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Marsha Gardenswartz, 1953-2008

Marsha GardenswartzThe boundaries of birth and death allow no argument, only choices. Do we live as insubstantial shadows, or mountains rising high? Marsha Gardenswartz, so petite, gracious and very funny, was a mountain. Anyone who knew her — and the list is long and loving — can tell you that. A natural leader, she was tough when necessary but also gentle and encouraging.

We remember when she spoke at a private home before the federation’s first Colorado legislative mission to Israel, scheduled for November, 2001. Less than two months after September 11 the atmosphere in the room was apprehensive, tentative. Gardenswartz had just returned from Israel, the country she loved with a whole heart, and gave an impromptu and enthusiastic talk about her visit. In a matter of minutes, she transformed fear into courage, hesitation into the hunger for adventure.

This was Marsha Gardenswartz, a powerhouse of a woman whose dark eyes twinkled in times of joy and adversity. Diagnosed with stage four melanoma in 2005, she struggled valiantly against grim odds. Yet her death on June 20, 2008 at the age of 54 stuns us to the core.

Shortly after arriving here in 1976, Gardenswartz began volunteering for Denver’s Jewish community. Her professional dedication to the federation was particularly unwavering. She was the first president of federation’s Israel Center, past president of the women’s division, chaired the women’s campaign and missions committee, helped create the young professional division, and sat on the planning and allocations committee. She was honored with the Golda Meir Award in 2003. She also was a founding member of CHAI (Community Help and Abuse Information), a life member of Hadassah, former president of RMHA, past BMH-BJ board member, on the Loup JCC Israel festival committee, co-president of the EDOS ladies auxiliary and active in The Jewish Experience.

Gardenswartz filled the vessel of life with passionate commitment, too busy to pause for time’s limitations, until she was diagnosed. When she talked about her illness with the IJN in 2006, she philosophized, and prioritized. She spoke of how much she loved her family, and the decisions they would ultimately face. No detail escaped her honest, level gaze. She also used the forum to educate the public about the dangers of skin cancer. (Patients aware of her condition flocked in droves to their dermatologists, and she was so thankful). Then, despite having portions of her lung removed 10 days before the interview, she said she had to pack for a trip to China. That adventuresome spirit twinkled in her dark eyes. “No sadness here,” they smiled. “Not today.”

To Marsha’s husband Ian, children Hillary, Shana (David) and Noah, brothers Mark and Harvey and mother-in-law Rosyne, we offer our deepest sympathy. The community is here for you, just as Marsha knew it would be.

To touch another human life isn’t as easy or glib as it sometimes sounds. With Marsha Gardenswartz, we were more than touched. We were embraced. Our sorrow is deep. Yet we sense that she wouldn’t want us to linger there too long. “Live fully,” she would advise. “Love well. Choose wisely. And always remember to laugh.”


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