Georgia Imhoff’s farmgirl roots laid a solid foundation for the woman she was to become: They gave her strength, both mental and physical, to become one of Denver’s most respected philanthropists, one that gave as freely from her heart as she did from her pocketbook.
Georgia died at 9:45 a.m. today (Sept. 6). She had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in May, but suffered a massive heart attack Aug. 29 while in Silverthorne with Walt, her husband of 36 years. She was airlifted to St. Anthony’s Central Hospital, where she remained in cardiac intensive care until being entrusted to hospice care on Saturday. Walt, a leader in the finance and investment banking industry, was at her side when she passed, as was her daughter, Stacy Ohlsson.
Georgia was born on a ranch in Arbon, Idaho, a sheep and wheat property that remains a family-run operation. She came to Denver to attend the University of Denver School of Nursing, receiving a bachelor of science degree in 1955. Upon graduation she joined the Army, serving as a first lieutenant in the nursing corps.
Following her discharge, Georgia became a surgical nurse and education coordinator at Rose Medical Center, positions she held until she married Walt Imhoff, the then-head of Hanifen Imhoff, in 1973.
They met in 1970, when both were single parents.
Family friend Linda Goto recalls: “When she saw Walt, she asked a man she knew to introduce them. As he did, another woman interrupted and asked Walt to dance with her. Walt, always the perfect gentleman, accepted the dance and said he would be right back. Meanwhile, the man Georgia knew left to talk to other people and basically left Georgia standing alone. Walt returned, they talked and then Walt asked if she would like to join him for a drink after the party. Fortunately, she said ‘yes,’ and that was the beginning of their courtship.”
After dating for three years, though, Georgia informed Walt she did not want to spend the rest of her life alone and if he wasn’t interested in marriage, they should stop seeing each other.
He obviously did some thinking between hearing that and asking her to have dinner with him “one more time.”
Accompanied by his brother and sister-in-law, Walt and Georgia went to the former Tiger’s Lair supper club and while on the dance floor, he proposed. “I couldn’t bear the thought of not having her in my life, and her honesty about wanting to be married made me know that asking her was my only choice,” Walt recalls.
Dancing, in fact, played a big part in their lives.
Daughter Stacy Ohlsson remembers her mother coming home from one of her early dates with Walt and telling her how “A great song came on the radio and Walt, who drove an MG convertible at the time, pulled to the side of the road, turned up the music so they could get out and dance. They’ve always known how to have a good time, and their spontaneity added to that.”
And at charity galas that included dancing, the Imhoffs often were the first to hit the dance floor, whether the music was a waltz or rock ‘n’ roll.
During their marriage, Walt and Georgia traveled extensively; played singles and doubles tennis at the HeatherRidge and Sundance Hills tennis clubs; did pilates and personal training at Greenwood Athletic Club; and did daily NordicTrack and treadmill workouts at home.
Georgia also had a deep interest in spirituality, and began a group where 20 of her friends would join her on a regular basis to share thoughts about religion, numerology, astrology, books and other topics relating to why we are here and what is our purpose in life.
“She believed we are here to learn and return, through reincarnation, until we ‘get it right’ and our soul is on the highest plane,” says Gail Johnson, one of the group’s members. “We had our auras done together several years ago, and hers showed that she was at the highest plane already. I — and so many others — think of her as an angel on earth who helped so many people … people who knew her, and also others who benefited without knowing her. I don’t think she understood what she meant to so many.”
When Georgia was hospitalized, her family began a journal and guestbook on CaringBridge; some 2,000 people have visited it to date, offering prayers and tributes that have given Georgia’s family the love and support that helps carry one through a difficult passage such as this.
Like the Imhoffs, Gail Johnson and her husband, George, direct much of their philanthropy toward the Kempe Children’s Foundation and the child abuse prevention and treatment it funds at the Kempe Center. Johnson chaired the 2002 dinner at which Georgia was honored by the Kempe Center for her unstinting devotion.
“Georgia leaves a legacy to be remembered, respected and aspired to,” says Jesse Wolff, the Kempe Foundation’s president and chief executive officer. “A loving mother, a true partner to Walt, a philanthropist, a lifelong learner, an entrepreneur, world traveler, a nurse, a volunteer, the list goes on.
“She cared deeply about the long-term sustainability of Kempe and worked on several initiatives to help get us there, including: establishing and helping fund an endowment at Kempe; serving on two capital campaigns; and founding and building the Kempe Alliance guild. Georgia was part of the soul of Kempe. Her spirit is in the staff, the kids, our hallways and walls … everywhere. We loved her very much.”
Wolff also recalls how she would attend almost every one of the monthly orientations the Kempe staff hosted for new donors and volunteers. “Even though she had heard everything hundreds of times over the years, she continued to attend because she wanted to bring her friends to hear about Kempe. She would tear up whenever she talked about Kempe’s staff working out of a dilapidated old house on Oneida Street years ago, and how far we have come. She was so proud of Kempe, and we were proud of her.”
As her prominence grew, one thing that caused her much concern was the lack of a central clearing house that nonprofit organizations could use so that major events were not inadvertently scheduled for the same day. After considerable research, she founded Blacktie-Colorado in 2001 with Kenton Kuhn; the online community includes a master calendar, a ticket-buying and reservation service, and photographic coverage of events.
Blacktie operates in several other cities besides Denver, and is about to launch in Washington, D.C., San Antonio and Virginia. At a reception to announce both the expansion and the upcoming Have You Met? Hall of Fame party, Kuhn surprised Georgia by announcing the establishment of an award named for her that will be given to an outstanding philanthropist and volunteer.
Georgia also was to have been one of those honored Sept. 11 by Denver Rescue Mission at its Women Who Have Changed the Heart of the City tea held at the Brown Palace Hotel.
A three-page, single-spaced resume details her history of philanthropic involvement and includes membership and board positions with organizations that include the Saddle Up Foundation; Colorado Hemophilia Society, the Women’s Foundation of Colorado, the Children’s Diabetes Guild, Girl Scouts, Friends of Nursing, the Regis University Task Force on the Future, and the University of Denver Graduate School of International Studies.
She was a past chair of the Brass Ring Luncheon, the American Diabetes Association’s Ultimate Benefit, DU’s Korbel Dinner; and Sewall Child Development Center’s Beacon Dinner. She also was a breast cancer survivor.
I met Georgia shortly after I stated this job in November, 1985. Our paths crossed often, and we became friends both “on the circuit” and off. I can’t remember ever seeing her without a smile, or without Walt or Stacy at her side.
The last time I saw her was at a private party less than a week before her heart attack. It was a for-fun-only girls’ night out hosted by three of her dearest friends and I sat next to her during dinner. We had a very pleasant visit, and to look at her one would never guess the toll the cancer was taking on her.
The conversation was upbeat — from the time of her diagnosis, she insisted there be no talk of illness — and included subjects as trivial as hair color and manicures. She looked radiant and seemed to be enjoying herself immensely.
When word of her passing reached me this morning, there was sadness and a sense of relief. Sadness for losing a friend, but relief that she was allowed to cross over with dignity, attended by those who loved her.
It also caused me to remember, and apply, something that happened years ago when I was covering the Nightingale Awards Gala.
I was seated with a group of nurses, from St. Joseph Hospital, if I remember correctly, when the table chatter suddenly ceased. “Do you see who just walked in?” one of them asked, in the reverential tone reserved for a rock-star caliber celebrity. We all craned our necks to see who it was.
“It’s Georgia Imhoff,” one of the nurses informed me. “She’s one of us! And she’s famous.”
Methinks a similar remark was made this morning as the pearly gates opened for heaven’s newest angel.
Georgia Imhoff is survived by her husband, Walt Imhoff; daughter, Stacy Ohlsson, of Denver; son, Randy Ohlson of Littleton; brother, Gene Stewart of Pocatello, Idaho; sister, Shirley, of Orem, Utah; stepchildren Mike Imhoff of Greenwood Village, Theresa Imhoff Schaefer of Wanaque, N.J., and Robert Imhoff of Los Angeles; their spouses Patty Imhoff and Charlie Schaefer; and grandchildren Cory, Chelsea and Hannah Ohlson; Katie and Grace Imhoff; and Katie, Emily and Chas Schaefer.