Story credit: ERIN McINTYRE for the Daily Sentinel
Evelyn Haley lived a full life, but not an extravagant one. She drove the same Toyota Camry for almost 20 years. She had one nice coat, a London Fog. She valued things that lasted.

And now the Grand Junction woman’s legacy will last far beyond her death, as the millionaire donated most of her estate to charity.

Haley, who died at age 95 earlier this year, wanted her estate to be liquidated and the money distributed mostly to a local foundation that will manage the funds in perpetuity, awarding grants regularly to the causes she believed in supporting.

The amount of wealth she donated to local organizations surprised her younger sister, Earlana Sims of Paonia, who was the executor of her estate.

“I had no idea how to write a check for a million dollars,” Sims said, chuckling. “And they told me at the bank, you’re going to have to write really small.”

The largest check she wrote was just over $1.4 million to the Western Colorado Community Foundation, Sims said, though after the sale of Haley’s home and other assets, her trust amounted to more than $3 million.

Haley named several organizations in her trust to receive donations upon her death, including HopeWest, Rocky Mountain PBS, Consumer Reports, Conservation Colorado, the Mesa County Public Libraries Literacy Program and Roice-Hurst Humane Society. But the bulk of her wealth was given to the Western Colorado Community Foundation, an organization that will manage the Evelyn and Glen Haley Trust, invest the money and distribute its earnings annually.

She wanted to keep giving after she died, to the places and people she wanted to support in western Colorado, her sister said. After all, it was where she got her start.

Haley was a retired city clerk who spent most of her career in Burbank, California, and had moved back to her roots in western Colorado with her husband, Glen, who was also a Colorado native.

The eldest of three girls born to fruit farmers in Delta County, Haley grew up among the orchards about halfway between Paonia and Bowie. Haley graduated from Paonia High School and reconnected with her high school English teacher, who would eventually become her husband.

After teaching English, Glen became a technical writer for North American Aviation. He wrote two novels based on his past in Paonia: “The Wrong Woman,” which included his relationship with Evelyn, and “Sparks Fly Upward,” which he wrote after his retirement.

“He was a great storyteller, no doubt,” Sims said.

The couple were kindred spirits, intellectuals, who loved to travel. Haley, described as a mature perfectionist even in childhood, loved music, the arts and reading. After Glen died in 2004, her world shrunk and she stuck closer to home, Sims said. Haley died in May after experiencing challenging health issues for roughly the past year of her life.

But her spirit lives on in the gifts she left behind, a continuation of something she did during her lifetime. Giving was something Haley did every year, her sister said, noting that she found it wasn’t unusual for her to donate thousands of dollars to local organizations each year while she was still living.

Though Haley didn’t want any funeral services or an obituary, her sister said she just couldn’t let her generosity go unnoticed, especially after everything she supported during her lifetime.

“I’m sorry, Evelyn, but this needs to be told,” she said. “It was wonderful to be able to give this money and I know it’s going to go for good things to good people, and that’s what she wanted.”

The endowment from Haley will be invested to grow over time and an estimated $65,000 will be distributed. The foundation hopes to award the first grants in 2020, foundation President and Executive Director Anne Wenzel said.

Three areas have been designated for Haley’s money to be awarded — animal welfare; fine arts, education, culture and literacy; and organizations serving victims of domestic violence or disadvantaged women and girls.

The community foundation manages about $75 million in 250 different funds, including end-of-life gifts like Haley’s. It’s not uncommon to receive these donations, but Haley’s is notable for its size and designations, as the organization doesn’t often get donations earmarked for the arts, Wenzel said.

The foundation receives four or five end-of-life gifts a year, but in the past 21 years of the organization’s existence, only 12 have amounted to more than $1 million.

But Wenzel said there’s no requirement for someone to donate that much.

“You don’t have to be a millionaire to participate,” she said, while noting Haley’s gift was very generous.

“It really catches her spirit and keeps her legacy of giving alive in the community,” she said.