Alumni & Friends

Lifelong Advocate for Women Leaves Legacy at NIACC

Shirley Sandage

Shirley Sandage

Mason City native Shirley Sandage knew that each of us has the ability to make a positive impact on the lives of others, whether it is small or large, local or on a national scale. After a lifetime of advocacy for needy populations in the United States, Shirley left a final legacy to be shared with NIACC students. In 2010, she established the Garrity/Sandage Door Opener Scholarship through the NIACC Foundation.

As a result of her commitment to NIACC through the foundation's planned giving program, she then included a $30,000 bequest in her will to enhance her established scholarship fund. Shirley passed away in 2012 in Frederick, Md., at the age of 85.

Support through the Garrity/Sandage Door Opener Scholarship is designated for divorced, widowed or unmarried women over 40 who want to begin or complete their college educations. Shirley's gift speaks to the passion she felt for helping women in need.

"She wanted to help women who have raised families, cared for aging parents or simply worked all their lives to support themselves only to find they were middle-aged and had no opportunities for self-improvement or advancement," says her son Scott.

Impacting Lives, Locally and Nationally

In 1976, Shirley and friend Margaret Garrity co-founded The Door Opener in Mason City as a drop-in counseling center for women. The center achieved national recognition as a model for assisting women in becoming economically independent and free of welfare assistance. It preceded today's Crisis Intervention Services in Mason City.

Prior to that, Shirley was the founder and first executive director of the Migrant Action Program (MAP), a multi-state agency headquartered in Mason City that provided educational and medical services to migrant farm worker families. It was through the MAP program that Shirley met Margaret, who would become her mentor. Margaret was an early activist in the civil rights movement who had also worked under the Eisenhower and Johnson presidential administrations.

During her four-decade career, Shirley held a number of positions that focused on the needs of others, including a rural expert for the U.S. Department of Labor in Washington, D.C., where she consulted on issues related to welfare reform in the work incentive program. She was later a founding member of the National Displaced Homemakers Network Inc. In 1980, Shirley was appointed executive director of the White House Mini-Conference on Older Women, resulting in the establishment of the Older Women's League as a national membership organization dedicated solely to advocacy for the concerns of mid-life and older women.

A True Activist

"Shirley Sandage was a true activist who, through broad strokes, affected the lives of countless members of our community as well as others throughout the nation," says Molly Knoll, assistant director of the NIACC Foundation. "Her gift to the students of NIACC will be appreciated for years to come."

"Her concern for others will serve as an inspiration to us all," says NIACC Foundation Director Jamie Zanios. "In addition, her gift of scholarship funds will affect many. We are especially grateful for her commitment to the education of women in North Iowa through planned giving," he says.

Shirley was the mother of three sons, Scott, Richard and John, and was predeceased by Richard Sandage, her husband of 63 years, in 2009.

Learn More

For more information about the Garrity/Sandage Door Opener Scholarship or to learn more about NIACC Foundation's planned giving program, contact Molly Knoll at 641-422-4404 or

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