Prior to founding Chambers Fund, for more than 20 years Merle led Axem Resources, Inc., a privately held independent oil and gas exploration and production company. Axem participated in some of the Rocky Mountain region’s most spectacular industry successes. As CEO of Axum, she pioneered women’s leadership in the oil and gas industry as one of few women CEOs in a male-dominated field. In recognition of her success with Axem, Merle was the first woman inducted into the Rocky Mountain Oil & Gas Hall of Fame. She was inducted into the Colorado Business Hall of Fame, served on the National Petroleum Council, an advisory body to the U.S. Secretary of Energy, and was appointed by President Clinton to the White House Conference on Small Business Commission. After growing Axem significantly, she sold the oil company in 1997.
Merle Chambers Fund is the natural outcome of a family tradition of philanthropic and civic engagement. Merle’s family’s influence is present in the foundation’s willingness to take risks and its collaborative work for systems change to strengthen communities and improve lives. Merle’s mother, Evelyn Hemmings Chambers, was a great supporter of the arts and charitable organizations. Evelyn’s commitment to give back to her community was a seamless element of who she was throughout her life. Merle was also inspired by and followed in the footsteps of her father, Jerry Chambers, who was a successful executive in the transportation and oil and gas industries.
Merle has dedicated her time, expertise, and resources to ensuring an inclusive society in which everyone has the opportunity to participate and prosper. Reflecting her belief in the importance of advocacy and systems change, Merle co-founded The Bell Policy Center, a public policy think tank, and served on the Planned Parenthood Leadership Council. She believes improving the lives of women and girls is critical to creating a just and fair society. In addition to supporting Colorado and national nonprofits, Merle created women’s funds in three states where Axem had significant operations. These women’s funds expanded women’s philanthropy and created permanent resources for women and girls in those states. Merle is past president and founding board member of The Women’s Foundation of Colorado, and was instrumental in establishing the Chambers Center for the Advancement of Women at the University of Denver where the women’s foundation is located.
In recognition of her leadership and innovation in philanthropy, Merle has been honored with numerous awards, including the Changing the Face of Philanthropy Award from Women’s Funding Network, Outstanding Philanthropist in Colorado, and was inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame.
Merle began her career as an attorney in San Francisco, moving to Denver in the late 1970s. She received her BA in political science from UC Berkeley in 1968, and was a student protestor during the Free Speech and Civil Rights movements. She holds a JD from UC Law SF, and a Master of Tax Law from the University of Denver. Merle is a patron of the arts, travels extensively, and was the third woman to reach both the North and South Poles by plane.