Current Issue / DU Alumni / Magazine Feature / People

Merle Catherine Chambers helped create DU’s center for women and girls

Merle Catherine Chambers' name is etched in granite outside the University of Denver’s Chambers Center for the Advancement of Women. Photo: Wayne Armstrong

Back in 1999, a group of visionary women met for lunch and, by the time the meal was finished, they had put the pieces in place for an extraordinary gift to the University of Denver and to women and girls across the state of Colorado.

Among those women was Merle Catherine Chambers (LLM ’84) whose name is now etched in granite outside the dream-come-true building: the University of Denver’s Chambers Center for the Advancement of Women.

“Merle was immediately enthusiastic about it and made a commitment to the naming gift over that lunch,” recalls Michele ‘Mike’ Bloom, then dean of DU’s Women’s College. “The thing that was so remarkable about her gift was that she made it so quickly and enthusiastically. She validated the strength of the vision. Her confidence and belief in the power of what we were trying to create was the magic that got us going and allowed other people to understand the vision.”

Today, the Chambers Center houses the Women’s College, the Women’s Foundation of Colorado and many other DU- and community-based programs, creating a synergy among the organizations that was once unheard of.

For her gift and ongoing work in the community, Chambers is the recipient of DU’s 2009 John Evans Award—the University’s highest alumni honor.

While Chambers says she loves the building itself, she says she made her quick commitment because the vision matched her own belief in systemic change for women and girls.

“We weren’t talking about building a building, per se,” she says, “but a place where the occupants come together and their energies create a positive impact on the community.”

An only child, Chambers grew up in an “oil family” and ultimately ran her family’s oil company for more than a decade. She believes it is a responsibility, and a privilege, to share her good fortune.

“I learned at my father’s knee that if you have an ability to make large gifts, then you should,” she says. From her mother, Chambers learned the importance of helping people.

“My mother was a good liberal, and she gave of her time and talent,” says Chambers. “That’s where I get the emotional underpinnings of my work.”

Chambers says her proudest accomplishment is the work that she’s done for women and girls across many states. She established foundations for women in states where her family’s business operated, including Wyoming, Montana and Oklahoma. She also gave generously to already-established women’s foundations in North Dakota.

“I give systemically so that I can promote the greatest possible change for women,” says Chambers.

Today, she runs the Chambers Family Fund, which “seeks upstream solutions to improve the lives of women and girls.” She recently made a $50,000 challenge gift at a Women’s Foundation of Colorado luncheon, and she champions early childhood education.

But Chambers never seeks attention for her own actions. Instead, she says, “It has been extraordinary to be able to help women.”

Comments are closed.