In a place where community engagement is common, Conifer resident Marilyn Saltzman’s remarkable record of service is anything but. Since arriving in Colorado 46 years ago, Saltzman has seen her neighbors at their cruel worst, and at their shining best, and she’s worked ceaselessly to help repair the damage caused by the darkest of human impulses and encourage better angels to take flight.
Originally from Brooklyn, Marilyn and her husband, Irv, were young New York City public school teachers with their eyes on far horizons. In 1970, the couple bid the Big Apple goodbye and set off across the fruited plains.
“We headed west,” Marilyn says. “We wanted to see what else was out there.”
Running hard up against the Rocky Mountains, the Saltzmans settled in Denver. After spending a few years working such jobs as were handy, Marilyn decided to explore a more permanent career track.
“I edited my high school and college newspapers,” she says. “I applied for the editor job at the Golden Transcript, and I got it.”
The Saltzmans moved just a tad farther west in 1979, laying down their loads for the last time among Kings Valley’s woody acres. For Marilyn and Irv, it felt a little bit like going home again.
“Growing up in New York City, we always vacationed in the Catskills,” explains Marilyn. “Conifer reminded me of that. Living there is like being on vacation all the time.”
Saltzman also worked on the front end of journalism as a stringer for the Denver Post, a part-time gig that focused heavily on the education beat and made Marilyn a familiar and respected presence at Jefferson County Public Schools. When R-1 needed a new public information officer, she was invited to apply. Saltzman would serve as the district’s manager of communication services from 1982 to 2002, and her considerable abilities were tested to the limit on Apr. 20, 1999, when armed gunmen stalked the halls of Columbine High School.
“That was the most difficult experience of my career, and the most life-changing,” Marilyn says. “It was 24/7 for several weeks, and it was intense. It was 14 months before our office didn’t get a call from somebody about Columbine.”
If Columbine presented almost impossible professional and personal challenges, it also gave Saltzman unique insights into the demanding world of crisis management and suggested a new and needed direction for her skills. She served as an adjunct professor of public relations management Colorado State University from 2002 to 2004 before hanging up an independent public relations consulting shingle as Saltzman Communications. With a client list including both state and national education organizations, she worked closely with several Front Range school districts and was again summoned to the hardest kind of duty on Sep. 27, 2006 when a gunman invaded Platte Canyon High School in Bailey.
“I was called to Deer Creek Elementary, where they were bringing the students. My job was to work with the media, get Web updates out and provide information to students and their parents. I worked with them for over a year.”
If Saltzman’s knowledge and understanding of crisis communication were dearly bought, they held the potential to do a lot of good. In the wake of Platte Canyon, the Office of Victims Programs, Division of Criminal Justice, Colorado Department of Public Safety commissioned Marilyn to write a report on the state of victims services. Her comprehensive answer was “Lessons Learned: A Victim Assistance Perspective” published in 2009. Saltzman was also part of the team that developed “School Crisis Guide: Help and Healing in a Time of Crisis” at the behest of the National Education Association Health Information Network. She’s been asked to address numerous national and state convocations and held leadership posts in several national and state media and public relations organizations, including a term as co-chair of the National Federation of Press Women.
Saltzman has shared her hard-won expertise in a number of nationally distributed articles, among them “Shared Decision-making: An Uneasy Collaboration,” “Communicating with Key Stakeholders to Enable Strategic Change” and Remembering Columbine.” She’s also co-authored several books including Reclaiming School in the Aftermath of Trauma and Dave Sanders – Columbine Teacher, Coach, Hero, a heart-wrenching project she undertook at the request of Sanders’ wife.
“She told me, ‘Everyone knows how he died. I want them to know how he lived.’”
As it happens, Saltzman’s first published book title wasn’t about either education or public relations. Maybe Tomorrow: A Hidden Child of the Holocaust recounts the experiences of a personal friend of Marilyn’s who was among those thousands of Jewish children who survived the Nazi purges by concealment.
Although her professional activities keep her more than slightly busy, Saltzman’s service doesn’t stop when she goes off the clock. She’s done turns as president of the Denver chapter of Susan G. Komen for the Cure and secretary/treasurer of the Mountain Water and Sanitation District. She currently chairs the Senior Resource Center’s marketing committee, and volunteers for both Jefferson County’s upbeat Good News Coalition and Serving Kids, a group dedicated to clothing underprivileged Jeffco schoolchildren. Marilyn is also a past president and very active member of Congregation Beth Evergreen.
“Right now I’m studying Mussar,” she says. “It’s a study of soul traits like patience, humility and gratitude, and how they influence how you are in the world. I think of my volunteer work as an outlet to expand those traits.”
In those rare moments not filled with public service, Marilyn indulges in the private kind. Playing with her two grandchildren, for instance, provides a priceless antidote to pressing career and community obligations, and a plane ticket can carry her for a time far beyond the demands of clients and committees. Her recent escapes span the globe from Thailand to the Tasman Sea and include an African safari, two visits to Israel and one to Jordan, and a long walk along Peru’s fabled Inca Trail. And always Marilyn returns refreshed and ready to serve. At the moment she’s serving her Kings Valley neighbors by exploring solutions to the 285 Corridor’s worsening traffic situation.
“It needs to be done, and I think I can help,” she says, simply. “I feel very fortunate be in a position where I can help others.”