The co-founder of Snowdown and the Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering, Linda Mannix, was named Citizen of the Year on Thursday at Durango Rocks!, the Durango Chamber of Commerce’s annual awards event.
“My printer ran out of ink, and I had prepared so many wonderful words,” Mannix joked as she accepted the award before a crowd of about 400 at the Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College.
Snowdown, Durango’s winter festival, was dreamed up by a group of good friends, she said, over a patio table and several rounds of beers and mojitos.
“Every year, I see the Snowdown Light Parade, and I start crying,” she said.
The iconic winter festival of frivolity and fun will kick off its 40th year Jan. 31. The theme this year is “A Black Tie Affair.”
Mannix is also the co-founder and longtime coordinator of the Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering. She said the event celebrates the Western tradition of cowboy poetry – a folk art made up of tall tales, songs and yarns traditionally recited around campfires. But the gathering, she said, also makes a point to honor Durango’s colorful ranching heritage.
“I just want to remind everyone of the agricultural roots of Durango and the importance of it,” she told The Durango Herald in September 2014.
Over the course of the gathering’s three decades, the event has grown. It started out as a way to fill a slow time of year, but now it’s difficult to get a room in town for the poetry weekend.
The key to running a festival this long is to keep things fresh, she told the Herald in 2015. Several additions have been made along the way, including a comedy show.
“After the trail drives, after almost getting killed, they’d sit down, and back in the 1880s, they’d peel labels off of fruit cans and scribble their thoughts and stick them in a pocket and maybe recite them at the end of the night,” Mannix told the Herald.
“Of course, humor always helps us relieve stress, and so that’s where cowboy humor came from.”
Mannix says she and her husband have sold their cattle on their 40-acre spread in Bondad and are now down to raising only eight horses.
“I’d like to thank my current husband, Jeff, for making my little girl dream of owning a horse come true,” she joked from the stage.
The Entrepreneur of the Year Award was renamed the Ed Morlan Entrepreneur of the Year Award to recognize the efforts of Morlan in fostering small businesses and economic development in Southwest Colorado. Morlan died suddenly in November 2016.
For 27 years, he served as the director of the Region 9 Economic Development District, a nonprofit that promotes small businesses in the region.
Tracie Holcomb, owner of Crossfit Catacombs, said she was particularly touched to receive the Ed Morlan Entrepreneur of the Year Award because her husband, Tom, frequently worked with Morlan, and the spark of entrepreneurship behind Crossfit Catacombs came from Morlan and his work with her husband.
“Owning a gym was always my dream. It wasn’t Tom’s,” she said. “But he’s there when your cleaning toilets and looking at business proposals at 11 p.m. Owning a business is a team thing.”
Mary Jane Clark was named the recipient of the Morley Ballantine Award, named after the longtime chairman of the board and editor of The Durango Herald.
Clark said she became fast friends with Ballantine when the Ballantines moved to Durango, and Morley provided her with maternity clothes.
“Durango is such a wonderful place to live because so many nice people live here, and they always have,” she said.
At the end of Durango Rocks!, Joe Lloyd, who owns Durango Joes Coffee and is president of the Durango Chamber of Commerce board of directors, thanked Jack Llewellyn, executive director of the chamber, for his 10 years of service and said he would like to see Llewellyn lead the chamber for another decade.
“He fights for Durango businesses, and he believes in Durango businesses,” Lloyd said.