Denver Alumnae Member Highlight!
The Denver Alumnae Chapter of Gamma Phi Beta is comprised of over 3,000 members in the Denver Metro Area. Members have various backgrounds, passions, strengths and stories. Below we highlight some of our amazing members!
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Leigh Ann Kudloff
Leigh Ann Kudloff’s story of her multi-year hike on the Colorado Trail* is a metaphor for finding new paths in life. Hearing her speak to overcoming the challenges of the Trail and life lessons that developed because of her trek, it’s clear that Leigh Ann is an amazing example of Gamma Phi’s mission to build strong women.
Gamma Phi alumnae know of Leigh Ann’s many contributions to our sorority through volunteer positions and a lifetime of loyalty. Others know about her professional career as a mathematics teacher, retiring from the Jeffco school district, then serving as a mathematics mentor at the University of Colorado at Denver, Adjunct Instructor at the University of Denver, and as Interim Director of Mathematics for Denver Public Schools.
But Leigh Ann’s Colorado Trail hike, although shared with friends on social media, has been a less public part of her life.
Like many journeys, Leigh Ann’s began with a simple gift and a good friend. In the 1980s her friend, Vern, bought her a backpack and encouraged her to join in a hike. This “small” hike turned out to be 20 miles both ways, resulting in sore muscles and a hilarious “raccoon ate my backpack” tale. (Ask Leigh Ann!)
Fast forward to 2013 when Leigh Ann was ready to retire from teaching at Jeffco. Looking for a new challenge, she set the goal of hiking the complete Colorado Trail. In 2013 she tackled the first segment of the trail on June 21 with Gamma Phi sister Sarah Siddens—an auspicious beginning on the summer solstice.
Over the following five hiking seasons she followed various trail segments until completing the final section in 2018, solo with the help of a trail angel in Durango. In summer 2019, Leigh Ann’s hiking success inspired Gamma Phi Liz Burgess’ parents to begin their CT adventure. Reflecting on the challenges and insights from this great achievement, Leigh Ann relates some of her personal lessons that are thoughtful advice for life.
“Hike your own hike”—Leigh Ann’s hiking style is to approach the Trail as a journey. “I like to stop to look at the marmots, enjoy the wildflowers, savor the outdoors,” she says. Other hikers may have different purposes for their trek: some going out fast and stopping early, others approaching the day’s goal as a marathon to be completed. “That’s not my style, so I hike my own hike, enjoying it in my own way.”
“Learn from experts”—A lecture at REI helped Leigh Ann learn what to buy and just as important what not to buy for her hike. Which leads her to the next lesson…
“Offload stuff from your backpack”—Leigh Ann says that learning what she could live without was liberating and empowering. To lighten a backpack load is a thoughtful parallel to lightening other “stuff” from a physical or a mental backpack.
“Live in love”—Becoming a bit lost, taking a wrong turn because of a misaligned sign caused Leigh Ann some scary moments. But overcoming these mishaps, Leigh Ann says, “I got lost and had to save myself.” A sense of self confidence overcoming fear has been an invaluable life experience. “No matter how difficult the trail, I learned I could do it--my way.”
What are some of Leigh Ann’s future goals to expand her hiking adventures? First, she plans to become a “Trail Angel” this year. Trail Angels on the Colorado Trail, for those unfamiliar with the terms, describe people who provide goods and services, typically at no charge, to travelers. Trail magic is, generally, what angels provide, such as a cooler full of cold soda set out alongside the Trail with an invitation to enjoy the contents.
Also, she is looking to tackle additional “bucket list” trails in California and Vermont in the coming years. And if these aren’t enough ambitious goals, Leigh Ann may write a book about her adventures.
Leigh Ann encourages more women to hike the Colorado Trail. She describes a very supportive community of hikers, praises the safety of the trail, and also notes the opportunity to connect with others. “You never know who you will touch,” she says.
*The Colorado Trail is a continuous, narrow 485 miles path from Denver to Durango for hiking, horseback, and bicycling.
A self-described “people person,” Ariana (Ari) has combined her educational background in psychology and her experience as a Gamma Phi sister to create an exciting career as well as to commit to make a difference in the world around her.
As Manager of Talent Acquisition Shared Services for Vail Resorts, Ari leads a team of more than 20 individuals to provide staffing for seasonal and year-round resort positions.
Ari attributes much of her career success to experiences as a Gamma Phi and living in the house during her sophomore year at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
“I learned so much during that year,” says Ari. “I developed deeper relationships with women who had diverse backgrounds, different majors, varied extracurricular activities…and I learned to listen to their stories and experiences with a new depth of understanding. Learning to communicate with all of my Beta Rho sisters was great preparation for my role as a corporate recruiter and team leader.”
Ari’s focus on philanthropy for the Gamma Phi Alumnae Chapter includes volunteering for Girls on the Run and Boys and Girls Club Gates Camp in Ward, CO. With her leadership Gamma Phi Denver Alumnae Chapter’s philanthropy donated much needed kitchen equipment to the camp this year.
Also, Ari has made a major commitment to Denver’s Women’s Bean Project, an organization that supports and empowers women to become self-sufficient out of poverty or homelessness.
“I attended a Panhellenic Leadership Panel two years ago, and I heard Tamra Regan, the Women’s Bean Project CEO speak about her organization’s work. It seemed like a perfect fit with Gamma Phi’s commitment to building strong women, so I became involved and now volunteer as a personal mentor.”
Being a person with Type 1 Diabetes, Ari explains that she has learned to share information about her medical condition with others. “I’ve become more transparent about explaining what I need to stay healthy and active.” The American Diabetes Association is also one of the other organizations that I support.”
Ari is married to Jeff Gustafson, whom she describes as a great, supportive man. She is the proud owner of three cats. In keeping with her deep sense of social responsibility, her cats are all rescued and each have individual health issues.
Ari represents a true and constant Gamma Phi sister, and she reminds us of the importance of giving back to the communities where we live.