Shirley Marie Bramkamp Olmstead, 97, on July 29, 2015 in Centennial, Colorado. Shirley was born in Cincinnati on April 13, 1918. After her graduation from Columbia University, she and her husband, Paul Olmstead, worked for the American Friends Service Committee in several locations. In Tennessee, Shirley started a community pottery enterprise where they used local clays and created their own glazes. Her husband taught woodworking and initiated a local furniture business. When Shirley and Paul left Appalachia, they both worked for George Junior Republic, an experimental school in New York that provided vocational studies, art, and academic education for residential youth. In 1955, Shirley and Paul became teachers at a Presbyterian mission school in Mt. Pleasant, Utah. As an accomplished potter and watercolor artist, Shirley taught art at the Wasatch Academy. While living in Utah, Shirley served as AAUW State President and was appointed by the governor to the Utah State Board of Mental Health. Shirley helped to bring mental health services to rural areas and checked herself into the Utah State Mental Hospital for a week to better understand the plight of mentally ill people in Utah.
Shirley and Paul retired to Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1983. Paul had been raised in a Quaker household and they quickly became part of the Friends community in Santa Fe. Shirley served on different committees and as clerk of the Santa Fe Monthly Meeting. She and Paul hosted book discussions, worship-sharing, and other events in their home. She gave away many watercolors and calligraphy gifts, “Each moment contains some sign of the will of God.” Her quiet service included a daily walk in the arroyo near their home where she picked up litter. Shirl loved to go to museums and on hikes with visiting grandchildren and with the children of the Friends meeting that adopted her as their “Grandma Shirl.” She and Paul enjoyed snow-shoeing, skiing, horseback riding, and attending artist classes and retreats at Ghost Ranch. They organized the meeting’s annual camping trip beside the Rio Santa Barbara in the Carson National Forest.
Shirley’s religious beliefs blended Friends’ testimonies and the teachings of Rabindranath Tagore. After Paul’s death in 2004, Shirley spoke about her full and useful life, and her intention of continuing to develop her gifts, including spiritual development. Friends remember Shirley’s kindness, wisdom, optimism, and gentle humor. Death is not extinguishing the light. It is putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.—Tagore.