Homeless advocate remembered | PostIndependent.com

Homeless advocate remembered

Kelley Cox Post Independent

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” Karolyn Spencer’s own work ministering to the homeless may be over. But her passion lives on in the many hearts she touched, and the work will continue, vowed many of those present at Spencer’s memorial service Wednesday.

More than 125 gathered at the Mountain View Church to pay respects to Spencer, the founder and guiding inspiration of the Feed My Sheep organization for the past five years.

Spencer died Feb. 28 at University Hospital in Denver after a bout with pancreatic cancer. She was 76.

Dori Hunt, who had been a volunteer for Feed My Sheep since 2005, recalled that the organizers of the Garfield County Humanitarian awards came up with a new category designed just for Spencer that same year ” “passion for the mission.”

“She really did have a passion for that mission … we have got to keep her passion going, it’s very important,” Hunt said.

Pastor Steve Hoekstra, who now serves a church in Montrose, said the homelessness situation is growing.

“God is bringing people who have needs into the ministry here,” he said during the service, adding that people have wondered what will happen to Feed My Sheep in Spencer’s absence.

“It would not be the testimony that Karolyn would want to have it close, that’s not what her ministry is all about,” Hoekstra said. “Thank you, Karolyn, for challenging us to not overlook people that are right in front of us.”

Mountain View Pastor Dave Pearson told of how Spencer joined the church in 2003. Soon afterward, she heard her calling to begin Feed My Sheep while sitting by the river in a Glenwood Springs park one day.

“I wasn’t a Christian until about five years ago,” Spencer told the Post Independent in a 2006 interview. “I felt the most fantastic presence and I couldn’t believe it.”

Her mission: To help the homeless and provide them with food, clothing and shelter.

A former social worker from Chicago, Spencer moved to the valley in 1998 at the age of 64 with her good friend, Joanne Clements. Both women had been married and divorced. They both loved skiing, and decided to buy a house in New Castle together to be closer to the slopes.

“I do take credit for bringing Karolyn out here and setting her loose,” Clements said at Wednesday’s memorial.

Clements, as well as Karolyn’s son, Dave Spencer, both recalled that her passion for social justice began many years ago, from going to hear Martin Luther King Jr. speak in the 1960s to speaking out herself for gay rights and women’s rights in the 1970s.

“She got her master’s degree at a time when women were expected to be housewives, teachers and nurses,” her son said.

Spencer began her mission in Glenwood Springs while working for the Salvation Army, which operated a day center until December 2002. Spencer started Feed My Sheep that next spring.

Wednesday’s memorial service program included the Biblical passage that served as Spencer’s inspiration. In John 21:15-17, Jesus asks Simon Peter three times, “do you love me.” Peter acknowledges that he does, and Jesus replies, “Then feed My sheep.”

Eric was one “the guys” Karolyn befriended through her ministry in Glenwood Springs, which includes a day center in the Catholic Charities building downtown.

“She had a seed in her head, and we all just took that innocence in,” Eric said of her frequent visits with the area homeless population just before Feed My Sheep began. “We said, by golly, if she wants to help us, by God we’re going to let her.”

Local videographer Chris Tribble produced a video for Spencer about Feed My Sheep, a project that was underwritten by a grant from the Carbondale Rotary Club.

“I was blessed to meet her through my work,” he said. “She made a stronger believer out of me, because she wasn’t the norm.”

With Spencer’s health deteriorating, Kenneth Williams took over as director of Feed My Sheep earlier this year. When asked what he learned most from Spencer in the short year since he first met her, Williams replied, “reckless abandonment.”

“Karolyn would consider herself nothing for the mission,” he said. “She would risk her own reputation if she felt like it would better the ‘guys.'”

Contact John Stroud: 384-9160


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