Moffat County Locals: Sunset secretary Beth Gilchrist nurtures students as ‘Mama Beth’

Sunset Elementary School Secretary Beth Gilchrist, or "Mama Beth," as she is known to students and teachers, alike, stands outside the school.
Jim Patterson/staff

Through the course of a 15-minute interview, Sunset Elementary School Secretary Beth Gilchrist was approached by one school staff member who wanted a pitch pipe, another who wanted to know the whereabouts of a certain teacher and a rambunctious puppy that seemed to only want a few scratches on the head.

She addressed each of these wants with a good-natured cheerfulness that could only have sprung from a genuinely caring heart.

Little wonder she’s known to Sunset students and teachers alike as “Mama Beth.”

“That’s kind of been the joke,” she said with a chuckle. “I’m ‘Mama Beth.’ The danged school resource officer called me that in front of the entire student body, so it kind of stuck.”

In retrospect, however, that wasn’t such a bad thing.

“In this position, you are the mama to the kids and you are the mama to the teachers,” she said. “Because everything they need is right now, and that’s acceptable, because that’s the nature of the job. Everything IS right now, so I just have to decide whose ‘right now’ gets to be first.”

Gilchrist, a fourth generation Moffat County resident, entered her role in school administration 20 years ago, when she was hired from a pool of 49 other applicants “at the last minute before the school year started in 1998,” as secretary at Craig Middle School.

Though she acknowledged that, at the time, she was mainly looking for a job that would afford her the same hours as her then-school-aged daughters, she said she quickly embraced the role of nurturer and caretaker.

“I loved the middle school,” she said. “Those kids — their sense of humor is emerging, and so they get your jokes — most of the time — but they know you’re joking the rest of the time; they’re just not sure. It’s just fun watching when they finally get it.

“Middle school is definitely an untamed wilderness. They don’t want you, but they know they need you.”

After 16 years at Craig Middle School, Gilchrist transferred to Sunset, where she has worked the past four years.

“That’s the fun of my position,” she said. “It’s incredibly varied — never, never a dull moment. … You’re constantly nurturing the whole crowd.”

Outside school, Gilchrist described herself and her husband, Tom, as “professional volunteers.” Both are active members of and officers in the Northwest Colorado Chapter of Parrotheads, a group started by followers of musician Jimmy Buffett.

Operating under the motto “Party with a Purpose,” the local group is 85 members strong, and Gilchrist said it has taken on the cause of music in the schools, donating to repair band instruments and sponsoring two students to attend Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School & Camp in Steamboat Springs.

The group has also awarded $8,000 in college scholarships during the past two years, planted trees at Elkhead Reservoir, undertaken highway and river cleanup efforts and spearheaded the beginning stages of the Diversion Park project.

All this, she said, figures into her belief that the overall quality of life comes down to the attitude of the people living it.

“I think attitude is everything,” she said. “It’s just like everything we’re going through now in our community and in our school district. … I believe that your community is only as good as you make it, and no matter how small you think your contribution is, if you’re all working toward the common goal, it’s worth it.

“So, it’s attitude. It’s all what you bring to the table. If you think it’s going to be bad, it’s going to be bad. If you hope it’s going to be good, it’ll probably be better than you think.”

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