Mary Jane hangs it up after lifetime of service
Post Independent Contributor
Last week, one of the valley’s most dedicated volunteers submitted her resignation from the board of the Garfield County Housing Authority, a group she helped found some 32 years ago.
Mary Jane Hangs, a passionate advocate for the county’s senior population and a former recipient of Garfield County’s awards for Senior of the Year and Humanitarian of the Year, is considered by many in the community to be a local hero.
Lifelong Garfield County resident Hangs, who still lives near the farm where she was born and raised in the rural area south of Silt, has spent decades cultivating a legacy of service to her community. Her roots run deep; as a child she attended a country school near her home and graduated from Rifle High School. She was one of the first students to take a Colorado Mountain College continuing education class, and also went on to earn an associate degree there in sociology.
“I’ve always lived in the same place,” Hangs said. “This county is my home, and I feel it is very important to be involved and find a way to volunteer your time, even if you’re busy with family or a career.”
Hangs worked at E. Dene Moore Care Center in Rifle for 32 years, all while maintaining an active presence with local boards, councils and organizations. A handful of her previous good works include volunteering with Relay for Life in Rifle, helping begin the Silt Hey Days festival, acting as superintendent of open class at the Garfield County Fair and Rodeo and being appointed by the governor to serve for eight years on the Colorado Commission on Aging. Her involvement with various charitable and community initiatives didn’t stop once she retired from E. Dene Moore about 10 years ago, including her service with the Garfield County Housing Authority (GCHA) board.
“At the time I began, around 1984 or 1985, there was a shortage of housing around here for entry-level, working class people — and there still is,” Hangs said. “So the Housing Authority began with a rental assistance program helping 50 families in the county. We also administered the grant of land and money given to the county for senior housing in Parachute, and there have been many other projects over the years.”
Today, GCHA’s mission seeks to assist low-income families in search of decent housing, to provide rental or purchase assistance as necessary for those who qualify and to help facilitate the development of affordable housing attainable by those with working-class incomes. Hangs’ vacant board position currently remains open to anyone interested in joining the cause.
“Whenever we’ve had a vacancy on the board, it can sometimes be hard to find a replacement. But what most people don’t know is that the time commitment is fairly small, and the work is so beneficial to the community,” Hangs noted. “I would encourage someone who might be in need of the Housing Authority’s assistance to join — because you need a voice. If you don’t speak for yourself, there is no way for anyone else to truly understand what you need.”
Hangs urged locals to similarly invest time in another of her passions, the Garfield County Council on Aging.
“We only meet six times a year, and we work to make sure that funding and programs are not taken away from our seniors. We need younger people in their 50s and 60s to step up and start taking a part,” said Hangs, who is the youngest on the council at 75 years old. “We need new ideas and energy in this group. If someone doesn’t step up now and say, ‘Don’t forget the seniors,’ there might not be anyone speaking for them by the time they’re older and need those services.”
Although she has chosen to begin stepping away from some of her volunteer duties, Hangs has a lifetime of service to reflect upon — and she remains an example of community involvement for all who know her. Still, Hangs insists that her good works would have never been possible without the teamwork of those around her.
“When I received the Humanitarian of the Year award in 2005 I received a paper with the quote from Isaac Newton, ‘If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants,’” she recalled. “I think that sums it up perfectly. I couldn’t have done any of this without help, and without others there working with me to try and get things done.”
How does Hangs feel she developed such a heart for service?
“Oh, it must be something you’re born with,” she said with a laugh. “I think it’s part of my genes, I really do. I’ve just always tried to look out for the guy who couldn’t look out for himself.”
Locals interested in the GCHA board can visit garfieldhousing.com, and those wanting to learn more about the Council on Aging should contact Garfield County Senior Programs manager Judy Martin at 970-945-9191, extension 3061.
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