Preserving the West’s history

Suzanne Parker, left, a member of the Sarah Platt Decker Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, shepherded the nominations of Duane Smith, Ruth Lambert and Julie Pickett through the award process before they were selected as honorees at the chapter’s annual tea. Enlarge photo

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald

Suzanne Parker, left, a member of the Sarah Platt Decker Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, shepherded the nominations of Duane Smith, Ruth Lambert and Julie Pickett through the award process before they were selected as honorees at the chapter’s annual tea.

It started with an idea.

Suzanne Parker thought Duane Smith would be a real contender for the national Daughters of the American Revolution’s History Medal, presented to someone who has made a significant contribution to preserving and teaching about our nation’s history. So she started collecting letters, not just from locals such as yours truly, but also from such notables as former Gov. Richard Lamm and former Sen. Gary Hart.

Then she sent them to the headquarters in Washington, D.C., where they did a little historical research of their own and discovered that they agreed wholeheartedly. In fact, they so respected his work, they had already given him the medal many years ago.

Which just goes to show, he’s better at historical facts than his own personal history, I guess. So instead of the national History Medal, the members of the Sarah Platt Decker Chapter of the DAR decided to give him an award for a lifetime of achievement, and they did just that Saturday at their annual tea.

Chapter Regent Jeannine Dobbins served as mistress of ceremonies for a program that featured several awards in addition to Smith’s.

Each year, DAR sponsors an essay contest with a twist. High school seniors have two hours and no references to answer the year’s question. This year’s was: “How are our freedoms and responsibilities as a good citizen changing?”

Lynn Constan, who was the chairwoman of the selection committee, said students who demonstrated leadership, service, patriotism and dependability were nominated by their high schools to enter the competition. For the last several years, there have been no nominees from Durango or Animas high schools, which is a shame.

The winner from Pagosa High School was Gabrielle Pajak, the daughter of Chester and Margaret Pajak. She is the second Pajak daughter to receive the award. “Gabby” does everything today’s outstanding teens do: a 4.0 GPA, All Conference First Team in volleyball, a member of Future Business Leaders of America, National Honor Society and Key Club – you get the picture. She’s planning to study biomedical engineering.

Gabby’s essay was selected to go to the state competition from our area.

The winner from Ignacio High School, Andrew Guire, was off at an athletic competition, but the senior class president was recognized for what IHS Principal Rocky Cundiff called “his ability to lead in difficult situations.” Andy is hoping to study sports medicine.

The final honoree was Ellison Kennedy from Bayfield High School. “Ellie” also plays volleyball, holds a high GPA and helps organize fundraisers for families in the community who are in medical-bill hell. Her coach called her “a woman of principle.” She is the daughter of Kelly and Tiffany Kennedy.

Ellie is planning to study communications and public speaking.

All three students received a certificate, a check, a pin created specifically for the award winners from the competition and a copy of Pioneers of the San Juan Country, the chapter’s compilation of oral histories from pioneers of the area. (That’s a frequently used reference at my desk.)

Parker also was chairwoman of the committee that gave awards for community service, and two well-deserving women were selected. Ruth Lambert, cultural resources director of the San Juan Mountains Association, and Julie Pickett are co-founders of the Southwest Colorado Genealogical Society and have spent the last several years documenting, restoring and preserving several area cemeteries, including the old Animas City Cemetery.

As the recipient of some of their wide-ranging information about the area, I can say that not only has what they’ve done expanded our knowledge of the early settlers here, they’re both generous in sharing it with those who are on a quest to find an ancestor or, in one case, find a living heir so a piece of property can be sold.

Pickett’s family came to cheer her on, including her husband, Rod Pickett, daughters Jessica Hargett and Amanda Howell, and granddaughters Kaitlyn Hargett, Elizabeth Howell and Anya Howell.

Pickett had the best quote of the day: “As we’re catapulted into the technologically advanced future, I hope we remain anchored to the values of the past.”

It was great to see nonagenarian Lavenia McCoy, who was honored with the Women in History Award for her longtime support of the public library in Bayfield, which now bears her name, and the Pine River Heritage Society. She gets the credit for the quote, “Don’t grow old. It’s not convenient.”

Artist June Jurcak received a relatively new award, the Winner in the Arts, for her extensive public service in Pagosa. Mellody Gartley handed out that one.

And in a special award, member Sandy Howe was acknowledged for her longtime and ongoing support of the Colorado State Veterans Center at Homelake. She and her husband, Dan, have made innumerable trips across Wolf Creek Pass in all kinds of weather to deliver gifts since 2005.

The tea featured a cornucopia of goodies prepared by members and organized by Kathy Chamberlain, whose husband, Rusty, was, of course, shanghaied into volunteering, too.

Congratulations to all the honorees.

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Celebrating their Pisces birthdays in high style are Betsy Petersen, Stan Crapo, Odette Zenizo, Herb Folsom, Gene Bradley, Sam Stites, Ru Huot, Susan Stuber, Connie Trautmann, Don Briscoe, Dan Howell, Pat Mahan, John Serwe, Allen Washburn, Jessie Davis, Jeff Munger and Meade Harbison.

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On Valentine’ Day, Bob Condon gave a talk called “Appreciating Irish Music: An Interactive Experience” as part of the Professional Associates of Fort Lewis College’s Lifelong Learning Series. More than 100 people attended, many with their sweethearts in tow, to learn more about one of their favorite forms of music.

He probably should have called it “Appreciating Celtic Music,” because he didn’t limit himself to just the Emerald Isle.

Condon talked about jigs, reels and hornpipes. He said the English, in an effort to quash nationalistic sentiments, banned the harp, the bagpipe and whistles in an effort to consolidate their power. (They just went underground.)

He also gave some recommendations for where to hear authentic Irish music. (Hint: Head west.)

My only complaint is we didn’t hear enough music – I’m not sure I could tell the difference between the three standard forms without hearing them next to each other.

And forget about “Danny Boy” being the quintessential Irish song. It was written by an Englishman and failed to get much traction in England. It wasn’t until an Irish publisher released it that it became popular.

While I’m on the topic of the Lifelong Learning Series, if you’ve been intrigued when I write about the Reading Club of Durango, you can learn more this Thursday when yours truly will take the podium to share some of the history of this club, which is celebrating its 130th program year. The ladies of the club are responsible for much of the civilizing influence on this once Wild West town.

The talk begins at 7 p.m. and will be held in Noble Hall 130 at FLC.

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The Durango High School Class of 1963 is kicking off the planning for its 50th reunion, which will be held Sept. 13 through 15. And, of course, the first order of business is tracking down all their old classmates.

If you graduated in 1963, or have a family member who did, please call Charley Gremmels at (970) 946-1302 or Ann (Gregory) Yates at (720) 480-5841 with contact information for the grad.

The further we get from high school, the less important the cliques are and the more important it is to catch up with people who knew you “back when.”

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neighbors@durangoherald.com