If you’ve been to just about any community event in Basalt the last few years, you’ve likely encountered Bennett Bramson. A tireless volunteer when he’s not selling real estate or teaching business classes at Colorado Mountain College, Bramson is a nearly ubiquitous presence whenever there’s a chance to do something good for other people. He’s also an accomplished historian and author of the book “Basalt (Images of America),” which shines a light on the town’s colorful history.
Bramson will be combining his volunteer and historian sides Thursday evening when he leads a free walking tour of downtown Basalt, followed by a trivia night at the Basalt Regional Library. It’s an event sponsored by the library, and while it will be a good way to learn a little about town, the bigger draw is probably Bramson himself, a man who we could all learn a few things from. Because if serving others is an admirable goal, Bramson is Basalt’s Wayne Gretzky.
“It probably came from my mom,” said Bramson of his philanthropic bent. “Every year at Passover we would often have someone or a couple sitting at the table, and I didn’t know who they were. She would invite people who may not have had an opportunity or a family to our Passover Seder.”
The roots of his service mentality may have come from his parents, but Bramson was quick to point out that much of his belief in such a path came from being a parent himself.
“A lot of my impetus actually came from my daughter, Dara, when she was 2 years old,” he said. “That sounds a little strange because normally we impact our children, but in this case my child impacted me.”
The story, as Bramson tells it, is that one time when he and Dara were driving through Miami, his original hometown, they passed under a bridge on Interstate 195, his daughter saw an encampment of homeless people and wondered what she was seeing.
“She said, ‘Daddy, who are those people?’” said Bramson. “I tried to explain to a 2-year-old that those people were homeless and didn’t have anything to eat or a place to live, and they didn’t have any money. I was thinking that should suffice, but my 2-year-old said, ‘Why can’t they live in our house? Or why can’t we make them a peanut butter sandwich or give them a nickel?’ As simplistic as it was, they were the questions we all need to be asking ourselves as a community or as a city.”
Bramson tried to explain that their house wasn’t big enough and that he didn’t have enough nickels or peanut butter sandwiches to make much of a difference, but he did strike a deal with Dara.
“I said, ‘When you get a little bit older, I promise we’ll do something to help them,’” said Bramson. “So when she turned 5, we started feeding meals to the homeless through the Miami Salvation Army every year on Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, Easter and other holidays.”
When Dara was 9, a local TV reporter showed up at the Salvation Army for a story and was told about the little girl who’d been feeding the homeless for the last five years. He asked her why she did it.
“She looked at him, and she looked into the camera, and she said, ‘It makes me feel good to help other people, and it gives me a good feeling about myself,’” said Bramson. “She was a wonderful representative, and it was a wonderful thing to say.”
A few days later, on Christmas night, Bramson was back in New Orleans, where he lived at the time, and a colleague told him that he had seen Dara on the NBC Nightly News.
“He mentioned that Tom Brokaw had said, ‘Around the country today people are sharing the spirit of Christmas. In Miami one 10-year-old girl has been feeding meals to the homeless since she was 5.’ That basically inspired my three mantras that I share with my students in class.”
And what are those mantras?
“Number one is we will always do well for ourselves by doing good for others and not asking for something in return. Number two is that the life we lead is the legacy we leave. And number three is my Winston Churchill quote: ‘We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.’”
They’re great mantras for anyone to adopt, and Bramson helps drive them home in his students by offering extra credit to any of them who volunteer with nonprofits or at community events. Many will get that chance this weekend when they help Bramson volunteer to crew for one of the hot-air balloon teams at the Crown Mountain Park Summerfest Balloon Bash.
Before that, though, there will be tonight’s history tour, which embarks from the library at 4 p.m. for a roughly one-hour tour of downtown Basalt. Participants will visit Tempranillo (housed in the old Railroad Hotel, built in 1896), the swinging bridge and more locations that are part of a historical walking tour originally laid out by Bramson and others along with the Basalt Regional Heritage Society.
“I’ll give people the opportunity to read the plaques and give them some interesting insights or stories that go above and beyond what’s there,” said Bramson.
The tour will finish back at the library with a trivia night featuring questions and “cute facts” about Basalt. It’s a perfect opportunity to explore downtown and learn from a man who has seemingly boiled life down to is most important essences.
“I get up in the morning and I meditate for 20 minutes,” he said. “I go to the gym and work out, and then I grab the paper. If my name’s not in the obituaries, it’s going to be a great day.”