It was a picturesque fall day in Rifle that made Sally Brands realize she could make a living on the West Slope. Born and raised in Portland, Oregon, Brands thought of herself as a city girl and wasn’t quite sure about rural life.
Brands and her husband, John Savage, officially left Denver during the oil shale boom of the early 1980s. of Garfield, the two decided to stay in Rifle to stay close to Savage’s family, who at the time had a ranch near Rifle.
“When the oil shale boom hit, we stayed. We almost left in the late 80s because we didn’t think we were ever going to see the light of day,” Brands said. “At that time, we decided that our family could have a quality of life here that would cost a lot more elsewhere. It was family life and if we lived in Denver we would have been much more alone.
Over time, the couple grew into a family of six with the arrival of four children – Catherine, Maria, Louis and Jeb.
Give a hand
Volunteering is something that Brands has lived all his life. Her mother volunteered with Meals on Wheels in Portland for 40 years.
“I grew up doing this,” Brands said. “My volunteer work has always been kind of tied to where I’ve been in my life, so I mostly started at Children’s House Nursery School in Rifle, which was a co-operative kindergarten expecting parents to spend two mornings a week to help manage it.”
Later down the road, when the kids were in elementary school, Brands got involved with the PTA and the Accountability Committee at the former Esma Lewis Elementary School in Rifle. One thing leading to another, Brands found herself collecting signatures to run for the Garfield Re-2 school board in 1995.
“At the beginning of the 90s, there was a big brew on standards; people were really upset with standardized testing,” Brands said. “I woke up one morning to find that the three people running for school district council were all opposed to this more progressive way of working with schools, and so I thought, ‘Hmm, I Guess I better run for the school board, because I don’t think I want those people running the schools my kids go to.
She won the seat and served on the board for eight years.
For more than three decades, Brands has been involved at one level or another with eight to 10 boards ranging from the Rifle’s Downtown Development Authority to the Colorado Mountain College Foundation Board, Family Visitor Board and others.
She recently worked with a group of friends to bring back the Rifle chapter of a philanthropic educational organization (PEO), which helps women advance in the workplace through scholarships and grants.
Outside of the board, she has volunteered for a number of organizations including Habitat for Humanity, LIFT-UP and Extended Table, and followed in her mother’s footsteps by driving for Meals on Wheels at the over the past 15 years.
“I grew up in a generation where people didn’t expect the government to solve all of our problems,” Brands said. “If you have a problem, you get together to figure out what to do and you do it. I think that’s something we’ve lost to some degree.
As a contractor and co-owner of Savage Land Co. for 15 years, Brands was able to use his connections and talents to help develop the new LIFT-UP building in Rifle as well as Habitat for Humanity homes and the renovated Theater. Ute.
“Those are the things that have used most of my talents and persuasive abilities to get people to help,” she said. “The folks at Rifle are always ready to help a good cause with their time and talent…It makes it really easy for someone like me to get involved and help out.”
Lifetime Impact Award
Brands received the Lifetime Impact Award at this year’s Garfield County Humanitarian Awards after being nominated for her many years and service to Meals on Wheels and other community services.
“I was very surprised,” she said. “When I was nominated, I looked at the list and thought, ‘See, there are some very powerful people in this group. What am I doing here?’
Kaaren Peck, director of social services at Grand River Hospital, nominated Brands for the award and has known her since she began overseeing the Meals on Wheels program 15 years ago.
Peck first thought of naming Brands because of her years of service with Meals on Wheels, but after doing some research, she realized that the scope of Brands’ volunteer work went far beyond the Grand River.
“She’s a very humble person who can often be overlooked, and it just struck me how much she’s helped during COVID,” Peck said. “Then once I researched her, I realized how diverse her volunteer efforts are.”
At the start of the pandemic, Meals on Wheels suffered severely from a shortage of drivers. Brands stepped in and delivered three times more often than she normally did and helped the organization deliver over 21,000 meals under pandemic conditions.
“But it wasn’t just meal delivery during a pandemic that inspired my Sally Brands nomination,” Peck said. “As I researched Sally and researched other areas of volunteerism she has been involved in, I was amazed at how wide-ranging and diverse she is.”
Inspire others to volunteer
Brands has always been a firm believer in going out and doing what needs to be done.
She encourages those looking to help their community to find something that interests them or fits their lifestyle.
“If you have young children, start by getting involved in your school. Once you do that and if you show up twice, they’ll give you a job,” Brands said. “Look around and see what needs to be done, where you are and what matters to you.”
Now that Brands has reached her golden age, she is looking to get away from scheduled board meetings and enjoy her retirement with her husband, John. But the volunteering will continue.
“When you get to 70 like me, you start to slow down a bit,” she said. “But there is always a time in your life when you can seek and find a way to help someone else.”
Visual reporter Chelsea Self can be reached at 970-384-9108 or [email protected].