Sally Ann Bystroff lived in the joy of lifelong service as an organizer, activist, teacher and advocate in the community, justice system, and ministry.
She was born, appropriately, on Thanksgiving Day in Denver to Margaret Smith and John Sutton. She attended East High School in Denver and St. Scholastica’s School for Girls in Cañon City, Colorado, graduating in 1949. She graduated from Colorado State University with a degree in chemistry in 1954. With chemistry jobs scarce for women, she accepted a position at Ames Laboratory at Iowa State College (now Iowa State University), supporting atomic research. Her work in non-aqueous chemistry resulted in a half-dozen journal articles.
Her sparkle and intelligence caught the attention of the graduate students, especially one who shared her love of climbing mountains, Roman. Climbing the Grand Teton together affirmed their love, leading to marriage in 1956. Roman’s career began at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and they settled in Livermore. Sally experienced great joy through the 1960s with the birth of four sons and a daughter, while also hosting four beloved young cousins from El Salvador.
Sally spent decades supporting and strengthening the community. Motherhood in the early 1960s left time for teaching at St. Michaels Catholic Church for two years and preschool for another three. Later in the decade, she engaged with an interfaith group active in open housing, and also found a spiritual home with the Presbyterians. She served as an advisor to high school youth for seven years and initiated efforts to have sex education in the schools. Sally embraced a disciplined moral activism, engaging with food market groups, local politics, and women’s issues.
Following years of interfaith studies, in 1972 she organized a secular “We Series” of seminars to explore common purposes with TriValley covenant churches and schools. She joined marches in San Francisco and mass protests at the Livermore National Laboratory. Always trusted to listen, people valued her fairness and good counsel and being fair in troubled times, such as her organization of a weekend series that included speakers from Israel, Palestine, Jordan and Lebanon. After learning how a caring couple, Boyd “Butch” and Ruth Shattuck, were sheltering troubled rebellious youth, Sally worked with them to establish an Alameda County nonprofit organization, the Buenas Vidas Ranch, in 1974. She served on the board of the ranch for 40 years. Sally also served as counselor and minister for the ranch, and helped fundraising by helping create a BVR Thrift Shop, bingo nights, and chili cookouts.
In the midst of her activism, she completed an MDiv degree in the mid-1970s from the San Francisco Theological Seminary. Her skills, enhanced with a master’s degree in counseling, proved helpful working with ranch youth and often with parents. Working with Alameda County Social Services, and as a Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention commissioner for 6 years through 1979, she was tasked to oversee and close group homes if need be.
Sally’s ministry extended in multiple directions. She fashioned her ministry as a “tent,” open and inviting to all. She loved learning from other faiths. She participated in study circles of the Torah at Beth Emek, and served as a spiritual director for Kairos for 13 years, helping women find meaningful lives. She also had a passion for prison ministry. A short stint as a federal correction facility chaplain led her
to work with California Prison Focus to help end the practice of solitary confinement. She also worked with Restorative Justice. At the same time, she serviced churches in the Bay Area as Pulpit Supply for the Presbyterian church.
One of her greatest joys came through serving as an interim pastor in 2000 with the 3rd Presbyterian Church in Troy, New York, close to one of her sons and two granddaughters. Her role in recent years involved Bible study and sharing insights with Bible study groups.
Sally enjoyed traveling around the country and the world. She enjoyed adventures in Europe, India, Latin America and most American states. She loved life and people, time with lifelong friends, mountains and trees, her family, archeology, bright colors, and biblical research. Most of all, she was happy serving others, with the love of God ever present.
Sally is survived by her husband of 63 years, Roman; her five children, Mark, Chris, Julie, Greg, and John; her beloved grandchildren, Jesa, Lindsy, Veronica, Daxton, Calvert, and Destiny; and her sister, Susan Snelson and family.
A memorial service will be held at the Livermore First Presbyterian Church, 2020 Fifth St., at 1 p.m., on
Saturday, Feb. 1. In lieu of flowers, those who wish are encouraged to make a donation to the Memorial Fund or charity of their choice in her memory.