A Woman With a Mission

Deborah Carstens loves politics. And believes in education. And is passionate in her efforts to bring awareness to – and eliminate – child-sex trafficking.


Fortunately, she is at a phase in her life where she can lend support to all three causes.


Southern California to Colorado

Carstens grew up in San Diego, majored in women’s studies at San Diego State University and then went into real estate sales, leasing and property management. Through her work, she met Bill Carstens.


“I followed a handsome man to Telluride,” she says.


The pair partnered in a company that successfully developed high-end ranch land in the Telluride area for a decade before they retired and moved to Arizona in 1999. Her role in the company had been marketing and sales; Bill was an attorney and land developer.


Deborah and Bill Carstens at their Arizona home


When Bill became terminally ill in 2006, they had eight months to plan for the future. “Being an attorney,” she says, “his estate was textbook perfect, but it was still tough. Parts of it terrify you, but you can’t allow yourself to stay terrified.”


Carstens Family Funds

Keeping Bill’s priorities in mind, she initiated and manages the Carstens Family Funds. Its purpose is to award grants to nonprofits that provide educational scholarships or, because Carstens says her husband gave her “elbow room,” that have a strong focus on leadership and character-building.


“Bill Carstens taught me how to give,” Carstens says. “That’s where I am right now – giving, providing grant money for important causes. I feel so good about where I am. When I consider awards, I ask myself: ‘Would Bill approve?’ ”


Carstens works on the funds nearly every day when she is in the Valley. But she has also branched out, living part time in Washington, D.C., where she serves on advisory boards at the National Museum of Women in the Arts and Innocents at Risk, an organization that tackles the issue of child sex trafficking. In addition, she belongs to DC Police Foundation and Capital Speakers Club.


Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation

Carstens has also found a good fit in the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation. She learned about the organization when she was invited by John Nickerson and Ira Shapiro to attend a friend-raiser. Before their marriage, Bill had been a legal officer in the Corps. Through Bill’s annual reunions, she learned to appreciate how “first-class” the Marine Corps is. Plus, she was mindful of the fact that when asked to what he attributed his success, Bill always answered, “The Marines, my family and my education.”


When the organization asked her to join, she was already on board with their programs. When they asked her to become a member of the national board of the scholarship fund, she couldn’t resist for another reason: The 28-member board comprised 25 retired Marine Corps officers – all male – and two women who were both marines with multiple tours of duty in the current conflict. She would be the only civilian – and only the third female. As a former women’s studies major, she couldn’t resist.


The Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation does just one thing, according to Carstens: It grants scholarships to children of Marines.


“It’s that mission. That’s it,” she says. “Children of Marines need to go to college; we’re going to pay for it.”


To raise money, the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation hosts 30 events across the country. Until four years ago, there was no presence in Arizona. In May, Carstens will co-chair the state’s second-annual awards dinner, with John Nickerson and Ira Shapiro. Last year, the event drew 400 guests. This year, they expect to exceed that number. Through the organization, Carstens has set up a scholarship in Bill’s name.


Money raised in Arizona provides scholarships first to Arizona students. Any overage goes to the national fund. The results are phenomenal, says Carstens. “Our college grads have a 79 percent graduation rate from four-year universities,” a rate that significantly exceeds the national average. “The dollars we invest get a good return,” she says.


“Now,” Carstens says, “Bill’s taken care of his three priorities: his family, his colleges and universities, and the Marines.”


Branching Out

Carstens is expanding her own horizons. As a component of her affiliation with the National Museum of Women in the Arts – the only museum in the world that hangs only art produced by women – she travels the world to art fairs and galleries to learn more about – and purchase – art. The next trip she will take with the group is to Portugal, the country of her ancestors.


“I don’t speak Portuguese,” Carstens says, who has previously visited the country, “but when I’m there, I see a lot of women who look like me.


“I have these various components as we all do at this stage of life,” she says. “It’s good for a woman to be independent and financially and emotionally secure. I like my life. I hope it lasts for a while.”

– Cindy Miller



Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation Awards Dinner

May 12, 2012

6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Westin Kierland Resort & Spa



Ed Robson, Marine veteran and chairman and CEO of Robson Communities

Rich Boals, Air Force veteran and president and CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona

Lee Hanley, chairman and CEO of Vestar





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