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Shirley Sandage - Scott 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 U.S., Sandage 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 from her estate to enhance her already-established scholarship fund. Sandage 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. Her gift speaks to the passion Sandage 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,” said her son, Scott Sandage, in a recent article for the Mason City Globe Gazette.

“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,” said Molly Knoll, Assistant Director of the NIACC Foundation. “Her gift to the students of NIACC will be appreciated for years to come.”

In 1976, Sandage 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 to become economically independent and free of welfare assistance. It preceded today’s Crisis Intervention Services in Mason City.


Prior to that, Sandage 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 Sandage met Garrity, who would become her mentor. Garrity 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, Sandage held a number of positions focusing on the needs of others, including that as Specialist for the U.S. Department of Labor in Washington, D.C., as a rural expert 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, Ms. Sandage 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.

“Her concern for others will serve as an inspiration to us all,” said 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 said.

Scholarships associated with Shirley Sandage - Scott Sandage
  • Garrity - Sandage Door Opener Scholarship