Going to the grocery store isn’t usually a quick trip for Åsa Armstrong. It’s not the lines or a long list that hold her back — it’s the people, and it’s in a good way. Ever since moving to Summit County in 1991, Armstrong, who is “not quite 50,” has been involved in nonprofit work, both as a volunteer and an organizer. To say that she is well known in the community is an understatement. Wherever she goes, running into an acquaintance is a common occurrence.
“My husband is, ‘What took you so long?’” she said, laughing. “It’s hard for me to get through the grocery store without checking in with people.”
Supporting others is nothing new to Armstrong, who comes from a small town herself, and a family that’s big on giving.
FAMILY AND COMMUNITY
Armstrong grew up in Föllinge, a very small town in central Sweden. Her parents and younger brother still live there, and her older sister lives nearby.
Armstrong said her parents have always been active members of the community. Her mother, formerly a homecare and hospice nurse, often volunteered with the Red Cross, and her father, a schoolteacher, was always in some sports and coaching organization or other.
“It starts with a value from your family, and then it grows with the community,” Armstrong said.
While she enjoyed volunteering, her earliest goal was to become a professional Nordic skier.
“I started when I was wearing diapers, I was in the diaper derby,” she said. “I knew from age 7 that I wanted to go to ski academy, and so that was my goal.”
She worked hard, and at 15 left home to attend a national ski academy with the goal of getting onto the national ski team. At the end of the academy, however, she just missed making the Swedish team.
That was when fate stepped in.
coming to AMERICA
Though she didn’t make the national team, Armstrong was soon courted by a number of American universities wanting her to ski for their NCAA teams. She decided on the University of Wyoming, and skied with the team for four years. During that time she doubled majored in public relations and broadcast journalism and met her future husband, Olin.
Despite the fact that Olin was an Alpine skier (rather than Nordic), the two hit it off and got married soon after graduation. Though Armstrong had planned to possibly return to Sweden and work as a television reporter for a local channel — “I never came home!” she declared.
She did have her wedding in Sweden, with more than seven nationalities represented among the guests, most of whom were international skiing friends.
The two then moved to Seattle, where they lived for about a year, and Armstrong got her first taste of work in a nonprofit organization.
“I worked for an amazing organization called Ski For All,” she said, a group that connected people with disabilities to sports and the outdoors. “That’s how I got involved and really (have) been involved with nonprofits ever since, because of the impact it has.”
It was then that Olin got a job as a ski coach for Team Breckenridge.
“That’s his passion, so when our daughter Heidi was 5 days old, we packed up the car and drove out here,” she said, “and have been out here ever since.”
EMBRACING SUMMIT COUNTY
Though Armstrong visits her family in Sweden often, she definitely considers Summit County home.
“I know that I have to be close to snow; I just love skiing too much, both my husband and I,” she said. “Just being surrounded by nature, the changing of seasons, I mean, those are all amazing gifts. I love it.”
In addition to the area’s natural beauty, Armstrong has also found love and joy in her career. Her first job was as coordinator of the Breckenridge Recreation Center youth programs.
“I absolutely love working with kids,” she said, smiling. “I just love their honesty and their energy and everything about it.”
Many of her friends now first met her through their children. One of them is Kim Dkystra-DiLallo, the director of communications for the town of Breckenridge. The two are neighbors, and their children grew up together, so as mothers they have attended many birthday parties, graduations and receptions over the years.
“She brings a light and an energy to anyone and everyone she meets,” said Dykstra-DiLallo. That includes the children Armstrong worked with at the rec center.
“The influence that she had on those kids, the youth that she was the counselor for, I know she made a difference in those kids’ lives. I know she did, the way she was like their big sister, she was their mother, she was a lot of things. She really helped raise some of those kids and teach them the passion, the joy of living life, of being active and being outside. It’s a passion that she has shared with those kids.”
After 10 years with the rec center, Armstrong moved on to The Summit Foundation, where she became the events and business development director.
Jennifer Bergeron, who was the foundation’s administrative assistant at the time, remembers when Armstrong first arrived.
“She came in for an interview and had her hair up and glasses on and was professional, and you could tell she wanted that job.”
Armstrong got the job, and soon she and Bergeron became close friends, along with other colleagues in the organization, including Dykstra-DiLallo. Bergeron said she has fond memories of the work they did together, including late nights during big events, like the annual Great Rubber Duck Race.
“I think of Åsa when I need to remember that people are the most important thing and if something is getting in the way of accomplishing a task, … always put that first,” Bergeron said. “And laugh about it. You can put the most crazy thing in front of her and she’ll find something to lighten the mood in 10 people full of worry, and we get through it.”
Armstrong spent six years with The Summit Foundation before starting an event-planning business, called Allure Events, with Bergeron. For three years, they worked with groups like the foundation and Copper Mountain Resort to put on events, art festivals and other gatherings.
“We learned a lot and really liked it,” Armstrong said. “That’s how my brain works. I love organizing and putting things together; it’s just so rewarding.”
For the last five years, Armstrong has taken on a new role, that of development officer for the Bristlecone Foundation, an organization that raises funds to support Bristlecone Health Services, providing home health and hospice services to Summit County.
Deb Edwards, president and chief development officer for the Summit Medical Center Health Foundation, hired her for the position. Edwards had also hired her at The Summit Foundation.
“She’s one of those kinds of folks that you just know from the moment you meet them that they have all the right qualities you’re looking for in a person, in terms of compassion and integrity, caring and kind and a hard worker,” Edwards said. “You just need all those great personal and personality skills. … It was all about making those connections with people and creating that trust and creating those relationships, and that’s the kind of person Åsa is.”
Lori O’Bryan is on the board of directors for the Bristlecone Foundation and ran out of words to describe how much she’s enjoyed working with Armstrong.
“There’s not one word that can describe Åsa. She’s a person you definitely want to meet and get to know, because it’ll enhance your life just by knowing her,” she said. “She makes you feel good about yourself and the organization and just everything. She’s just one of those rare people.”
In June, Armstrong will experience yet another milestone and take the American citizenship test to become a dual citizen, an option that the government of Sweden has just recently allowed.
She’s not nervous but is looking forward to having an impact through voting. Though the test will make it official, Armstrong has long felt a deep connection to her adopted country.
“I think I am definitely a true dual citizen, because Breckenridge is my hometown and Föllinge is my hometown,” she said. “It’s like having two kids. I love them equally.”