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Hospital foundation director found passion in nonprofit work

by WHITNEY ENGLAND
Whitefish Pilot | June 15, 2022 1:00 AM

Nonprofit work was a second career for Whitefish native Alan Satterlee, and the choice to pursue it made him take a long look at his passions in life.

He says when making the drastic change in his career path, he asked himself what would really drive him and how would he be able to contribute to each sector he considered. Twenty-two years later after making the switch from the oil and gas industry to nonprofit management, Satterlee has found passion in each position he’s held and learned much about himself in the process.

Last week Satterlee retired from his most recent position as the executive director of the Logan Health — Whitefish Foundation. Before the foundation, Satterlee also managed the Glacier Symphony for 10 years, among other Flathead Valley nonprofit positions. As he enters retirement, Satterlee reflects fondly on the choices that defined the journey that led him to this point.

“I had this sort of circuitous career and followed my heart,” he expressed. “I kind of preach that change is going to happen whether you like it or not, so you might as well be the instigator of it and be open and embrace it.”

Satterlee, who grew up in Whitefish, found himself entering the oil and gas industry after studying geology at Montana State University. For the next two decades, he worked for Texaco and was focused on climbing the corporate ladder. His job moved him all over the world including China, Indonesia, Burma and also stateside in Colorado, New York and Texas.

He and his former wife had two kids throughout this time and eventually his last position in the industry had him settled in Houston, Texas. Around then he felt the desire to have a more meaningful life within his career, not just outside of work.

“It was definitely an exploration; I just had this sense that I wanted to work in a mission-driven industry,” Satterlee recalled.

He began exploring options for nonprofit organizations in Houston, and was searching for a sector that he felt fit his personality and one in which he could find passion. He soon quit his oil job and embarked on a new career.

The nonprofit organization that Satterlee started with was called SEARCH — a rapidly-growing social services agency serving the homeless in Houston. He was the chief operations officer for three years. His family always had the desire to return to Montana, and in the early 2000s, Satterlee accepted a position at an all-girls residential treatment facility north of Whitefish. A while later, Satterlee accepted the job running the Glacier Symphony and then after 10 years, he made his final switch to the North Valley Hospital Foundation, which is now Logan Health — Whitefish Foundation.

WHEN MAKING the shift to nonprofit work, Satterlee admits it was not an easy decision or transition. It even took awhile just to find an opportunity he was passionate about that would also pay enough to support his family. When he did start with the homeless project in Houston, Satterlee and his family had to alter their entire lifestyle and downsize.

“We were in it as a family,” he said. “We talked about it and decided it was important.”

Although changing the course of his career would give Saterlee more purpose in his work, making the drastic changes also challenged his mental health. After quitting his oil and gas job, he experienced severe depression.

“It was unexpected and it took me a while to figure out that my identity as a person was really tied up in my job and in climbing the corporate ladder and providing for my family,” he said.

With encouragement from his wife at the time, he sought a therapist and began medication to work through the complicated emotions. His work at SEARCH also helped in giving him a new sense of purpose.

“Part of that journey for me is realizing that it’s not all about work or exactly what you do... it’s more about why you do it,” says Satterlee.

Mental health and making sure those who need help have access to available resources became increasingly important to Satterlee — a purpose he later was able to explore through his work at the hospital foundation.

“I’m very open about the depression I experienced,” he said. “Mental health resources and our community is so important and part of it is just that process of talking about it and being transparent.”

AS EXECUTIVE director of the Logan Health — Whitefish Foundation, Satterlee worked on several projects throughout his six years leading the organization.

The foundation’s first project after Satterlee came on board was raising funds for 3D mammography at the hospital in Whitefish. The community quickly rallied around the effort raising half a million dollars for the equipment.

Satterlee says his most fulfilling work with the foundation involved partnering with other local nonprofits to help fill some of the gaps in community healthcare. Under his leadership, the foundation partnered with Land To Hand Montana to create food accessibility projects and the hospital’s Planetree Healing Garden was also created from that partnership.

Another important project for Satterlee and the foundation was a partnership with the Nate Chute Foundation. The hospital’s behavioral health clinic asked to add new equipment that would help treat severe depression. The foundation decided to raise the money for the equipment and also partner with Nate Chute Foundation to then split the total amount. This project ended up raising twice the amount they hoped for and went on to fund $50,000 each year for five years for the Nate Chute Foundation.

“That’s been meaningful to see the ability to raise some funds to help our partners be successful and also accomplish making a difference in some of those areas where our community really struggles from a health standpoint,” Satterlee said.

Satterlee has headed up numerous successful projects as director of the foundation, but he says the projects aren’t even what stands out the most.

“All the projects have their own special place,” he said. “...But in some ways the things that stand out for me are not so much the projects but more the people.”

Satterlee says he’ll remember the donors and board members he has worked with over the years and truly enjoyed connecting them with philanthropic pursuits that fit their passions.

“I feel like I’m kind of a connector,” Satterlee says. “I definitely enjoy meeting new people and figuring out what motivates them and how I can connect with people who have similar interests.”

Now entering retirement, Satterlee is looking forward to a little downtime with his wife. They’ve been married for three years and Satterlee has spent time traveling between Canada, where his wife lives, and Whitefish. Recently Satterlee moved to Canada full-time and with that, he and his wife have a full hiking and backcountry lodging schedule planned to enjoy Satterlee’s first summer in retirement.

Satterlee plans to take a couple of years off from working but believes that he’ll be involved in nonprofit work part-time in the future — he admits, it’s going to be hard to stay away from it.

“I’m going to try on retirement for size,” he says. “But I really do think there’s a chance after a year or two that I might feel like I want to get involved somewhere.”

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