Whether advocating for awareness of issues around aging, writing television promos for a food bank or sending pithy press releases about tech events for seniors to local newspapers, Kari Martell spent the bulk of her career funneling her creative energy into helping nonprofits get noticed.
In Palo Alto, she was known as a passionate promoter of the nonprofit Avenidas senior services agency, where she worked for the past 16 years, most recently as vice president of marketing and communications.
On Nov. 21, Martell unexpectedly died in her sleep. She was 58.
"Kari loved being creative and thinking of campaigns," said her oldest sister Colleen Martell. "Her best skill was writing all those clever headlines and stories and pulling things together. She thought of incredible things all the time and was always jotting down new ideas."
Martell's various campaigns, she noted, even attracted national attention from Oprah Winfrey, the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, NPR and USA Today.
She brought enthusiasm to everything she did, Colleen Martell said.
As the youngest of the three girls in their family, Martell was always the star and trying to make people laugh, according to her sister.
"Kari was the 'firecracker' and being born on the Fourth of July ... she always felt special having that holiday as her birthday," she said.
John Sink, vice president of enrichment services at Avenidas, said Martell was instrumental in formulating the agency's messaging for its various services, including the Avenidas Village program, membership programs and activities at the nonprofit's three community centers, which serve all segments of the older adult population.
"Of all the people who have worked at Avenidas in marketing and communications during my 40 years with the organization, Kari was the best, most professional of them all ... and it wasn't even close," Sink said. "Kari was smart and perceptive, good with people and a person of high integrity. She always did what she said she would do. I'll miss her personally and professionally, and Avenidas will feel her loss keenly."
Before joining Avenidas, Martell served as marketing manager at Alameda County Food Bank in Oakland and held the position of communications manager at CPP, Consulting Psychologists Press. She was a certified trainer for the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test and served as an adviser for Constant Contact's Small Biz Council.
Her sister said Martell switched from the tech industry to the nonprofit sector because she felt her work at agencies like Avenidas was more life-affirming. Avenidas provided her the opportunity to use her storytelling skills to help a good cause, she said.
Martell's family wrote that she understood people and what they needed and practiced the art of gathering folks together long before it became a fad. Whether via her role as emcee of the neighborhood talent show, as a disco dance teacher at the community center or as the presenter of a Tech for Seniors event at Avenidas, she brought her trademark energy and enthusiasm to everything.
Martell was born in Madison, Wisconsin, and grew up in Los Alamos, New Mexico, where she received multiple academic awards and was engaged in many social activities. She graduated from the University of Texas with a bachelor's degree in advertising and moved to the San Francisco Bay Area to work in the marketing communications field.
Martell is survived by her daughter, Devon, 26, and son Derek, 20; ex-husband, John; siblings, Colleen, Michele and Patrick; her father, Calvin; and numerous nieces and nephews.