Thursday, June 8, 2023 -
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Sheila Bugdanowitz, 1944-2016







And numbers.

Illusory numbers.

The smallest number of people who mourn the passing of Sheila Bugdanowitz, the late president and CEO of Rose Community Foundation, were the thousands who attended her funeral last Tuesday at Temple Emanuel.

The smallest numbers of people who will feel her absence are her family, friends and the very considerable circle of her philanthropic associates.

Bugdanowitz left her largest impact on people who may well never know her name. Her reach was so far beyond the customary, so layered in channel after channel, that the number of people she touched is incalculable.

Among those touched by the untimely loss of Bugdanowitz are thousands and perhaps tens of thousands of Latino children and the same number of

  • disabled adults,
  • Jewish toddlers,
  • sick children,
  • immigrants needing civic know-how,
  • impoverished women,
  • the underliterate,
  • elderly needing age-appropriate services,
  • social entrepreneurs,
  • leaders-in-training,
  • teachers-in-training,
  • single parents,
  • tenants facing homelessness,
  • aspiring young philanthropists,
  • the food insecure,
  • the mentally ill,
  • people unable to navigate complex medical systems —  to name only some of the recipients of her philanthropic leadership at the Rose Community Foundation since 1998, and at Children’s Hospital and many other notable philanthropies before that.

Bugdanowitz sat in an office. She analyzed public policies, devised philanthropic strategies, evaluated grant applications. But she also got out of the office, personally observing the contours of countless gaps in society. Always with a smile. Always with professionalism. Always with empathy. Always looking toward the long-term. Always looking to “build capacity,” whether the grant application before her was a “capacity” request or not.

And, as often as not, looking to leverage resources by collaborating with other philanthropies.

Even all this does not begin to approximate the uniqueness of the person who suddenly left us, plunging so many into deep shock and mourning this week. Bugdanowitz’ high calling at RCF and other philanthropies did not derogate one whit from her capacity for friendship, for enjoying a good shmoos and a good  joke. There was a compassionate and wise human being, not just a “policy wonk,” at RCF.

Still more. Bugdanowitz had a way of bringing out the best in her staff. She had a keen eye for talent and a capacious mind that allowed, with deft encouragement and advice, members of her staff to develop their particular talents. She was not afraid to admit a mistake and take a different approach. It was not accidental that under her leadership RCF won many awards from her peers at philanthropic foundations.

Bugdanowitz’ passing reminds us all of something we all already knew — the fleetingness and unpredictability of life. In her case, the reminder is especially jarring because of the complete consistency and love she brought to her position at RCF. At an age when many lose interest or slow down, Sheila Bugdanowitz was anything but. If ever someone projected the picture of permanency, of stick-to-itiveness, of leadership, it was Sheila Bugdanowitz.

She had the advantage of another consistency. Someone once asked a very successful rabbi what the secret of his success was. The answer was, “Go somewhere, and stay there.” Born and raised in Denver, Bugdanowitz had the advantage of knowing and interacting with people over long periods and in many contexts. She grew up with people who became Denver’s leaders. She knew the city and scene; she had an institutional memory — the institution being our city and state.

We will miss Sheila Bugdanowitz’ graciousness. We will miss her visits to the IJN offices. We will miss her candor and kindness. We will miss her loyalty to the generations that came before and the generations she helped assure would come after. Sheila Bugdanowitz leaves behind a seminal chapter in Denver and Denver Jewish history.

Copyright © 2016 by the Intermountain Jewish News

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