Shirley Marie Bramkamp Olmstead

Olmstead—Shirley Marie Bramkamp Olmstead, 97, on July 29, 2015, in Centennial, Colo. Shirl was born on April 13, 1918, in Cincinnati, Ohio. After her graduation from Columbia University, she and her husband, Paul Olmstead, worked for American Friends Service Committee in several locations. In Tennessee, she started a community pottery enterprise that used local clays and created its own glazes. When she and Paul left Appalachia, they worked for George Junior Republic, an experimental school in New York that provided vocational studies, art, and academic education for residential youth. In 1955, they became teachers at a Presbyterian mission school in Mount Pleasant, Utah. An accomplished potter and watercolor artist, Shirl taught art at Wasatch Academy. While living in Utah, she served as American Association of University Women State President and was appointed by the governor to the Utah State Board of Mental Health. She 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.

She and Paul retired to Santa Fe, N.M., in 1983. Paul had been raised in a Quaker household, and they became part of Santa Fe Meeting. She served on committees and as clerk of the meeting. She and Paul hosted book discussions, worship-sharing, and other events in their home. Shirl gave away many watercolors and calligraphy gifts that said, “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. She loved to go to museums and on hikes with visiting grandchildren and with the children of the meeting, who called her Grandma Shirl. She and Paul enjoyed snowshoeing, 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.

Shirl’s religious beliefs blended Friends testimonies and the teachings of Rabindranath Tagore, who said, “Death is not extinguishing the light. It is putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.” Friends remember her kindness, wisdom, optimism, and gentle humor. After Paul’s death in 2004, she spoke about her full and useful life, and her intention of continuing to develop her gifts, including spiritual development. Shirl is survived by her son, Chuck Olmstead (Joanne), grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

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