At one time, the Utah Advisory Board included, from left,Tina Lewis, Gayle Stevens, Jennifer Berger-Hammond, and Stephen Denkers. (Photo courtesy Tina Lewis)
By Vanessa Zimmer
Gayle Stevens was one of those people whose career likely would be labeled: professional volunteer. Because that was how she spent a good portion of her adult life — volunteering.
For 18 years, Stevens donated her time to the Sundance Institute as a member — and then chair — of the Utah Advisory Board, originally formed in the 1990s. The board’s mission was to work as a liaison between the nonprofit Institute and the community of Park City, taking on such endeavors as building relationships with venues for the Sundance Film Festival, as well as for transportation, restaurants, and lodging.
“Gayle was a vivacious, authentic, kind, sweet, funny, wonderful woman,” remembers Tina Lewis, who joined the board after Stevens. The two became fast friends. At one point, they co-chaired the body.
“The board [members were] almost like employees … and one of our missions was fundraising for Sundance, and so we were involved with all kinds of creating and staffing fundraising events,” Lewis recalls.
During the time of Stevens’ leadership and her dual management with Lewis, the board recruited financial donors for the Sundance labs, which mentored emerging filmmakers; attended the state Legislature to spread awareness of the Institute’s mission; initiated a membership program; and started a newsletter called The Insider “to get people jazzed about Sundance,” Lewis says. The Insider still exists today, sending Institute and Festival news out to interested parties each month via email.
“Gayle was a vivacious, authentic, kind, sweet, funny, wonderful woman,”
“She not only was that spark of energy, but she was a consensus-builder, a convener,” adds Lewis, about Stevens. Robert Dick, who develops corporate partnerships for the Institute, holds similar recollections of Stevens — a woman with a warm heart, a gentle soul, and a generous spirit. Plus: “Gayle was a big hat person,” Dick adds.
Yes, Lewis confirms, Stevens was a fashion plate with her polished look, the red hair, pink toenails, and requisite hat. She treated everyone around her warmly, from the biggest donor to the ordinary independent-film fan. “She was full of fun and mischief,” Lewis adds.
“We loved every minute,” says Lewis about volunteering on the board. Stevens also volunteered on the Rowland Hall-St. Mark’s School board of trustees, the Family Support Center Board, and the Summit Institute Board.
But: “She always told me Sundance was her favorite,” Lewis shares.
Stevens died in a car accident in 2008, leaving behind her husband and two children. Her obituary attests to her energy and charm: “Gayle was an avid skier, devoted reader, and enthusiastic writer. She loved gardening, cooking, world travel, and adventure. Gayle was known for spontaneous bouts of singing and dancing. She was an incomparable hostess who threw memorable dinner parties for her family and for her friends.”
After the funeral at Salt Lake City’s Red Butte Garden, Lewis and Jill Miller, then managing director of the Institute (now associate deputy mayor of Salt Lake County), came up with the idea of naming the Festival’s volunteer of the year award after Stevens.
Every year since, the Gayle Stevens Volunteer Award has been presented to a generous and like-minded person at the Sundance Film Festival. The most recent recipient was BJ Berliner.