Wendy Brooks, 2017 Citizen Of The Year, Summing Up Why

On Tuesday, August 8, friends and family gathered at the Sheridan Opera House with Ron Allred, Paul Major and other members of the Telluride Foundation to officially honor Wendy Brooks as the Foundation’s 2017 Citizen of the Year.

Amen.

Been a long time coming.

The happy crowed included Foundation senior staffer Elaine Demas, former director of the Telluride Academy, which Wendy birthed – along with three remarkable sons, also in the room, along with their beautiful (if fidgety) families. Mentors, past Citizens of the Year, (including Terry Tice, who put Wendy’s name in nomination and Kathy Green, who spoke on Wendy’s video), Telluride Academy stalwarts, Academy campers, even a librarian friend who had come up from Naturita, all there to pay tribute to the woman who changed the face of Telluride.

That is not hyperbole.

It is a stone cold fact.

Telluride might not have a Med Center, a Ski and Snowboard Club– or a second homeowner population, or then, a robust cultural economy which depends in large part on that population, were it not for Wendy. 

Fact: Telluride’s second homeowner population grew up on the back of the Telluride Academy, founded in  in the early 1980s in Wendy’s backyard.

One of the  speakers who honored Wendy was Jeff Price, author of Improbable Fortunes and many celebrated screenplays and scripts (Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Tales from the Crypt, Shrek the Third, How the Grinch Stole Christmas). Jeff summed up Wendy’s importance to Telluride yesterday and today is his usual nimble prose – you-could-drive-a-double-decker-bus-through-it (read arch) humor intact.

No one could have summed up better. 

No one deserves the honor Wendy received more.

Wendy (center, floral dress) and a few of her besties, including Jeff Price, far left facing.

 

OUR MISS BROOKS

By Jeff Price

Like most anyone who’s ever laid eyes on Telluride for the first time, one can’t help being overwhelmed by the impossible beauty of this place. After taking three consecutive summer vacations here, starting in 1989, we surprised family and friends by pulling up stakes and moving here.

Why did we do that, people often asked? Why did we move to such an out-of-the-way place with an iffy airport and a major grocery store seventy-two miles a way? We would usually say that we made Telluride our home for the intimacy of small town life to raise our daughters. But there was something about the ethos of the place, that we also felt, that was difficult to describe to outsiders.

But let me take a shot at it now.

We came here one summer with our kids and rented a house across the street from the school. We enrolled our eldest daughter, Lucy, in the Telluride Academy. It was there we met a woman named, Wendy Brooks and it was the beginning, as Humphrey Bogart once said, of a beautiful friendship.

We had no way of knowing back then that Wendy had already lived another life, from a young age, working for Bobby Kennedy, Caesar Chavez and Dolores Huerte defending workers rights. We just knew her as the somewhat imperious director of the Telluride Academy.

Our daughter, Lucy, was at the time, a shy and bit tentative five year-old. After being at the Academy for maybe a week, she came home from camp and calmly announced that Wendy had taken her rock climbing. She had pictures of herself wearing a hard hat and belayed–or whatever they call it. “Weren’t you a little nervous, doing something like that?” “No,” she said, flatly. We were flabbergasted. How did that happen? That was the beginning of the Wendy Effect.

It’s tempting to call Wendy Telluride’s Earth Mother, but I don’t think that’s how she rolls. Wendy is at heart an iconoclast. A rebel. She’s her own person who defies being painted one way or another. Kids pick up on that, because deep in every kid’s soul, that’s who they believe they were before society and somewhat ashamedly, we parents, got our hands on them.

But thankfully, Wendy reintroduces the children to their animal spirits and they reward her by trading in their shaggy fears and phobias. That’s how she gets them to climb rocks, camp in the dark, to sing and dance. That’s how she shows them how to celebrate being alive.

And when she feels they’re ready, if they’re lucky, she takes them to far-flung places across the globe.  Only countries where she knows they’ll have something to learn from, mind you. She has taken kids to Ethiopia, Bali, Vietnam, to Guatemala–the developing world mostly–just to name a few–to meet their fellow human beings and receive a special passport that they will cherish for the rest of their lives–a passport that doesn’t proclaim them to be citizens of Houston, Shaker Heights, or Washington DC, but a passport that says, Citizen of the World.

One night at dinner, I asked Wendy how many children she has ushered through her system. 20,000? 25,000? Wendy wasn’t quite sure. She felt it was at least over 20,000. Imagine, all those children of Wendy’s out in the world? We know a great many of them ourselves and this we can tell you…they are fearless, considerate adults who care about the people of this planet and the planet itself. Imagine, over 20,000 Academy kids who nurture that burning ember of animal spirits implanted here in Telluride. All those kids who experienced, during their brief childhood, what it felt like to truly feel free.  All those kids out in the world–Wendy’s army–a bulwark against the dark forces that deny our common humanity.

Now, what about the rest of us–the adults of this town?

I’m sure everyone here has experienced that hooded-lid penetrating gaze of hers as she waited for your response to her question. That question has taken a number of forms but requires the same answer. The question is:

“Will you host a little boy or girl from Vietnam for the summer?”

“One of our Academy kids needs financial help to go to school in the US. Will you help?”

“I’ve invited a group of widows of 911 to Telluride. One of them would like to go fishing. Will you take her fishing? And I need some money to get her here.”

“Will you host a cocktail party fundraiser?”

“Do you know someone in New York who can meet a little girl from Ireland at the airport?”

“And now, will you come with me to Vietnam for one of our Mud Butt kids’ weddings?”

Those are just some of the questions. The answer that is required is always the same. You have to say YES. You say yes, because it’s Wendy Brooks. You say yes, because, even if you were a bit recalcitrant being dragged into something she cooked up, in the end you’re going to feel good about it–because you lived up to Wendy’s expectations of you.

And what do you tell people afterwards? You say that Telluride hosted the 911 Widows. You say that Telluride kids were the first American kids since the war to homestay with Vietnamese families. You tell them that Telluride then reciprocated by hosting a group of kids from Vietnam and got then got them enrolled in schools in the US. You tell people that Telluride did all of these wild-ass things that are demonstrable of our spirit, but really, it was Wendy Brooks who did it. We were just her helpers, her HAPLESS Peter Pans to her mothering Wendy.

Wendy’s talent at identifying and cajoling support for the mission of the Academy is legend. How ironic that her talent for promotion, oddly, has never extended to herself. As this late in the innings acknowledgment attests. That’s because she is only interested in the cause, not herself. And that cause has always been an advocate for making the world a little bit better, making this town an example for others to follow.

So when Jennie and I say we moved to Telluride because we had an affinity for the town’s ethos, that ethos was largely inspired and cultivated by one person. And that person was and still is, our MS. Brooks.

So thank you Wendy for what you’ve done for our kids, for us, and for the reputation of this town. Congratulations on being the long-deserved Telluride’s Citizen of the Year.

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Susan Viebrock

Susan Viebrock

Susan is Telluride Inside… and Out’s founder and editor-in-chief, the visionary on the team, in charge of content, concept and development. For 19+ years, Susan has covered Telluride’s cultural economy, which includes non-profits and special events. Much of her writing features high-profile individuals in the arts, entertainment, business, and politics. She is a former Citibank executive specializing in strategic planning and new business development, and a certified Viniyoga instructor.
Susan Viebrock

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4 Responses

  1. Dylan Brooks says:

    Beautiful words Jeff. And beautifully delivered. Thank you.

  2. Skip Taylor says:

    Wendy: My sincere congratulations on an award you so deserve. Telluride would not be one of the greatest, friendliest places on earth without all of the people, events and organizations you have nurtured.
    Congrats! Skip

  3. Andrea DeGeorge Garbarini says:

    Hi
    I was was one of the 911 families that made the journey to Telluride. We have come back every year since! Telluride has become a second home for us! It gave us support and comfort when we needed it the most. Wendy Brooks , you have become part of our family, a much needed inspiration to my children and myself. You are a force to be reckoned with! We love you and will always be grateful. We are humbled by your spirit!

  4. Elaine Demas says:

    So proud of you Wendy… What a wonderful celebration!

    Honored to have been a part of it.