In 1968, the year when Richard Nixon was first elected U.S. president, Led Zeppelin made their American debut and Apollo 8 became the first manned spacecraft to orbit the moon, Peggy Stanley's historic career of service had an inauspicious beginning: a tip from her beautician.
Stanley laughs at the thought, but if she hadn't acted on an invitation to check out the Beta Sigma Phi sorority – a social and service organization that is not affiliated with any college or university – many Utahns might have been worse off.
"I really liked it, it's a really good morale-booster," said Stanley, who is naturally bashful and credits the sorority's events for helping her come out of her shell. "It gives you the confidence to get up and speak in front of people."
Forty-five years later, the Sandy resident can confidently say she's played a key role in service organizations throughout the Wasatch Front, and it's that legacy of service that led the Salt Lake Council of Women (SLCW) to induct her into its ultra-selective Hall of Fame.
"It was quite an honor," Stanley said, adding that her nomination from Beta Sigma Phi came as a surprise to her, as did the short biography prepared for the induction dinner hosted by Gail Miller at the Little America Hotel in February. "The judges didn't even ask me, they just came up with the information themselves."
Joyce Short, a member of Stanley's sorority chapter who has herself served 53 years in Beta Sigma Phi, said her friend has a natural gift that makes her better-suited than most to helping people in need: energy. A whole bunch of energy.
"She doesn't work anymore, but she used to have a full-time job and do a lot of this stuff," Short said. "She's kind of made people her life. I don't think 'no' is in her vocabulary."
Beginning in 1966 Stanley worked for 30 years as a machine records supervisor for the Salt Lake Police Department – "We made out the reports that went out to the FBI and the state" – before she retired to care for her aging parents. She continued to work part time doing "odd jobs" for the department until 2010, when budget cutbacks eliminated her position.
As at the department, much of the work Stanley does for her organizations is behind the scenes: registering people for events, collecting money and creating oversize scrapbooks – or more accurately, "history books" – to present in thick three-ring binders to organization presidents and the University of Utah archives. She currently serves as president of the Beta Sigma Phi's City Council, and has to her credit two terms heading the SLCW.
"It's mostly just stuff you do in the background, but you know you're helping people," she said. She appreciates the opportunities handing out toys to needy youths or serving food at a homeless shelter to see the impact she's having on those she serves. But Stanley says she isn't after instant gratification. "You do it because you want to help people, you don't do it because you want the glory."
Or, for that matter, the free time.
If you want a dinner date with Stanley, good luck. She meets a handful of times each week for her social and service commitments with the aforementioned groups, through which she is affiliated with a lengthy list of high-profile charities, including Toys for Tots, YWCA Abused Women, the Utah Food Bank and Saint Vincent de Paul Soup Kitchen. The Pioneer Theatre Guild member is also a huge fan of the arts, and she often attends the ballet, symphony, theater, Shakespeare festivals and opera. "My niece and nephew always say, 'You've gotta call her WAY ahead,'" she said.
Short says it helps that Stanley is a pre-eminent organizer. What's more, she always shows up. "I don't think Peggy has ever taken a leave," she said. "As a matter of fact, I know that she has had perfect attendance. She never misses a meeting. That's very unusual."
Stanley extends her service to the members of her sorority chapter, which consists of six women who are older than her and often require her help getting to and from appointments. For about 30 years, Short estimates, Stanley has invited the group over to her house for Thanksgiving, with each bringing canned goods and money to buy turkeys that Stanley then takes to the Utah Food Bank.
For Stanley, who is unmarried and has no children, her chapter is her family. Short says it's Stanley's above-and-beyond efforts that keep the tight-knit group together.
"We have sisters in our chapter who have ended up in assisted living, and she visited probably two to three times a week," Short said. "When we'd have a get-together, she'd do everything she could to get them there. She knows how to help people who can hardly walk or get around, and she tries to make it so they won't be left out. That isn't necessary. That's just Peggy."
Stanley's sorority chapter once had as many as 26 members, but lately the group, like many other women's organizations, has had difficulty attracting new blood. Stanley thinks younger women are deterred both by the difficult economy and commitments that didn't exist when Beta Sigma Phi was funded, before World War II. That's a shame, she says, because Beta Sigma Phi offers so much.
"The feeling it gives you to help somebody else is amazing," she said. "Especially for me, because I don't have a family. It's something that I can do."
She's done an awful lot, Short said. "She's loved by a lot of people. A 'what would we do without her' kind of person. She's just too good. She takes on … too much sometimes. But she's up to it."
SLCW Hall of Fame
The SLCW, which celebrated its 100th year in 2012, inducts seven women into its Hall of Fame every five years. The other six inductees this year, all of whom gave at least 25 years of volunteer service to the Wasatch Front, are: Mary Gail Brassard, Linda Kuenstler Itami, Gwendalyn Larsen, Lona Mae Lauritzen, Carol Jo Rimensberger Radinger and Catherine Tucci Perryman.
Peggy Stanley's service resume
Festival of Trees
Sub for Santa
Toys for Tots
Saint Vincent de Paul Soup Kitchen
First Baptist Church of Kearns food pantry
School With No Name
YWCA Abused Women
International Peace Garden Festival
Pioneer Theatre Company
Utah Food Bank