Have You Met?

(On Saturday, September 13, 2014, Sandee Walling, will once again be honored for her dedication and commitment to our community by the Rocky Mountain MS Center.  We did this interview in 2007, and Sandee is still the loving, caring beauitful person she was then.)

Sandra Walling, one of the Denver area’s most humble and admired contributors, is going to receive a well-deserved honor on March 9, 2007. Sandee is being recognized for her personal contributions to the University of Denver and the community by receiving the “Community Service Award” at the school’s “Founders Day” event/celebration.

Sandee lends her time and selflessly gives to innumerable non-profit organizations (see a partial list below); and when Walling was a Speech Pathologist, she received one of the greatest rewards of her career when a mother called to tell Sandee that her autistic daughter was entering into a public school thanks to all of Sandee’s efforts and effective work with the child.

In the mid 90’s, Sandee was presented with her own health challenge when she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. This diagnosis, however, has not slowed her down and has given Sandee an unwillingness and determination to not let MS beat her. Her desire to make meaningful differences and help others is a sign of her faith and strength. Sandee has been unwavering in doing what she can to help other MS patients find solutions to the challenges they face; and with her fundraising involvement and many resources, she has put a lot of love and hope into helping find a cure for MS.

Sandee Walling is filled with personal integrity and compassion. She brings the “right stuff” to all the charitable work she does. Drawing from her positive outlook and courage is bound to help all of us cope with our own challenges.

How did you get involved in all the charitable work you do? Even when the boys were growing up, I worked full time, and I got involved with some different organizations like the American Cancer Society and the Symphony Guild; and I guess it started when a friend asked me to go to the Women’s Library Association Membership Tea, and I joined. A year later, they asked me to be President Elect – and I said “okay!” and it just started from there. You meet different groups of people, and they say: “I think you would enjoy working with this organization, and I’d say “okay!” and I just became involved.

Is there a charitable event you really look forward to attending each year? I’m co-chairing this year’s MS Gala, so I’m going to have to say – the MS Gala. It’s August 4th at Invesco.

How many years ago were you diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis? About 12 years.

What symptoms were you having? I was walking, and I slipped on the ice and fell down. I went to a chiropractor, and he said “I don’t think this is just because you landed on your tailbone, the tingling in the legs you are having concerns me, and I would like for you to see a Neurologist,” and three MRI’s later, she said: “You have MS.” Colorado has one of the highest incidences of MS, and the symptoms can be different with everybody. Some people lose their eyesight, some have double vision, some people like me start with a little balance problems and tingling in their arms or legs.

What do you do to keep your symptoms under control? I take the medication Avonex; and I react very strongly to heat, so I watch myself. If I get too hot, which I sometimes don’t realize is happening, so I have to get some really cold water or slap some ice on the back of my neck. If I push too hard, I get really tired, and then I know it’s time to slow down and smell the roses for a minute or two - and then go on. It’s just another accommodation of life. I also can’t wear high heels anymore.

They say in life, everything is a learning experience. What’s been your best learning experience through this whole process? To let someone else help me. I’m very independent. When I realized that just going up or down a flight of stairs without a banister - that I can’t do it; I had to learn to reach out and ask someone to help me out. At a Christmas Party, there was a huge flight of stairs to get up to the house. I thought to myself, I could ask the valet guy to help me, or I could go home, so I asked the valet to help me, and he didn’t mind, he was very gracious about it. I’ve learned to reach out and say “Could you help me?” That’s very big for me.

You have definitely reached out and given others a helping hand, so now it’s your turn to ask for help when needed, don’t you agree? Yes, I’m a caregiver, so I’ve had to learn to take….

If you look back, who is the most interesting person you have ever met? Ronald Reagan. I met him, and shook his hand - and didn’t wash my hand for a week! The other person I met in November, and he’s absolutely my hero, is Richard Cohen. He wrote the book “Blindsided,” and he is married to Meredith Viera of the Today Show. He is also an award winning news producer. The man has had MS since he was 25 years old (he is 55 now), and he is legally blind and absolutely the most incredible human being I have ever met.

Would you consider his book the most inspirational one you have ever read? Yes. It would definitely be Richard Cohen’s book “Blindsided.”

What do you feel is your proudest accomplishment? I’ve worked real hard on getting more local – and national – recognition about the difficulties of having MS; but most of all, I’m most proud of my kids. They turned out very nicely!

What surprises you about yourself? I’ve got a Type ‘A’ personality, and I’ve had to learn to let go, and to be patient.

What is guaranteed to make you laugh? I can laugh about anything! I laugh all the time. Humor is just a big part of the way I live. My grandson just keeps me in stitches, and my older son Chris, he has my very perverted sense of humor as well. The two of us can just laugh at many things. It’s kind of embarrassing some times.

What can make you cry? That would be just about anything too! I cried at the Bronco game when we had the flyover during the national anthem, and the guy sitting in front of me said: “Sandee, the game hasn’t even started yet….” I could cry watching a commercial on television. We go to a movie, and my son will say: “Well, mom, did you bring a lot of Kleenex? I know you are going to cry at this one.” I guess I am able to express my emotions pretty easily.

What is your favorite movie of all times? I like so many. Most recently, “The Passion of Christ.” Long term, probably “Gone With the Wind,” I’ve seen that one about a thousand times.

What do you think is the secret to a happy relationship – whether it’s a marriage or a friendship? I think you have to be a listener. Listen and feel compassion and understanding. You cannot be judgmental.

Do you have a treasured possession? If the house caught on fire, I’d grab items that belonged to my great-grandparents that were passed on from my grandmother, to my mother, and then to me. I’d definitely take pictures like my grandmother’s wedding portrait – and a coal oil lamp that came from my great-grandparents when they moved after the civil war from Tennessee to Oklahoma. My grandmother had it wired so it runs on electricity. It’s really pretty!

What’s in the future for Sandra Walling? At this point in time, I’m not thinking too much beyond getting the MS Gala done - although I’m working really hard on a new advocacy program for the Rocky Mountain MS Center, and doing an art exhibit in 2008, and then I’m going to be President-Elect for the Colorado Uplift Guild, and I just look forward to getting all of that done.

How do you want to be remembered by future generations? I think I would just like to be remembered as someone who cared. That’s basically it - “She cared…”

Sandee’s Current Community Activities: Rocky Mountain MS Center Immediate Past President of Guild; Member Rocky Mountain MS Center Board of Directors, Food Bank of the Rockies - Guild President; Colorado Neurological Institute Guild - Education Chairman; Homesteaders - Recording Secretary/Board of Directors; Colorado Uplift Guild - Recording Secretary; Achievement Rewards for College Scientists (ARCS) - Corresponding Secretary & Gala Co-Chair; Kempe Alliance, Corresponding Chair Elect, Kempe Alliance President and Kempe Foundation Board Member; Therapeutic Preschool Lunch Chair; Lamont Music Associates - Co-Chair for “Day at Lamont”; Women’s Library Association and Friends of Penrose Library - Past President (twice), Membership Chair, Book Stack Volunteer, Book Sale Volunteer, Chancellor’s Society; Friends of Special Collections Member; Denver Lyric Opera Guild; Denver Center Alliance; Gathering Place; Central City Opera; Volunteers of America; Cancer League of Colorado – Board member; Friends of the Arts; Bessie's Hope, Adams Camp. 

Some of Sandee’s Past Volunteer Activities: President, Cherry Creek Republican Women; President, American Cancer Society; Arapahoe Unit and Division Board Volunteer, Cherry Hills Community Church; S. Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce Leadership Program; Republican Leadership Program; Families First; Kent Denver & Cherry Hills Elementary – Book Store Library; Youth Sports Team Mother; – 9 Times Boy Scout Assistant Leader; Cancer League of Colorado Board; Jr. Symphony Guild Board.