1977 to 1993: Civic Leader in Denver
I settled (as much as I settle) in Denver; our home was a hub of theological thought and social justice activism. My public involvement increased, even as I raised a family and earned a second master’s and a doctorate (Iliff School of Theology). I threw myself into initiatives focused on marginalized members of the community. Meanwhile, I found an enduring spiritual retreat at my ranch in the Kenosha Mountains, and my children became not just dear hassles but also a deep joy.
Soon after arriving from Heidelberg, in 1979 I became active in an ecumenical partnership of two congregations, Catholic and Presbyterian. My husband of a decade was Mark Meeks, preacher at Capitol Heights Presbyterian Church, where I served as Minister of Pastoral Care, visiting people in hospitals or other painful life situations.
In 1981, My sister Helen and I launched the Hunt Alternatives Fund, guided by our great friend Vinny McGee. We gave away half our income — for me the first year was $35,000 — to neighborhood groups not typically funded by larger foundations. In 1987, I co-created the Women’s Foundation of Colorado, building support among other philanthropic individuals for grants to empower women and girls from all walks of life.
A New Ensemble
After my marriage to Mark ended, I proposed to Charles Ansbacher, a dashing symphony conductor whose music-making infused every part of my life. He would aid and abet my work for the rest of his 66 years. One of my greatest successes was to blend a family, with three children whose ages spanned 17 years. They have been each others’ best friends since day one.
I interned in a public mental hospital, then ran Karis Community, a residential program to keep young people from sliding into hospitalization. Seeing the dysfunction in the complexity of federal, state, and local programs, I cut my policy teeth on an improbable reform of Denver’s mental health system. It was both gratifying and terrifying.
Families and Children
Given my work across the community and across the years, in 1991 Mayor Federico Peña asked me to co-chair his Initiative on Families and Children to shape a unified agenda for urban citizens. Meanwhile, at home, my three children were constantly poking at my middle-age assumptions and my self-importance. Often they were right and I was wrong. They were becoming not only my inspiration, but also wise counselors.
Human Capital Agenda
In 1992, Mayor Webb tapped a community activist and me to develop a strategic plan for his work in education, health, safety, and employment, using a community-based decision process. I learned the importance of organizing diverse people in small groups with crystal clear objectives.
Housing and Homelessness
I pestered Governor Roy Romer until he told me to create and chair the Governor’s Coordinating Council on Housing and the Homeless. We comprised a cohesive initiative of municipal, state, and national government leaders, along with representatives from the business and non-profit communities — and homeless people, of course. As I grew in my understanding of the vital connection between policy and politics, I supported candidates whose positions were attuned to my values.
During a sixteen-year period in Denver, our foundation made grants to more than four hundred organizations. I emerged with experiences of giving—resources and self — worthy of Walt Whitman’s ‘noiseless patient spider.’ A web has remained, connecting me to points I never would have imagined.”S.H.
A noiseless patient spider,
I mark’d where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
Mark’d how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,
It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.
And you O my soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,
Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.