If you’ve lived in Colorado Springs for any of the last 20 years, you know who Mary Lou Makepeace is.
She served six years as the city’s first female mayor and was a member of the City Council for 12 years before that. She has served as chairwoman for Colorado Springs Utilities’ board of directors and led an oversight committee for Memorial Hospital.
After leaving city government, she was hired as executive director of Leadership Pikes Peak.
Her name is tied to city projects such as downtown’s public art, downtown revitalization, The Mayor’s 100 Teens and Acacia Park’s Uncle Wilbur Fountain, among a long list of others.
That kind of stewardship and recognition made her the perfect candidate for executive director of the Gill Foundation’s Gay and Lesbian Fund for Colorado, a position she took in December 2003.
And, the foundation couldn’t be happier with her results.
Since she was hired, name recognition for the group, which awards $2.5 million annually to nonprofit organization throughout the state, has shot up 90 percent, according to a poll by the foundation.
Established in 1994, the Gill Foundation works to secure equal opportunities for all people, regardless of sexual orientation, by rewarding nonprofits for fair policies and promoting the awareness of contributions to society made by gay and straight people.
“Having meaning in my work is very important to me, and I just think people should be treated fairly no matter what,” Makepeace said.
That philosophy is the product of a lifetime of travel, work in varying fields and a youth spent in North Dakota with her mother and grandmother.
“They were the kind of people that were always helping somebody, so they really had a big impact on me,” Makepeace said. “And I think that at that time in North Dakota, people all sort of knew there was interdependence on each other,” she said.
Makepeace earned a journalism degree from the University of North Dakota and married a military man, which brought her to Colorado Springs in 1973.
“I just fell in love with the place,” she said. “And I still love it today.”
But it was her time away from Colorado Springs that instilled a commitment to bettering society.
Prior to coming to Colorado Springs, her military travels took her overseas where she was an assistant to the defense attaché at the American Embassy in Prague, Czechoslovakia, in 1968, which was shortly after an invasion by the Soviet Union.
“It was an occupied country, and I was far from home,” she said, recalling how she watched an American land on the moon from Prague.
“That time, more than anything, made me appreciate being an American and the government we have,” she said. “There’s something about traveling that gives you a certain openness of mind. If I had my way, every high school student in the U.S. would be required to travel to a foreign country.”
Of all her past careers, Makepeace said her job as the city’s first female mayor may have been the most gratifying, because it allowed her to be a role model to other women, girls – and even boys.
“Women would always say to me, ‘you gave me the courage to go back to college,’ and little girls need someone to look up to,’” she said.
Makepeace recalled a visit to a fifth-grade classroom, a place she acknowledged where boys are known to be rowdy. When she walked in, one of the boys said, “The mayor’s a girl!”
“I think that experience broadened his horizons a little,” Makepeace said with a laugh.
Her time as mayor also provided her the experience of being at the forefront of controversial situations.
And, before going to the Gill Foundation, she had her first experience dealing with sexual orientation issues by signing various City Council proclamations.
She considered that taking a job at the Gill Foundation might raise a few eyebrows, especially in a place like Colorado Springs. Still, she was undeterred.
“So what if you’re criticized,” she said. “You don’t die from being criticized.