Celebrating Wendy Brooks: A Tribute to Her Life & Work, 6/15, The Palm!

Celebrating Wendy Brooks: A Tribute to Her Life & Work, 6/15, The Palm!

Tuesday, August 8, 2017, friends and family gathered at the Sheridan Opera House to officially honor Wendy Brooks as the Foundation’s 2017 Citizen of the Year.


Had been a long time coming for the woman who changed the face of Telluride.

That is not hyperbole.

It is a stone cold fact.

Now, on Saturday, June 15, the community gathers again, this time for a whole other kind of tribute, certain to be bitter sweet. Wendy Goepel Brooks passed away March 26, 2024 at age 84 at her beachside home in Troncones, Mexico, surrounded by family and friends. 

In Wendy’s memory the Telluride Academy has founded a scholarship fund. Go here if you would like to donate in Wendy’s honor.

Then please scroll down for several  tributes, one penned by her dear friend Jeff Price and a second by her beloved sons Demian and Dylan Brooks.

Note from Telluride Inside…and Out, (only the facts ma’am):

Telluride might not have a Med Center, a Ski and Snowboard Club or a second homeowner population, (which triggered a robust cultural economy), were it not for Wendy. Truth is the 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 when she became Citizen of the Year 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 back when she became Citizen of the Year and he did so in his his usual nimble prose, as in you-could-drive-a-double-decker-bus-through-it (read arch) humor intact.

Few could have summed up better.

From 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.

Demian and Dylan out loud:

Our mother was a cancer survivor from 2005, who went on to live 18 more vibrant years until succumbing to the disease in peaceful acceptance.

Wendy was a caring mother, grandmother, sister, leader and friend to many across the globe. She left the world as she lived it: On her own terms.

Wendy Brooks was born in Hackensack, NJ, June 23, 1939. Brilliance and hard work enabled her to be the first in her family to attend college, aided in part by scholarship from the Leopold Schepp Foundation. After two years at Mount Holyoke, Wendy decided to head West to finish bachelor’s and master’s degrees at UC Berkeley. She went on to pursue further doctoral work at Stanford.

While in grad school, Wendy was inspired to support Cesar Chavez and the UFW, advocating for migrant workers. That work lead to a lasting relationship first with Robert Kennedy and later with Sargent Shriver whom she helped with the US government’s “War on Poverty” program.

During her stint with Chavez, Kennedy introduced Wendy to her future husband, Dr. David Brooks. Together they founded Salud, a donations-only clinic for the under-served in California, which operated until Dr. Brooks’ retirement in 2023.

Wendy moved to Telluride in 1976 in a VW van, her three young boys in tow. She bought a house on Oak Street that became the launching pad for many future endeavors, including writing grants to establish the Telluride and Norwood medical centers; the Telluride Freestyle Ski Team; and the Telluride Science Research Center. However, Wendy’s most lasting legacy is the Telluride Academy, which she founded and directed from 1980 until her retirement in 2007. The Academy is thriving, continuing to offer outdoor education to hundreds of children every year, many on scholarship.

Wendy was honored in 2017 as Citizen of the Year by the Telluride Foundation for her game-changing contributions to the Telluride region.

Wendy Brooks endeavored to pass on the values she personified: 1. Every child has infinite potential; 2. Travel cures ignorance and fosters global friendship; 3. Choose your own path, choose your own life.

Wendy is survived by brothers, Steven and Bruce Goepel;  sons Demian and Dylan Brooks; and grandchildren Julien, Philip, Amelia, Theo, Elin and Erik. She was preceded in death by her son Darius; sister Carol (Cookie) Graff; and her parents, Walter and Louise Goepel.


1 Comment
  • Scott Lee
    Posted at 16:15h, 15 June Reply

    This is a beautiful tribute on this website. The memorial service is going on right now. I am not there. I am sad about that. I am happy that my wife Tracy and her sister Jenn are there because they have been so impacted so positively by Wendy. They have shared their positive impacts with each of our families, including me. We have all indirectly and directly benefited from Wendy’s, benevolence, thoughtfulness, wisdom, and selflessness that makes her so special to so many of us. My Memories of Wendy only go back 20 years, but there are many of them. I learned more about her contributions as the years passed by. I am sure when Tracy returns home , she also will have learned more about Wendy than she knew before.
    . I am thankful and grateful for all that she has done and her impacts on me and my family. I have gotten to know her and her family and many others through her generous introductions. She clearly made an indelible mark on a very special place and will be duly honored and forever remembered.

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