not the point here. Accessibility is. Her work is priced low because it can be. Her sculptures are made out of all-recycled material, random pieces of plastic or packaging ” or really anything ” that would be garbage otherwise. She tapes it together, swaddles it paper mache, and covers it in bright paint. She doesn’t sketch. She doesn’t plan. She just adds layers of beads and glitter and dots of paint before shellacking the whole thing. She transforms all that wannabe waste into something durable, touchable, enjoyable.

“It’s not the hands-off kind of fine art,” she said. “It’s folk art.”

This is the type of thing any kid could do on a rainy day, she thinks. She likes that about it.

Something about being here, in Colorado, brings it out in her. Originally from St. Petersburg, Fla., this daughter of a carney came to Carbondale 14 years ago. Like her dad, she had never felt a desire to do the white collar job thing. After college in Florida, she was just traveling the country, looking for a good place to land. She spent some time in Alaska, and then decided to check out Las Vegas. She was kind of on her way to Flagstaff, Ariz. when she found this valley. Immediately, she was impressed. Beyond being wowed by the its gorgeous setting, she felt welcome here.

“It was so nice. It was so magical,” she said. “This is a perfect match for my attitude.”

Needless to say, she never really left. About eight years ago, she started making her special breed of signs for the Smithy, the restaurant where she’s still a waitress. She began to do pieces for other businesses and, to her surprise, the look started to take off. It wasn’t too long before Carbondale was saturated with it. These days, she’s “semi-retired” from the Smithy, where she works two days a week. It’s nice to have that bit of exposure to the public, she thinks, as it keeps her finger on the pulse of all that’s happening in her little nook of the world. The rest of her time she spends working on 15-20 projects at once and decorating anything and everything she wants to. She’s a KDNK DJ and non-profit artist for local organizations, as well an artist-by-commission on the side. In 2007, she even became the featured artist for Glenwood’s Summer of Jazz, and her art was in an ad in Time Magazine. She seems happily, insanely busy.

As she put it, “I just have this crazy energy. I just have to do stuff constantly.”

While her work is all about her spontaneous, artistic vision, it’s not focused on her. It’s more for everyone else. If her stuff has any deep meaning, she explained, it’s a reminder that we all have that artistic potential in us. We don’t have to spend a lot of money, and we don’t have to make it look perfect. The important thing is just that we do it.

“I’m supporting this town with my art love,” she said.

And it can be felt in the air, everywhere.

” By Stina Sieg

SILT ” If you ever ask Lesley Morse why she does all that she does, she’ll probably just smile bashfully. There’s a good chance she won’t go into why she was named “Lion of the Year” by the New Castle Lions Club or talk about how she brightens customers’ days at her bank job. Instead, she’ll give her bubbly, infectious laugh.

“‘Cause I like people,” she might reply, shrugging.

At least that’s how she was during a recent talk. That’s what’s so cool about her. She has no idea how cool she really is.

For more than 20 years, Morse has been doing her best to help folks in the area however she can. Though she first planned to spend just her winters here and her summers back in her old home of North Carolina, it didn’t take long for that to change. After one year split between the two areas, she stuck around to be with a Silt fellow she had met while working at Sunlight Mountain Resort. She and Bob have now been married 22 years.

“I love it here. I love it,” she said, giggling.

She described every job she’s had with almost equal enthusiasm. When she first came here, she was a lift operator for both Sunlight and Aspen Ski Company for about a decade. While some lifties seem impatient or downright bored, Morse took to it like nothing else. She liked working the beginner’s chair the most, because that’s where she could see her actions make the biggest difference. She’d walk people through getting on the lift and see how excited they’d become if they got off the ground without a hitch. She’d get excited for them, too. To her, that caring and courtesy is at the core of good customer service. That’s something she prides herself on.

In her words, “You try to treat people as you would like to be treated.”

Of course that sentiment has stayed with her all these years. She’s changed jobs a few times but has always continued to work with the public. About eight years ago, after she’d been at Alpine Bank for a little while, her co-worker and branch manager Judy Shaffer noticed her upbeat personality and convinced her to join the New Castle chapter of the Lions. Morse soon became one of its most dedicated members. She started organizing events and enticing people to participate. She kept the club going, even through the lean months, when almost everyone else couldn’t make it to the meetings. In the last few years, she’s been a huge part of the Lions’ efforts to clean up highways, provide glasses to low-income locals and even build bus shelters. This is all in addition to what the group might be most nationally famous for now, vision checks of kids, which can save little ones from eye trouble later on in life. Morse’s favorite event of the year, though, has got the be New Castle’s annual Thanksgiving dinner. Everyone’s invited to the potluck, and she digs that inclusive aspect.

“The community comes,” she said. “It’s fun to see the community get together.”

She also mentioned, in an almost embarrassed tone, how she’s been officially named “Lion of the Year” by her club. She showed her off trophy, a plush little lion with silver feet, and hugged it proudly. But she wasn’t about to toot her own horn.

So Shaffer did it for her. In fact, Shaffer, who is also the president of her Lions chapter had nothing but glowing praise of her. Morse epitomizes the “can-do” spirit, said Shaffer. She’s the “one-in-a-million,” the “most sincere person I’ve ever met,” she went on. She explained that there’s simply this honest, good-hearted quality about Morse that makes everyone want to be around her.

“She just exudes that kind of humor and spirit and optimism,” she said, “and you can’t help but have a better day after you’ve seen and talked to Lesley.”

Shaffer sounded downright in awe of Morse’s celebration of life.

If Morse had heard that, however, she probably would have shrugged a lot of it off. In her eyes, all these accomplishments she has under her belt and work she’s done isn’t about her at all. It’s about the little kid whose vision might be saved by her checking his eyes or that bank customer who she might make smile by wearing her big, silly headbands, covered in stuffed animals and such. The point of everything she does, she feels, is to make people happy. That stands no matter what line of work she’s in.

She just wants to help ” everyone.

“There’s some amazing people in the community, and they do amazing things in the community. And it’s a privilege just to get to know them,” she said.

It was as though she had no idea she was describing herself to a T.

” By Stina Sieg

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” It’s not uncommon for Glenwood Springs residents to say it’s the people of the community that they love the most.

For Valley View Hospital’s Chief Executive Officer, Gary Brewer, that’s what he loves most ” not only about living here ” but working at the hospital, too.

“I’ve been here long enough now that I’ve had tome to become friends with some of the staff here,” Brewer said sitting in his modest office at Valley View. “And it may sound corny, but it really is the people that make this job enjoyable.”

It’s clear that Brewer does not fit the typical hospital CEO mold that one might think. His thick southern accent and friendly swagger presents a laid-back professional who really is in a business of helping people, for all the right reasons.

“In this profession, if you don’t care about the people, you may do a good job but it’s probably not the place for you,” Brewer said.

Brewer knows first hand what it’s like to have a career based on the bottom line. He worked for years as a financial officer for companies in the oil and gas industry. He spent several years living over seas before he got into the health care field. That’s when his feelings changed on what he wanted to be doing, and the career he wanted to have.

“I came out of the for profit world, that is all I had ever worked in,” he said. “It is a lot different working environment working for a non profit. You are still run by the bottom line, but by the same token, we are not quite as worried about the quarterly estimates and such and we have the ability to take a longer term approach on things.”

But there was something else that bothered Brewer about, what he now calls the “for-profit” business world. There was also a life attached to the career that was no longer appealing to him. While he found his way to the medical field through his financial background, the one aspect he didn’t like was that found he was moving his family every three years or so to continue his rise up the corporate ladder.

“To tell you the truth, I got so tired, in a sense, of what I was doing or where I was doing it,” Brewer confessed. “You couldn’t make enough money doing it, and it was a lot different than what I thought health care should be. It should be geared more toward the patient and it wasn’t.”

That’s when he found himself impressed with the people of Valley View Hospital and Glenwood Springs.

“I was living in Florida at the time, but I wasn’t doing what I wanted to do as far as health care,” he said. “Then you come here and Glenwood is, not only a unique town, but geographically ” health care wise ” we are a very unique area with not a lot of services available for the area we cover.”

The year was 1997, since then Brewer has redefined Valley View Hospital’s purpose and community. With a $29 million, four-story expansion completed in 2005 ” which was also the 30-year anniversary of the hospital’s opening of the hospital, the hospital was virtually a totally new facility. The expansion included a 7,900-square-foot emergency department with two trauma and two cardiac rooms, a 16,000-square-foot radiology department, which was about three times larger than the previous one. But those were just a few of the new additions to the facility, along with that the hospital now employees around 150 doctors and is one of the largest employers in Garfield County.

That is something Brewer takes pride in and to have been a part of, but it’s not what he wants to be remembered for.

“When you look back on the race you ran, even if you didn’t win, you want to at least know that you gave it your all,” Brewer said. “When my career is over, it’s not going to be about the building. I just want to be associated with the best hospital around. That is going to be the doctors and the nurses and the people who work here.”

” By John Gardner

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” Bryan Whiting, the man who established the DECA program in Glenwood Springs in 1982, happens to have some advertising experience of his own.

He came up with the Delta Airlines slogan, “You’ll love the way we fly,” around 15 to 20 years ago, he said, only after questions specifically about it. To get that kind of work at that time, he said, “You just walked in through the front door.”

Whiting grew up in business. His entrepreneurial father owned hotels, restaurants, farms and ranches in northwestern Wyoming and Montana.

“I had all my education in business,” Whiting said. “I grew up in business.”

After the University of Wyoming in Laramie, Wyo., Whiting took his own shot at the business world with a bowling alley and a restaurant and bar in the college town. Getting a business going was exciting but after it got up and running the day-to-day operations bored him. He got into teaching because, “I was just looking for something that I thought was significant and not boring.”

He also had been inspired by the contrast between the many mediocre teachers he saw as a student and the few really good ones that stood out. He thought teaching would be a challenge. Whiting has taught for about 33 years, 27 of them at Glenwood Springs High School.

“Teaching has never been boring and I think to do it well is a continual challenge,” he said. “Every year you have a new crop of kids and in effect you have a new set of customers.”

Whiting landed his first teaching job in Brush in 1976 in northeastern Colorado. During his six years there he started a DECA program at the high school and met his wife, Kathy.

DECA’s mission is to improve business education and career opportunities for students. Students learn about everything from resumes and interviews to business plans and marketing. DECA students travel and go through a series of competitive events that include role-playing with DECA judges pretending to be employers or customers. It culminates in an international competition held in the U.S.

Whiting said he moved to Glenwood Springs in 1982 when the school district superintendent called him unsolicited and said, “We need to start a DECA program in Glenwood Springs and I hear you’re the man to do it.”

He already liked the area since he’d grown up in the mountains and enjoyed outdoor activities. He and Kathy had visited before. They even got engaged in the Hot Springs Lodge and Pool.

The first year of Glenwood Springs’ DECA program, there were 16 students. Now there are normally over 130 each year and students have won a district DECA competition 26 years in a row. Soon after starting the program at GSHS, Whiting created Glenwood Springs’ regional DECA invitational competition to give students more experience competing.

The program has been a model program for rural schools and has received recognition for Marketing/DECA I and Marketing/DECA II books Whiting wrote.

Whiting currently teaches four year-long DECA classes and coaches DECA students. One thing he’s found is that students often learn better when they are innovating. In one class exercise, he used to have students come in and give a sales demonstration of an existing product. There would be about 15 people selling Nike shoes, so he decided to allow students to pitch any theoretical product as long as it appeared to work in the demonstration.

He is also the Demons boys golf coach.

One student created water-walking shoes that were demonstrated by placing a board just underneath the surface of dyed water in a trough and walking across it. Another pitched a spray that prevented radioactive decay. The student drowned a ginger-bread man in a jar to show how the human body would disintegrate when exposed to radioactivity, then sprayed it with lacquer and dangled it in the jar again to show how it wouldn’t come apart with the spray.

Whiting still likes to visit Yellowstone National Park, which was a part of his childhood. He golfs and fishes. He hasn’t been skiing for about five years, but he said, “The first time I skied at Sunlight I got my ticket pulled for skiing too fast.”

” By Pete Fowler

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” If there’s an organization for a good cause in the community, there’s a good chance that Pam Szedelyi of Glenwood Springs, might be on it.

Not that she would ever tell you that she was. In fact, the only way to get an interview with her is to convince her that the publicity will help promote her charitable organizations.

“That’s why I’m doing this,” she warned with a smile and a twinkle in her blue eyes when we sat down for breakfast in New Castle recently.

For the past six months, Szedelyi (prounced “Say-day”) has worked for the Western Colorado Community Foundation ” a non-profit charitable endowment organization that manages funds for charitable causes in seven counties throughout western Colorado.

“We work for the benefit of the donors who want to leave funds in perpetuity,” Szedelyi said. “Donors leave money to an agency, a group such as the Kiwanis or a church, either over a long term or in one lump sum.”

Western Colorado Community Foundation manages the money and ensures that there is a steady stream of money.

“What I like about WCCF is that it’s western Colorado people donating to people in western Colorado,” Szedelyi said. “Our motto is ‘Make your mark, leave a legacy.'”

The Two Rivers Community Foundation in Glenwood Springs is now affilliated with WCCF as is the Rifle Community Foundation, which allows them to take endowments throughout western Colorado as well as their own community projects.

Now in its 11th year, WCCF has received certification from the National Council on Foundations.

“I”m pretty proud to be associated with the whole venture,” Szedelyi said with a smile. “What’s not to like?”

When asked what other organizations she’s involved with, Szedelyi has to check her Blackberry to remember them all.

She’s the current president of the Valley View Hospital Auxiliary and has been on the board for the past 12 years.

“Our mission is to assist the hospital with patient and family comfort,” Szedelyi said. “We do fundraising for education, like our annual raffle and pies at Strawberry Days and we have a nursing scholarship.”

The auxiliary has about 300 volunteers and youth volunteers, which greatly benefit the hospital.

“It’s a great group of people,” Szedelyi said. “It feels good to be there.”

Szedelyi is also on the board of a new hospice program for patients between Aspen and Rifle called “Hospice of the Valley” which expects to begin taking patients in November. The new hospice, an independent hospice organization formed by Aspen Valley Medical Association, Aspen Valley Hospital and Valley View Hospital, replaces Valley View Hospital’s Roaring Fork Hospice Program, which closed in June.

“Our goal is to educate people in not giving up and embracing the last stage of life,” she said.

Szedelyi is a consultant for Executive Services Corporation, a non-profit group where professional people donate their time to assist non-profit organizations in a variety of different areas.

“We might help them with a marketing plan or on legal matters,” she said. “For a minimal charge, ESC does an assessment to see how they might help.”

Along with her volunteer activities, Szedelyi has an office at her home in West Glenwood and does freelance marketing, advertising and graphic design.

It’s hard to believe she might have any spare time, but when she does, Szedelyi loves to read, spend time with her family and friends and is trying to learn Spanish.

“I’m in a group called ‘Poco Loco’ that meets every Tuesday at Summit Canyon Mountaineering. We’ve been meeting for eight years,” she said with a laugh.

She also likes to take classes at Colorado Mountain College and loves going to the movies.

And although she doesn’t horseback ride anymore as she did for 25 years, she does admit to attempting to hit a golf ball now and then.

“But I only play when I have to,” she smiled.

Originally from Minnesota, Szedelyi moved out to the valley in 1993 with her husband. And with all that she gives to our communities, thank goodness she did.

Although she doesn’t see it that way.

“I wouldn’t do it if it didn’t scream at my heart,” she said earnestly. “We’re not here just for ourselves. Actually, (volunteering) is downright selfish because it makes you feel so good.”

” By Heidi Rice

RIFLE ” Sandy Sekeres and her dog “Rifle” are committed to helping both people and pets in their community.

Both volunteer at the hospital, schools and the library and both help out at the Valley Veterinary Clinic on West Avenue in Rifle.

Sekeres, of Rifle, is a retired physical education and health teacher from Northern Arizona University where she worked for 33 years. She and her husband, Dave, moved here from Flagstaff five and a half years ago.

Although retired, Sekeres is still active in the community and as a life-long pet lover, works as a receptionist at the Valley Veterinary Clinic, owned by Dr. Rebecca Lemmon.

Along with volunteering at the Rifle Branch Library and the Division of Wildlife, she knits shawls for patients at Grand River Hospital and devotes some time at the Roaring Fork Hospice in Glenwood Springs.

Rifle, her two and a half-year-old Golden Retriever whom she’s had since he was eight weeks old, also contributes to the community.

He didn’t qualify as a working service dog, but he does make an excellent therapy dog, where his job is to make people happy, which he does. Rifle visits schools, hospitals, nursing homes, libraries and assisted living homes where he gives and receives love.

Sekeres recalls a visit to the Rifle Branch Library’s “Paws 2 Read” program in which the children read outloud to dogs.

“One little kid couldn’t read except in Spanish,” Sekeres said. “But I told him Rifle could understand Spanish. It was less threatening.”

For people in the hospital, studies have shown that petting a dog lowers both a person’s and a pet’s blood pressure, Sekeres said.

And while Sekeres is helping people and pets at the Valley Veterinary Clinic, Rifle is also helping people and pets at the clinic.

He recently saved another dog’s life by giving a blood transfusion.

“There was a really sick dog in here and he wasn’t going to make it,” Sekeres said. “With his blood count, he wasn’t expected to live to the next day.”

Dr. Jane Rubio, a veterinarian at the clinic, did the blood transfusion between the two dogs.

“It’s not common, but it’s something you do see,” Rubio said. “Not everyone wants to go that far. Dogs usually need (transfusions) when they have a bleeding disorder.”

A first transfusion between two dogs doesn’t have to be a blood match like it does with humans ” but if a subsequent transfusion is needed, it does.

“The first time, they can have any donor, but after that, we have to cross-match,” Rubio said.

The transfusion is given by using a large needle and a catheter to take blood from the donor dog, which is extracted from the jugular vein.

“It’s not risk-free, because there could be infection,” Rubio said.

Rifle was used because Sekeres happened to be at the clinic that day and he was big enough to handle the transfusion.

“I was going to use one of my dogs, but her dog was bigger,” Rubio said.

So far, the dog recipient is doing well since the transfusion.

And it’s just another way that Sekeres and Rifle are helping out in the community.

Sekeres got into therapy and service dogs about 15 years ago after attending a dog show.

“I saw a dog at the show and I said, I want to do that,” she says with a laugh. “My friend and I both had puppies and we decided this would help someone else.”

And who can resist a big ol’ loving dog in their lap?

“Rifle just loves getting lovin’ ” he just flops down on their laps,” Sekeres said. “And the old folks get so excited to see him. Although some of them cry because it brings back memories (of former pets) for them.”

Rifle and Sandy are part of six therapy dog/owner teams in the area who visit a number of places locally.

And their basic job is to spread love.

“It’s really just about being a good dog,” Sekeres said. “They have to love to be loved ” that’s their job.”

With a lot of help from their owners.

” By Heidi Rice

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