By accident, Anzelmo finds calling
In many ways Joan Anzelmo is still working on a decades-old promise to roll out the welcome mat for foreign tourists.
The road that led Anzelmo to serve as superintendent of one of the Grand Valley’s most scenic attractions, Colorado National Monument, first was paved by the kindness of strangers.
Fascinated with languages, the teenager who had been president of her all-girl high school, jumped at the chance to study in France and Switzerland. She worked for families as an au pair, but at that time, in 1972 and 1973 during the Vietnam War era, anti-American sentiment ran high.
“They said, ‘You’re the exception,’ ” she reminisced. “I was trying to give the PR (public relations) sell.”
As she was graduating college, Anzelmo saw her first chance to make good on that PR effort when the National Visitor Center in Union Station in Washington, D.C., was established. Before the office opened, she hounded officials there and landed her first role with the National Park Service. Across from congressional offices, word got out that she was fluent in French. Anzelmo soon was accompanying foreign dignitaries on visits around the nation’s capital and aiding in presidential visits.
“I had found my calling, landing in the National Park Service quite accidentally,” she said.
Over the next quarter of a century, Anzelmo held other top public affairs positions at Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park. She worked public affairs for the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, and as park manager at Great Falls Park in Virginia. She was a spokeswoman for the National Park Service for the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.
Anzelmo said she is lucky the federal government tends to be ahead of the curve when it comes to hiring women and minorities.
“That’s not to say I haven’t been in some strange meetings,” she added.
If she was traveling with male co-workers, Anzelmo said she was careful to reserve hotel rooms well down the hall or at other hotels to minimize any semblance of impropriety. She doesn’t appreciate people who aren’t professional in the workplace, and she is discouraged when other women wear revealing clothes on the job.
“In the ‘70s you had to be wise,” she said. “You had to be careful and make it known you were there to do your job.”
After having her daughter, Anzelmo said work and family life became a juggling act. She never missed birthdays or watching her daughter’s sporting events, but she did get a sitter.
“Anybody who says there’s no sacrifice isn’t being honest,” she said.
At one time Anzelmo took a position two pay grades lower than she was earning to move back to Jackson, Wyo., because it would be a slower pace of life for her and her daughter.
“I never looked back,” she said. “It was totally worth it.”