Basalt minister makes career out of caring
Marie Gasau is officially the Basalt Community United Methodist Church pastor. She is unofficially the social conscience of the midvalley.
For nearly 20 years, Gasau has tended her flock both in Basalt and in Thomasville on Sunday, coordinated after-school programs for youth in her congregation and comforted the sick and dying among her charges.
But she’s gone above and beyond parochial duties. She’s helped feed the hungry regardless of whether they were Methodists. She’s made sure poor families had gifts to exchange at Christmas. And she’s teamed with other ministers to provide help as needs arise.
Gasau’s last day as minister at the Methodist Church will be June 15. Gasau, 62, is retiring. She and her husband of 43 years, Jerry, are moving to Oak Creek to be closer to one of their sons and his wife, who are expecting a baby.
Gasau will leave behind a legacy of caring and accomplishing. She enlisted her church to take over an existing Thanksgiving meal-distribution program in 1996. The need topped out at more than 100 turkey dinners, which were delivered to households, during the Great Recession.
She also got congregation members interested in cooking and serving at the Extended Table in Glenwood Springs 16 years ago thanks to a kid in Bible study. Mitchell Murphy told her after studies one day that he didn’t think he knew any poor people and was curious about how to help any such folks in the Roaring Fork Valley.
“Kids, bless their hearts, don’t come to the world with all the baggage we do,” Gasau said.
Gasau arranged with his parents to take him to Extended Table for an evening, where volunteers provide meals to the hungry. Mitchell prepared a report on his experience. The congregation took it as a call to action and continues to provide home-cooked meals with an emphasis on fresh vegetables and fruits.
Gasau recalled with relish sitting next to a homeless man who was brought to tears over being served meatloaf. He said it was the first time he had eaten meatloaf since his mom made it for him as a kid many years ago.
Gasau also has made sure people in poor families had gifts for one another at Christmas. The church became Grand Central for a gift-exchange program that teamed with the U.S. Marines’ Toys for Tots effort. Gasau’s crews put a special twist on it. Parents get to choose a gift or gifts for their kids, wrap the presents and exchange them with their children at a party at the church. Older kids can do the same for their parents. That way, Gasau said, it doesn’t leave an impression among the kids such as, “Look what the nice rich people did for us.”
Gasau’s ministering philosophy has always followed the tenet that it is more blessed to give than to receive.
“Folks that have the privilege of giving are actually receiving,” she said.
Janice Duroux, who has been a member of the Basalt Methodist congregation for more than 60 years, said Gasau’s aid extends far beyond the visible programs she’s helped organize and operate. She does a lot of little things that she doesn’t seek credit for, such as taking money out of her own pocket to make sure someone in need has enough gas money to get to work, according to Duroux.
“She’s always available for people. It’s didn’t matter if they were part of her flock or not,” she said. “It was always everybody before herself.”
Gasau’s greatest passion in recent years has been for a cause that she acknowledges, in a subtle way, has a future that’s up in the air. She’s beat a steady drum urging midvalley residents to treat one another with compassion, not just in a feel-good, amorphous sort of way but under the guidelines laid out by the International Campaign for Compassionate Cities.
In 2011, Basalt became the second city or town in the world to join the campaign. There are six full-fledged members now, ranging from Seattle to Appleton, Wisconson. Another 66 cities and towns, from Barcelona, Spain, to Houston are candidate cities working toward membership.
A compassionate city essentially tries to instill the Golden Rule into all aspects of life, from playground activities to Town Council chambers — treat others like you want to be treated.
Gasau said the effort was embraced most intently by two groups in Basalt — kids and Latinos. Residents of the former Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park got involved through their school kids. When officials from the International Institute for Compassionate Cities visited Basalt, trailer park residents treated them like family despite cultural differences.
Gasau participated in a community gathering to show support for residents of the Pan and Fork this year when they were facing mandatory relocation because of long-term concerns over flooding and for redevelopment opportunity. She credits members of the town government for working with the trailer park residents to help them find alternative housing. The town also paid between $15,000 and $25,000 per household for relocation aid.
On the other hand, she believes there was “willful ignorance” about the situation on behalf of some town residents. They see the relocation as an opportunity for Basalt to be more prosperous, she said.
She questions whether the community as a whole showed enough compassion to the Pan and Fork residents.
“That’s something this community is going to have to address,” she said.
In the bigger picture, she wonders if the Roaring Fork Valley really wants to be a diverse, welcoming and compassionate area. She also has concerns for the environment. Are we good stewards of a place the Ute Indians felt was sacred? she asked.
Her approach of posing tough questions is the same she took as a minister with her sermons.
“A lot of people end with a big bang. I don’t. I end with a question,” Gasau said.
There will be a community open house to say goodbye to Marie and Jerry Gasauat the Wyly Community Arts Center in Basalt from 2 to 5 p.m. on Saturday. Her last service will be June 15 at 9:30 a.m. with a fellowship gathering following services.
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Highway 82 is closed in both directions Wednesday morning after a multiple vehicle crash, according to a Pitkin County alert.