My eyes welled up with tears as I listened to the story of grief, love and transformation that two of the happiest people I know in Fort Collins shared with me. Dennis and Bailey Stenson, have been pioneers for community, sustainability and healthy food choices for over 35 years. It was their effervescence that inspired me to recognize and share the story of Admirables, so it is only fitting that they are the very first Admirables I recognize.
Dennis & Bailey Stenson around the time they met
Before our interview, I knew relatively little about Dennis and Bailey. I saw in their actions that they lived in accordance with their values. They were farmers by day, rode their bicycles everywhere and danced like there was no tomorrow at local concerts; for all that I looked up to them. I heard from others in the community of their heroic efforts establishing the first organic CSA in Colorado (Happy Heart Farm), teaching farmers to be and feeding families-in-need (just to name a few of the amazing things they’ve done). It was my honor to learn their story, of their youth, the challenges that they have had to overcome, and the values that ground them.
Planting Seedlings at Happy Heart Farm
Childhood Both Dennis and Bailey had inspiring experiences in their childhoods that have been foundational for establishing the journey that they are now on. When Bailey was a teenager she was so moved by reading Diet for Small Planet by Francis Moore Lape that she became a vegetarian. When she declared her convictions to her mother she stoically responded, “You can’t change the world.” But despite the criticism, Bailey held steadfast to her belief that in her own way, she could make a positive difference. For Bailey, reading and then applying what she had learned by doing became a natural process that she continues to exercise to this day.
Dennis and Bailey with Francis Moore Lape at the Sustainable Living Fair
Dennis’ father was incredibly inspiring. An excellent coach, his father engaged people and helped to bring forth their potential. Undoubtedly, Dennis pursued a formal career in education as a result of his Father’s role modeling and Dennis continues to be an educator in a less formal capacity today. When his draft number was drawn for the Vietnam war, Dennis held strong to his convictions and beliefs by seeking a conscientious objector status. The process was grueling and at times humiliating, but after three years the Army formally acknowledged his request.
Overcoming Adversity These two love birds (and their love is vivacious still today), have been married for almost 33 years. They experienced the most devastating loss imaginable when their oldest son, Tobias Kegan Stenson, took his own life 12 years ago. Even in the face of their grief, Dennis and Bailey held onto their values and the teachings of their Guru, Paramahansa Yogananda. When Dennis delivered the news of their son’s passing to Bailey he wisely said, “I don’t think it’s going to be helpful for us to spend a lot of time on could of, or should of, or would of. Lets just go into that peace.” I was incredibly moved by the story of their grief.
Their Love Captured
Dennis and Bailey created their own prescription for healing and grieving the loss of their son. Their pain, while very real, was not directing their actions. Dennis said that everyday they tried “to grab onto the light and hold it despite the pain and despair.” In a society that only gives you three bereavement days, they defied convention and took 5 years “resting in the communities bosom” and healing. Through their grief they were able to deepen their own level of self-awareness and dedication to life. “It was an amazing gift in a sense” Dennis reflected. The memory of their son, Tobias Kegan Stenson, serves as a source for their inspiration and has deepened their commitment to the values that guide them.
Their touching story is to be continued in Part 2……..