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Karen Utley was a force for Flatirons Habitat from our earliest days

Flatirons Habitat has been blessed over its nearly 25-year history with a host of dedicated volunteers, staff and board members, all of whom were guided by a vision of a world where everyone has a decent place to live. Count among them Karen Utley, who was there from the beginning and continued to give her time, energy and love to us until just a few years ago.

Next week, we hope to return that love in a tribute to her.

Karen, our first board president, passed away on June 5 at age 78.

She was a driving force in organizing our affiliate that was officially designated in 1993, and a tireless advocate and volunteer, serving in myriad ways.

Kurt Firnhaber, who got the ball rolling for what was then known as Habitat for Humanity of Boulder Valley, said Karen was one of a group of five or six that served on a committee to organize the affiliate. From there, she seized every chance to give to the effort.

“The first three years, four years, there wasn’t a Habitat office. Karen’s home was the official office and my house was the construction address. … Karen at her house coordinated all aspects of administration,” Kurt said. “People were always stopping at her house every day. ... We probably built five or six houses before we got our first office.”

Karen’s forte, he said, was organization -- just what a newly formed Habitat affiliate needed. Karen created policies and procedures “and all those things you need to run an affiliate,” Kurt said. “After we really got going, she started to focus on the family selection process and closings, collecting monthly payments, managing homeowners.”

In a 1994 Daily Camera feature, Karen said her job at IBM left her little time to give back, so she devoted herself to volunteering upon retirement:

“When I was with IBM, I had little time for volunteer activities. I think this country depends very much on volunteers. When I was retired, I was looking for opportunity and the Boulder Valley affiliate was just getting started. They help people help themselves. I chose that as one of the volunteer activities I would get involved in.”

And get involved she did.

Hers “truly was a devoted effort that continued over a number of years,” said Bob Stuenkel, who met Karen while he was pastor at University Lutheran Church, where our first official office was housed. “She took great satisfaction and meaning from working with families and in serving in the office any way she could. Karen was THE dedicated and consummate volunteer.”

Kurt said she was a force “and everything that that means,” for many years giving full 40 hours a week to Habitat before eventually pulling back to “part time.”

She was very driven, he said, but still started conversations with a laugh and worked hard because she was committed in all the things she did to making the community a better place.

“She was dedicated to the people Habitat was serving, I think that was really why she did it,” Kurt said, adding, “she never really looked for a pat on the back, she was content sort of being in the background. She touched touched every part of the organization in some way.”

Given her many years of devotion to Flatirons Habitat, we are certain many of you have memories of her. We invite you to share them at a memorial celebration at 4 p.m. Wednesday at our office. The celebration will include a blessing from Stuenkel, light refreshments and the chance to share stories about Karen. Please join us.

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