He was the man of the hour at the centennial celebration of Mancos High School on July 24. Durangoan Robert Beers traveled to his hometown to address the crowd at the festivities with memories of the Class of 1932. He is the oldest living alumnus of the school, and will turn 95 in October.
Beers also is mentioned in a book researched and compiled by Darrel Ellis with assistance by Theresa Titone for the 100th anniversary called From Then Until Now. It includes research from the archives of the Mancos Times, a series of accomplishments over the years based on banners and trophies discovered at the school and memories of graduates. The book also lists the nearly 2,200 graduates of the school since 1909. Mancos High School is the only 100-year-old high school in Colorado that still is in use.
Beers appears as a Renaissance man in the book for both his musical and athletic talents. On April 25, 1931, he took first place as a saxophone soloist at the Music Festival in Durango. His classmate Fern Decker came in second with a piano solo. In March 1932, he was a member of the Mancos High School Blue Jays basketball team that officially won the Western Slope championship and garnered second place in the state tournament.
(In an interesting statistic, the odds were great for boys in his class, because there were 10 girls to 4 boys.)
An accomplished speaker after more than five decades in Toastmasters, Beers had great stories about the hijinks of those days and memories of growing up in the little town 80 years ago.
The father of one of his best friends was the superintendent of Mesa Verde National Park, and his friend Sam Akai's (or Nakai) dad was the chief of the Navajo Nation. One day, Sam gave his buddy Beers a beautiful cedar bow and arrow. When Mrs. Beers came into the backyard, she was horrified to see her prize hen running around with an arrow through its breast. On one hand, Whoops! And on the other, what a great shot for a rookie.
Because Mrs. Beers was active in the Ladies Auxiliary, young Robert found himself getting up in the dark on Sunday mornings to go start the furnace at the First Methodist Church. By the time the congregation arrived, they couldn't see their hands in front of their faces, not because it was too dark, but because the church was full of smoke.
One day, the Sunday school teacher and president of the bank told the young man he would take over furnace duties, a big relief for Beers, who had been embarrassed because of all the smoke. On the next Sunday, the congregation arrived to find ... the church full of smoke.
A favorite story is the first time he met a kid who would eventually join him as a leading light in Durango, Fred Kroeger, or as he was known then, Freddy, who is three years younger than Beers. It was Easter, and the Kroeger family had gone over to Mancos, where Freddy joined the local kids in the Easter egg hunt. Mrs. Richner (or Rickner) told the children there was one golden egg.
Off Beers went on the hunt, with that whippersnapper Durangoan Freddy 10 paces behind. And then Beers saw it, the coveted golden egg. He grabbed it, and Mrs. Richner asked who had found it. "I did," Beers said. "No, I did," Kroeger said.
Mrs. Richner said "Bobby, he is from a very important Durango family," and she took the egg and gave it to Kroeger. What kid could take that injustice sitting down?
"I've hated him ever since," Beers concluded.
The birthday celebration also included a cake donated by Absolute Bakery, a rack of all the graduate photos over the years that featured more than one multigenerational family and a performance by the Mancos Valley Chorus with a song called "Always in My Dreams," which was written for the occasion.
Enjoying all the bounty of the La Plata County Fair for their birthdays are Jacob Hoffman, Bob Sieger, Raymond Walker, Koltin Bassett, Stephanie Bowles, Maren Stransky, Dianne Milarch, Michelle Uhl, Carley Ezell, Karla Sluis, Brenna Wolf, Gracie Goldman, Priscilla Blevins, Valerie Borge, Jim Wimp, Alice Crapo, Cheryl Birchard, Wally Mason, Suzanne Sullivan, Doug Mason, Robert Romaniak, Charles Gordon, Sally Folk, Bryan Welker, Lucille Skinner, Jim Ottman, Kylie Somsen, Sydney Beekmann, Lynn Weger, Mimi Smith, Kalin Pugh and Wanda Ollier.
Railroads and cattle ranching built much of the West, and La Plata County has its own roots in both. For the last several years, the La Plata-Archuleta Cattlemen's Association has sponsored a Chuckwagon Cook-off that revives an important part of annual cattle drives beloved of Hollywood.
In the name of authenticity, the contestants are required to prepare dishes whose ingredients would have been available in the late 1800s. This year, five chuckwagons stepped up to the plate (ha, good one, even if advertent) to prepare beef, beans, bread, potatoes and dessert, hearty fare that would have fueled hungry cowboys who had worked hard all day. The food is cooked in Dutch ovens and cast-iron skillets, tools that would have been available back in the day.
The event actually began July 24 when Ned Jefferies and Marvin Conrad were on hand at 6 a.m. to welcome the chuckwagons. On July 25, Bob Cooper of Bayfield, Bruce Anderson of Durango, Lou Ann Baker from Pagosa Springs and Ron Mahaffey of Flora Vista, judged the wagons themselves for their authenticity. Doc Lawrence's LVS Trail Wagon out of Grand Junction took first place, Harry Baxstrom's Poverty Flats Wagon, from Bayfield, finished second and Bud Winbourn of the Rocking W Outfit from Cortez was third.
Judges - I was honored to be asked back again this year - were split into teams that judged one of the dishes. After multiple years of judging potatoes, beans and bread, I finally got to taste test the ever popular desserts in 2009. We selected, after much deliberation (and just one more bite), Jim Adkins of Rancho Arriero in Hesperus' peach cobbler for the winner, followed by Curly Taylor from Taylor's John Deere Wagon from Cortez in second and Winbourn in third.
Adkins also took first in bread and second in potatoes. Taylor claimed bragging rights as first place in beans and potatoes, second in bread and third in meat. And Winbourn was first in meat and third in potatoes and bread.
Baxstrom came in second on meat.
Joining me in judging were 19 other celebrity judges, including La Plata County Commissioners Joelle Riddle and Kellie Hotter, local brand inspector Jim Bramwell and a number of professionals and men and women ranchers from throughout the county.
After the judging, it was chow time. The chuckwagons served 400 people in 30 minutes, and it's amazing the variety that can be prepared in such a seemingly limited categories. Attendees came from every segment of our community and more than a few tourists, including some from France who were looking for a cowboy experience in the Wild West.
The cook-off takes a lot of volunteers to pull off, including scouts Kyle Beebe, Peggy Beebe, Jerry Zink and Barbara Jefferies. A number of young people did the job of wranglers, including college students Megan Semler, Raesha Ray, Craig Schutz, Larissa LaShell and Casey Shutz, who received scholarships either from the cattlemen or the La Plata County Cowbelles.
The teams who cooked deserve a lot of credit for standing in the grueling heat and cooking over open fires for hours. It's definitely not a job for sissies. Thanks to all of you for helping us take a walk back in time.
The community continues to come together to support Alyssa Shelton and her family. Alyssa, you may recall, was badly injured when a soccer goal fell on her and shattered her L-1 vertebrae. After about two months of surgery and physical and occupational therapy Denver's Children's Hospital, she has been home for a while continuing to improve.
But there's no mystery why more than half of personal bankruptcies in this country happen because of medical bills, and an injury this severe is an excellent example of why that happens.
Alyssa and her family attend the First United Methodist Church of Durango, and about 20 young people from the congregation want to help as well. There is Bowling for Dollars, and now there is Bowling for Alyssa. They will be at the Rolling Thunder Bowling Lanes at the Sky Ute Resort in Ignacio this afternoon bowling their hearts out and hoping for lots of strikes and spares (and no gutter balls) on her behalf.
If you would like to help these young people help a friend, you can call in pledges or flat donations to Youth Director Jake Forsythe at 247-4312 or mail your check to the Alyssa Shelton Medical Fund, c/o the First United Methodist Church of Durango, 2917 Aspen Drive, Durango, CO 81301. The kids plan to present the money they've raised to the family in the middle of August.
Enjoying the passion of the final weekend of Music in the Mountains for their anniversaries are Scott and Robin Southworth, Dick and Betty Perry, Darrell and Mary Brown, Kirk and Ginny Dignum, John and Nancy Loftis, Jim and Kathie Hudson, Mick Souder and Linda Schwinghammer, Preston and Renee Knight, Ed and Karla Dudley and Bob and Shirley Newby.
Special greetings go to LaVern and Loranell Nelson for their 61st wedding anniversary.
For information on upcoming events and fundraisers, check Local Briefs.
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