Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from “Women of Vail,” by Elaine Kelton and Carolyn Pope. The Vail Daily is serializing the book as Vail celebrates its 50th anniversary. The book is available for purchase at www.bookwormofedwards.com, the Colorado Ski Museum, Pepi’s, Gorsuch, Annie’s and the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens.
I’m a Colorado girl and grew up in Golden. I worked in the “basket room” and as a swim teaching assistant at the city’s municipal pool from age 14. At 16, I taught swimming and was a lifeguard there for eight summers before coming to Vail as a college graduate and young newlywed in May 1968. That early work turned into a bit of a career here in Vail.
When we arrived, I went to the Lodge and inquired at the front desk about a lifeguard position and whether they might permit a swimming lesson program at their pool. I was told, “Yes, but someone has already been hired.” As luck would have it, Hermann Staufer (then assistant manager of The Lodge) overheard the conversation, came out from a nearby office and asked my name. When I told him, he said, “You’re the person we hired.” Nobody had told me. That was funny and a huge relief; I had a job.
David and I were hoping to have some summer and winter fun in Vail before returning to grad school. In February of 1968, before coming to Vail in May, I wrote a letter to Vail Associates inquiring if there were many children in Vail and if there was a pool that might need a lifeguard and where I could conduct a swimming lesson program. Lillian Ross, of VA at that time, answered my letter and told me that there were some children and to write to The Lodge at Vail as they had the only pool large enough to need a lifeguard and hold swimming lessons. I immediately wrote to The Lodge, but was very discouraged not to receive a reply.
I thought it would be interesting for people to know that we had Red Cross swimming lessons early on in Vail. My swim program was affiliated with the American Red Cross to have their nationwide standards available here in Vail so local and guests’ kids could obtain their Red Cross certificate “at the next level.”
Sandy Troxell had been the first to teach a handful of kids swimming lessons the previous summer, but she was leaving Vail. We taught a few classes together before she left. I finished the lessons for the summer and continued conducting my ever-growing Red Cross Swimming Lesson Program for the next 32 years. Of course, there were the Vail and Minturn kids, but families came from as far as Red Cliff and Gilman (people still lived in Gilman then), Eagle, Gypsum, McCoy, and beyond to bring their kids to swimming lessons. Later, the Ogilby/Garton Vail Intermountain Pool was the first “permanent” location for us (until its foundation started sliding down the hill into Gore Creek, and the pool was officially closed). Once again, we relied on the kindness of other lodges’ pools and, finally, Bobby Warner and Jeannie and Brian Hauff allowed me to use the private Homestead Court Club pool in Edwards. Adult classes were fun, too, and Warren Pulis was my first adult student in Vail.
Besides teaching swimming, I worked at The Lodge’s Bear Trap Bar in the late ’60s as a waitress for John Dobson’s famous and wonderfully funny melodramas; next at Bud and Gretta Parks’ Gondola Ski Shop, followed by a job at Gorsuch. I loved winters, summers, springs and falls, outdoor life, hard but satisfying work, and the good friends I made. The Vail area became “home,” a place to raise a family and do meaningful work. My kids, Sarah and Keith, were both born in Glenwood Springs. There were no maternity facilities in Vail at the time, so they are not quite “native.”
Back then, I was 23 and only wanted a fun, yearlong adventure. I’m still here 44 years later. Now, in spite of the loss of the wonderful Wild West, rough-around-the-edges, small-town early Vail, where cowboys tied their horses outside Donovan’s Copper Bar or rode right in, where everyone worked hard creating this new town and knew everyone else, we now have what some might say is “the best of both worlds.” There is still the wild and rural beauty all around us, and a variety of good schools and easy access to amenities.
“Women of Vail” was produced by a team that includes Elaine Kelton and Carolyn Pope, publishers; Joanne Morgan, designer and production; and Rosalie Hill Isom, writer and editor.