Community Profile: Keeping busy by helping others
Mary Lee Mohrlang reflects on her influential grandfather and why she volunteers
Those who know Mary Lee Mohrlang recognize two things about her. She’s involved in her community, and with her at all times is her yellow legal pad filled page after page of lists noting everything she is scheduled to do for that day.
Whether she’s volunteering at Grand River Hospital in Rifle or recording Community Connections at the KSUN radio studio in Battlement Mesa; she is always doing something.
“I have always been a little busybody; that’s why I got in trouble in school all the time,” Mohrlang said. “I was kicked out of kindergarten because I could not sit still…. the final blow was the day I crawled under my teacher’s desk and ate her lunch.”
Her busy-bee mentality hasn’t changed much since kindergarten; it is something that is just ingrained in her — thanks in part to her grandfather.
With tears in her eyes, Mohrlang credits her grandfather, Dr. Oscar Clagett, for instilling in her the importance of showing compassion for others.
Because her parents were often away or busy working throughout her childhood, she considers her grandfather her mentor and one who played an instrumental role in her upbringing.
“My grandfather would have been so proud because at a very early age when I was with him he taught me to always be caring, sharing and compassionate and I have always made that my motto,” she said.
Mohrlang retired from working as a Realtor this year, but she knew she would never technically retire. She is actively involved in nearly a dozen different activities and organizations ranging from serving on the volunteer Board of Directors at Grand River Hospital to co-hosting a short informative health segment on KSUN.
Being part of other people’s lives is just real important to me,” Mohrlang said. “It’s my goal to get up everyday and do that.”
Mohrlang played an instrumental role in establishing the Care Cart Program at Grand River Hospital in 2018. This free service provides patients with non-physical activities to help occupy their time while they are recovering in the hospital.
“People are very appreciative that somebody takes the time to bring something in to help occupy their minds while they’re healing,” she said.
Mohrlang was born and raised in Denver until she reached junior high and her family began moving frequently for her father’s work.
“I didn’t really have anywhere that I could call home at the point,” she said. “But I got very good at making friends.”
She spent her summer breaks in the Western Slope, which she considered her second home.
“I didn’t like babysitters, so I came over here and stayed with relatives,” Mohrlang said, namely her grandparents.
“I used to go to the clinic and on medical calls with (Dr. Clagett) a lot as I got older,” Mohrlang said.
Clagett ran his own clinic in downtown Rifle and was later honored with the naming of the Clagett Memorial Hospital in Rifle until it was replaced by Grand River Hospital, and the old building demolished in order to build the E. Dene Moore Care Center.
“He would let me go with him (on calls). He did his own lab work, he did everything. He was a real country doctor,” Mohrlang said. “He taught me how to read different cells under the microscope, taught me how to cast a broken arm.”
In college, Mohrlang received dual majors in history, physical education and education after having a hard time deciding what it was she wanted to do in life.
“When I was a senior in college, the dean called me — who I worked for as a student aid — and he told me, ‘It’s time that you declared something that you think you want to do when you graduate,’” Mohrlang said.
She later started teaching before meeting her husband, Jerry, also a teacher, in Basalt.
Mohrlang later decided to pursue an entrepreneurial opportunity with the help of an aunt.
“My aunt gave me the opportunity to open a fabric store with her in Carbondale, and it was time for me to find something else after teaching,” she said.
After partnering with friends in Carbondale, Mohrlang at one point owned five separate businesses between Carbondale and Glenwood Springs. Two fabric stores called the Calico Cat 1 and 2, a kitchen and restaurant, and a catering businesses.
Unfortunately, not long after opening the shops, the economy took a dramatic downturn as a result of Exxon abruptly shutting down operations on the Western Slope. What would later be known as “Black Sunday” occurred when Exxon laid off over 2,000 oil shale workers who were working on the Colony Project near Parachute, as well as thousands more who were support workers.
“The whole Western Slope world fell apart with the Exxon debacle….we lost everything we had,” she said. “It pretty well devastated all of Colorado. The population left because the oil and gas industry collapsed. It was like a bustling little community on Sunday and on Monday it was mass exodus.”
Residents in the area began moving left and right, leaving the Mohrlangs with only one option: begin closing down all five businesses.
“We still had all our businesses in Carbondale. It took about a year to affect the Carbondale and beyond area,” Mohrlang said. “We had to close our Glenwood store and then shut one store after another down until there was nothing left. We were lucky to sell our house and leave.”
They packed up and moved to Atlanta, Georgia for a new beginning.
“We needed a new start to lick our wounds,” Mohrlang said.
She spent a few years working as a flight attendant for Eastern Air Lines before it also collapsed. Later, Mohrlang received her Realtor’s license and did that for a while before moving back to Battlement Mesa, where she and her husband built their house from the ground up and continue to live 20 years later.
Talk of the Town Award
Each year, the Garfield County Human Services Commission honors four locals with awards recognizing the commitment they show toward their communities. Each award title is tailored to the type of person receiving the honor.
This year, Mohrlang was awarded the Talk of the Town Award. She was nominated and selected because of how well known she is in the area for the volunteer work she does on a daily basis.
Garfield County Commissioner Mike Samson is a longtime friend of Mohrlang after she stepped up to help when a close friend of Samson’s became ill.
“I know how much time and effort and care she has exhibited and given to many people,” Samson said. “I know personally because she helped a lady that was like my mother to me; she was very kind and helpful and gracious to her. She touched my life because of her reaching out and helping in such a way.”
“One of the traits that I admire in her the most is she’s a mover and a shaker,” he said. “She does not let the grass grow under her feet.”
While presenting at the awards ceremony, Samson began speaking of a woman who had helped another while volunteering at Grand River Hospital. Mohrlang, who truly did not know or believe she had won, was shocked when she realized the woman Samson spoke of was herself.
“When he (Samson) was introducing (the winner) I realized it was myself and I just started to cry and I couldn’t stop. I love to volunteer and I love to help people but not in comparison of the other three finalists,” Mohrlang said. “I was honored to be part of them… I have never been that shocked in my life. I’m very honored.”
To this day, Mohrlang credits her influential grandfather for making her the kind, caring and compassionate person she strives to be.
“In my eyes, Dr. Claggett should receive the kudos for instilling in me the importance of these traits,” she said, “because they were deeply embedded into my soul.”
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