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  • Writer's pictureRichard A. Jones

A Westcliffe Education

Walking The Same Ground


“A Westcliffe Education”

It was March of 1974, the weekend we saw our first movie at the Jones Theatre, a new Disney flick called ”That Darn Cat.”

Unlike many, Barb and I did not come to Westcliffe for the view. On our only visit before moving to the valley, it snowed 14 inches, clouds completely hid the mountains from sight, and there was no internet to look it up. We were young, only 23. I needed a job, and Paul and Jean Zeller needed a wrangler at Horn Creek Lodge.

And so with teaching applications strewn all over the midwest, we packed one suitcase each and came to Westcliffe “for the summer.” Surely a permanent job would come up back in Indiana or Illinois. It did not. Little did we know that we would soon bring, to Westcliffe, a 4’x8’ trailer with everything we owned.

When August came and no other job had materialized, I decided to take Paul and Jean up on their offer to stay at Horn Creek through the winter. Having taught a year in Illinois, Barb applied for a teaching position at Custer County School.

K-12 School enrollment was about 180. The last class had just graduated from the old two-story brick high school building which had served the children of Custer County for 50 years. It was torn down shortly after graduation.

The class of ’74 had seventeen seniors: Tom Schulze, Nancy Geroux, Glen Livengood, Barb Shaw, Derald Riggs, Idelle Kness, Becky Baker, Letitia Leasure, Ed Coleman, Scott Canda, Charlie Behrendt, Cindy (Camper) Cardenas, Elvira Green, Rhonda Jagow, Louie Hartbauer, Ken Marsh, and Jesse Mills.

Iris Wilson and Ruth Jordan were the school secretaries, Gladys Miller and Margaret Stacy were our cooks, Fred Luthi and Raymond Sanchez were custodians, and bus drivers were Bob Koch, Frank Garner, Mel Roscoe Bob Miller (Baptist pastor), and Norman Jordan.

School board members were Stan Coleman, Les Schulze, Stan DePriest, Jack Geroux, and Olen Kennon. Dick Wilson had become principal the year before, and Charlie Blodgett was superintendent. (No, my memory isn’t really this good; I’m looking at the 1974 Bobcat yearbook right now.)

Barb had called Charlie several times for an interview, but he informed her that there were no positions available. Probably to keep Barb from calling any more, he finally agreed to give her an interview anyway.

The school was in the process of moving into the new building and Mr. Blodgett’s office was not known for neatness under normal circumstances. Except for a phone call where Charlie had to get down on his hands and knees and track the wire to find the phone, the interview lasted about two minutes with the only question Charlie asked being, “Are you old fashioned or new fangled?” This was followed by a tour of the new school, which is now the old school.

School started the day after Labor day, and it was already August. We had pretty much given up on Barb getting a teaching position. However, we were the ones about to be educated as we were introduced to the Westcliffe information network. I think it was founded on the eight party-line phone system.

The Friday before school started on Tuesday, Barb was picking up a few groceries at Jennings Market. As she was checking out, the cashier (Anita Henrich, I think) saw the name on her check and commented, “Oh, you’re the new school teacher.” Barb denied it, and Anita said, “Yea, I’m pretty sure they hired you at the school board meeting last night.”

Paul Zeller owned the little buildings along highway 69 North at the corner of Main street and rented them as apartments, for about $50 a month. When Barb got home, she learned that one of his renters (a teacher) had just called to say that she was leaving.

Barb kept calling the school until finally an electrician, who was wiring part of the new building, answered. He looked around to find the phone number for Iris Wilson, the school secretary. Barb called her, and Iris said, “Do you mean that Charlie didn’t tell you.” She gave her the number for Superintendent Blodgett who was visiting family for the weekend in Eastern Colorado. When Barb called Charlie, he calmly replied, “I was going to call you when I got back in town on Monday.” (Remember—school started Tuesday).

Barb then called Fred Luthi, the school janitor, who let her into the building to work almost non-stop until Tuesday when she walked into a 6th grade classroom of seventeen of the newest generation of Gerouxs, Kochs, Colemans, Roscoes, Roys, Reises, and Campers; some of whom still live here today.

And so, Barb signed her first contract at Custer County School. Well, actually she didn’t sign it until mid-January when Iris Wilson discovered that Charlie had never even given her a contract.

This began a 42 year teaching career, the longest at Custer County. Barb is followed closely by Hattie MacLeod-39 years, Gordon Thornton-36 years, and Betty Munson-33 years.

Barb and I were also privileged to have taught with Helen Hibbs, Clara Reida, Barb and Dick Wilson, and Ralph Hey who all served Custer County School for at least 25 years.

To former students, faculty, administrators, and staff of Custer County School—Thanks for the friendships, the memories, and the stories.

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