Merle Chambers is the 2017 Denver Stories Honoree. The event honoring Merle will be held June 7, 2017.
Merle Chambers received her BA in political science from the University of California, Berkeley in 1968 and was a student protestor during the Free Speech and Civil Rights movements. She holds a JD from Hastings College of the Law and a Master of Tax Law from the University of Denver. Merle began her career as an attorney in San Francisco and moved to Denver in the late 1970s. For more than 20 years, Merle led Axem Resources Inc., a privately held, independent oil and gas exploration and production company that participated in some of the Rocky Mountain region’s most spectacular industry successes. As CEO of Axem, she pioneered women’s leadership in the oil and gas industry as one of few women CEOs in a male dominated field. Merle also managed Clipper Exxpress, a family-owned multi-modal transportation company.
In recognition of her success with Axem Resources, Merle was the first woman inducted into the Rocky Mountain Oil & Gas Hall of Fame. She was inducted into the Colorado Business Hall of Fame, served on the National Petroleum Council, an advisory body to the U.S. Secretary of Energy, and was appointed by President Clinton to the White House Conference on Small Business Commission. After growing Axem significantly, she sold the oil company in 1997.
For the past three decades, Merle has devoted considerable time to philanthropy as president and board chair of Chambers Family Fund. Merle founded Chambers Family Fund to provide philanthropic support of justice, equality and opportunity; women’s economic self-sufficiency; and the early care and education of children. She defines her philanthropic philosophy as “seeking upstream solutions,” explained by this parable: One day a woman was walking along a river and was astonished to see many women struggling in the water. She saw some people pulling the drowning women out of the river. The woman thought for a moment, then she ran upstream to find out why the women were falling in the water in the first place and to do something about it.
Merle dedicates her time, expertise and resources to ensuring an inclusive society in which everyone has the opportunity to participate and prosper. Reflecting her belief in the importance of advocacy and systems change, Merle co-founded The Bell Policy Center, a public policy think tank, and served on the Planned Parenthood Leadership Council. She believes improving the lives of women and children is critical to a just and fair society. Merle serves on the advisory board of Ascend at the Aspen Institute, promoting a two-generation approach to alleviating poverty. She supported Educare, a nationwide initiative demonstrating that quality early care and education provides crucial long term benefits for young children.
In addition to supporting Colorado and national nonprofits, Merle created women’s funds in four states where her oil business had significant operations. These women’s funds expanded women’s philanthropy and created permanent resources for women and girls in those states. Merle is past president and founding board member of The Women’s Foundation of Colorado and was instrumental in establishing the Chambers Center for the Advancement of Women at the University of Denver where the women’s foundation is located. In recognition of her leadership in creating and sustaining women’s funds, she received the Changing the Face of Philanthropy Award from Women’s Funding Network.
Merle was honored as Outstanding Philanthropist in Colorado and has been inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame. In 2016, Merle received the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation Community Service Award in recognition of her leadership and extraordinary philanthropic contributions. Merle is a patron of the arts, has traveled extensively and was the third woman to reach both the North and South Poles.