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An all-over-town volunteer spirit

November 26, 2018

She was dressed in black, but Judy Costlow’s smile was bright on a recent Sunday as she greeted patrons attending a show at the Lensic Performing Arts Center, where she was working as a volunteer usher.

Another usher working alongside her offered to take a woman’s ticket, but the patron declined.

“I want Judy to take my ticket,” the woman said, shifting over to Costlow and giving her a hug. The woman called Costlow a “generous host” and said she “takes a lot of pride in what she does for this city and the Lensic.”

Costlow, retired from a career with the New Mexico Department of Health, is a familiar face at the Lensic, where she’s been a regular volunteer for years.

It’s just one of her many volunteer roles around town.

She’s also a longtime ambassador for the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival and the Santa Fe Desert Chorale. She serves as president of the Santa Fe Opera Guild and works as a docent at the opera, giving backstage tours.

In the past, she has volunteered as a museum docent.

Some of her work is less glamorous. For a couple of dozen years, Costlow has delivered meals to people in need through Kitchen Angels; she also served as president of the nonprofit and was a member of its board.

Other work takes her outside: She often leads hikes with the Santa Fe Chili and Marching Society, and has been a volunteer team leader with the Trails Alliance of Santa Fe.

And, friends say, she’s an SOB.

That is, Costlow is president of a popular cycling club called Seniors on Bikes.

Her whirlwind, all-over-town volunteer spirit has earned Costlow a spot among The New Mexican’s 10 Who Made a Difference for 2018.

“Judy gives so much to so many groups, bringing her organizational skills, even temper, humor, patience, love and never-ending smile,” said Pat Hastings, who worked with Costlow at the Health Department and nominated her for the honor. Despite all Costlow does, Hastings said, “She never seems overly busy or rattled.”

Costlow was humble about the award. “I don’t feel like I make a difference,” she said. “Certainly, Santa Fe has made a difference for me, though.”

Born in Denver, Costlow was raised mostly in Wyoming by a father who worked as an insurance adjuster and a mother who worked at the local library, inspiring Costlow’s love of books. She attended college in Colorado, studying to be a schoolteacher.

Inspired by President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural plea — “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” — she devoted herself to a life of giving back.

After graduating from college, she joined the Peace Corps and served in the jungles of Bolivia, an experience that led to a lifelong love of travel and taught Costlow a valuable lesson: “Most people are good people and will help you, wherever you are and whoever you are.”

In the 1970s, she kind of bumped into Santa Fe and the man she would marry.

After taking a job at a public school in Albuquerque, Costlow took a trip to Santa Fe to ski. She learned the sport by following skiers more skilled than herself, but she followed one a little too closely — and ran right into her future husband, Marc Bolsterli.

The couple were together for decades. Costlow said her husband died in May 2012 of complications from Parkinson’s disease.

When she moved to Santa Fe, Costlow’s career became a fusion of education and public health. She worked at the state Health Department as a public health educator and co-founded the Santa Fe Health Education Project, which promoted preventive health care throughout Northern New Mexico.

In the mid-1970s, she co-wrote one of the seminal books on menopause, called Menopause: A Self-Care Manual.

She also organized a series of women’s wellness retreats at the Ghost Ranch Education and Retreat Center near Abiquiú over a period of 20 years.

Mara Taub, who worked with Costlow on health care projects in the 1970s, including the wellness retreats, called her “an enormously caring person.”

Nowadays, when Costlow takes a break from volunteering to travel, she often brings her own bike or rents one.

In March 2016, such a trip turned deadly.

Costlow was one of several cyclists struck in Tucson, Ariz., by a man driving under the influence. While Costlow was hospitalized for two months after the crash, her friend Clare Rhodes, 72, of Santa Fe was killed, along with a Tucson man. The driver later was sentenced to more than 10 years in prison.

Costlow has no memory of the accident. When she regained consciousness, she said, “I really didn’t quite grasp what had happened.” For a time, she suffered from survivor’s guilt.

But others comfort her, and she finds comfort in volunteering.

Recently, a little boy on a school trip at the Lensic stopped in front of her, smiled and exclaimed, “I just love this place.”

Costlow smiled back and responded: “Me too.”

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