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  • Writer's pictureRichard A. Jones

Friends, Neighbors, and Acquaintances

Updated: Sep 15, 2023

Walking The Same Ground

8

“Friends, Neighbors, and Acquaintances”

In the next few chapters of Walking The Same Ground, I want to relate a few stories of people who have touched us deeply and others who have brushed lightly through our lives as they passed by. Some of you will remember these people differently than I do. This is to be expected, since we are not all carbon copies, and all relationships are unique.

The stories may seem insignificant. They are only small threads of our life in the valley, but woven together they have formed a part of the tapestry of who we are. Hopefully, some of you will read their names, remember them, and smile.

When we came to Westcliffe, we noticed that many names were often

spoken together: Harvey and Jean, Jack and Ruby, Raymond and Helen, Fred and Mary, Dot and Earl, Bill and Min, John and June, Bud and Betty, and the list could go on and on. I’m sure that some of you will be able to supply the last names. These couple’s lives seemed, to me, so intertwined that you could hardly speak of one without the other. In the weeks to come, I’ll be writing more about some of these.














Jack and Ruby Geroux are pictured above on the right, and I believe that this picture of Harvey and Jean Rusk (left) was taken at their kitchen table about the time of their 50th wedding anniversary in 1993.

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Harvey Geroux, Scott Canda, Dave Kattnig, Roger Squire, Fred and Jim Ulsh, Bob Squire, Mick Kastendieck, Mike Meyer, Kieth Hood, Ralph Hey, Dick Wilson, and myself made up only part of the roster for Thursday night town team basketball.

This was when the “over the hill gang” (we were all in our twenties and thirties) got together in the old gym to sweat a little. A few years later, we were joined by a younger crew including Gary Patterson, Scott Wilson, Gary Henrich, Jerry Livengood, and many others who would become members of our fellowship of the court.

Most of us had played basketball in high school, and a few of us played in college. On Thursday evenings, we came to see if our bodies could still do what our minds told them. Usually the answer was, “Not exactly.”

Several years later, the answer became, “Are you kidding me?” I think Ray Lewis outlasted us all, and still played after most of us had retired.

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All of these friends were close to my own age. However, I am thankful that In Westcliffe, in those days, friendships were not limited to people my own age. Harvey Rusk was, almost to the day, thirty years older than me. Earl Cress was forty four years older, and Freddie Vahldick called him a “kid” because he was two years older than Earl. They were all counted among my good friends. At the other end of the spectrum, Barb and I are thankful to know many former students as friends.


Those who have lived long need the enthusiasm and vision of the young, just as those who are young need the insight and wisdom of age. Of course, there is the possibility, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, that “With age comes wisdom, but sometimes, age arrives all by itself.”

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In the late 1800‘s, Ferdinand Neerman married Emma Schulze, and they had two sons: Adolph and August. In 1907, at the age of 28, Emma died in childbirth along with a third son. Ferdinand then married Anna Horn.


She lost a son at birth in 1910, but then Adolph and August were joined by Irene, Hilda, Joanna, and Anita.

Roy Dickens, son of Joanna Neerman and Art Dickens, is the last Neerman descendent (that I know of) still living in the valley.

Roy Dickens

The Neerman ranch was about 12 miles South of Westcliffe, so trips to town were infrequent. Irene, whom I knew best, told me that they did not have a motorized vehicle until she was in her late teens, and she would rather walk than ride in the old buck board.

I had heard that the Germans in the South end of the valley and the English in the North end had their differences. One morning, August Neerman seemed to confirm this. When the Neerman ranch sold, Irene and Adolph (neither ever married) moved into town, where I used to visit them at times. On one occasion during the course of our conversation, I said to Adolph, “Well, you know where Earl Cress lives.” Adolph got a far off look and replied, “No I don’t, Dick, I never knew much about what went on in that end of the valley.”


However, Earl’s mother’s family, the Huggs, came from Switzerland and Earl’s Grandmother Hugg spoke German while the Cress Family only spoke English. I guess Earl could claim both German and English heritage.



Adolph Neerman

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Dan Riggs was Custer County’s game warden for many years and was instrumental in increasing the county’s elk herd. I was privileged to sit with

Dan at his bedside a few days before he died. Dan’s wife, Arlie, was the county social worker and attended the Methodist Church where I preached from 1975-1977. In 1976, Barb and I were working with Arlie on possibilities for adoption.

One night, at about 8:00 there was a knock on our door. When I opened it, Arlie was standing on the porch holding a basket with a towel over it. As I stood their in shock, the first thought that entered my mind was, “I didn’t think they did it like this any more.” Arlie waited a little in order to enjoy the full affect this had on me.

Finally, she pulled back the towel to reveal a basket of tomatoes that some friends, from Canon City, had asked her to deliver. When she finally stopped laughing, she said, “You should see the look on your face.” Forty years later, every time we mentioned the incident, Arlie still laughed, and reminded me of my stunned expression.

I think that today, at 97 years old, Arlie is the oldest living resident in Westcliffe.

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Fred Vahldick was born in 1904 and he always called Mary his bride. Their ranch was on the southwest corner of Horn Road and Macy Lane. I think the ranch used to be owned by a Schulze. The drive from the road to the house was about a quarter mile long and passed through a beautiful grove of aspens.

Fred and Mary were good stewards of the earth. They cared deeply for living things and the natural character of the land. Fred always told me, “Dick, I don’t own this land. I just take care of it for the One who does.”

Going to Fred and Mary’s for a load of hay would generally take me about three hours, one hour loading the hay and two hours listening to Fred’s stories. South Macy was his favorite lake, and Fred had fish that needed to be “re-caught.” So, we would sit at the kitchen table spinning yarns over a cup of tea or coffee.

The Vahldick ranch included senior water rights on Macy, Horn, and Stanton Creeks. It has sold several times since Fred and Mary’s passing, and I’m pretty sure that the last time, the selling price would have been several million dollars.

Fred and Mary’s home might have been seen as a contradiction of this. A small table with a couple of chairs and an old cook stove occupied the kitchen. Their living room was furnished with a 1950’s green naugahyde love seat supported by wooden wagon wheel ends, two lawn chairs, a magazine rack with several copies of Billy Graham’s Hour of Decision magazine, and a portable stand with about a twelve inch tv. Their bedroom “door” was a blanket hung on two nails.

Someone once said to me, “Considering the value of that ranch with its water rights, they could live any way they wanted.” I told that person, “They are.” To love one another, to respect others, to honor the creator, to care for the land, to live simply, and to engage in good and meaningful work—what could possible be added to make life more blessed? Moses called it “numbering our days rightly.”

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The book of Proverbs says, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” Barb and I have been, and continue to be, sharpened and shaped by this Valley and its people, and we are grateful.

We are blessed to have friends not only from different generations, but from different interests, lifestyles, backgrounds, races, and faiths. Relational diversity is healthy. As someone once said, “If you only talk to people like you, you’ll never learn anything new.”


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cz
Jun 05, 2023

As you know, Judy and I have just been here 10 years, and we only recognize a few of the names that you mention. However, your stories and your extensive friendships always bring a smile to us. We regard our friendship with you and Barb to be among our biggest and richest blessings; thank you for welcoming us into the life of the Wet Mountain Valley.

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