After nearly 75 years, Vail Valley cousins reconnect at Castle Peak Senior Center
Blanche Mauro and Margaret Collett have hundreds of stories from a much simpler time in the valley
EAGLE — It was Mother’s Day and Blanche Mauro was touring the Castle Peak Senior Center, thinking about moving in. She’s not shy. She and daughter-in-law Mindy Brill Mauro were greeting new friends when they met Margaret Collett.
“Hi. This is Blanche!” Mindy said to Margaret.
“Pleased to meet you. I’m Margaret.” Then Margaret thought for a second. “I’ve only known one Blanche. My cousin, Blanche High.”
“I’m Blanche High! Are you cousin Sissy?” Blanche said.
The two had not seen each other in almost 75 years. They fell into each other’s arms, hugging and giggling for hours. They still haven’t stopped smiling.
Blanche, now 94 and six years older than her cousin, moved to Eagle to be closer to family. She’s Alec Mauro’s grandmother and Tony Mauro’s mom. You know Tony, the local radio legend for KZYR. Blanche says her son has loved radio since he was tiny, wandering around the Mauro household in Colorado Springs with a tiny radio and a tiny microphone.
“That was always what he wanted to be,” Blanche said.
Moving from Mississippi
The two cousins have hundreds of stories about life before starter castles dotted the valley.
Margaret’s dad and Blanche’s mom were brother and sister, and moved from Mississippi to Eagle County. Blanche’s dad homesteaded 250 acres in Squaw Creek, raising lettuce, potatoes, hay and 11 children.
Margaret’s mom migrated on down the Eagle River Valley to Gypsum. Her family used to ride from Gypsum to Squaw Creek most Sundays to visit.
In those days Squaw Creek was segregated, sort of.
“Cows on one side and sheep on the other,” Blanche recalled. “I lived on the cattle side.”
A creek started in a glacier nearby and babbled past the cabin — their water source.
Blanche didn’t use an indoor bathroom until she was 13 and went to Eagle County High School in Gypsum, where she also saw her first swinging door.
“I reached out to catch it and smashed both my hands. I was a sight, walking around my first few weeks of high school with bandages on my hands,” Blanche said.
Blanche started school when she was 4 in a one-room schoolhouse. Miss Diamond taught eight grades. Margaret went to school in Gypsum, three grades in one room.
Life circles around and one of the newest modern education fads is multiple grades in one classroom.
“We were ahead of our time!” Margaret said.
Blanche graduated Eagle County High School in Gypsum in 1941, when she was 15. “That’s because I was smart!” Blanche said smiling.
Gypsum going and coming
When Margaret was born, Gypsum was home to 200 souls. Her mother graduated Eagle County High School. So did she, her children and grandchildren. When she finished Western State College in Gunnison she returned to Gypsum to teach elementary school, and then worked in Eagle Valley High School for the better part of two decades.
When Margaret’s dad was 26, he was diagnosed with a serious disease. The doctor told him if there was something he wanted to do, he’d better get it done. He took the doctor’s advice and lived as much as he could every day of his life. That turned out to be lots and lots of days. He died at 96. “Sharkie” probably earned his nickname through his card playing, Margaret said.
Dandelions, lions and bears
Blanche left Squaw Creek when she was 18, catching a train in Minturn to meet her uncle in Colorado Springs. America’s World War II effort was running at full throttle and her train was loaded with soldiers headed to the war. She was a little apprehensive about being on a train with all those young men, and sat quietly with her suitcase in her lap the entire trip. But being raised on a Squaw Creek homestead instilled confidence.
“We played out with the dandelions and lived with bears and mountain lions,” Blanche said.
Colorado Springs was a stark change from Squaw Creek. Her uncle’s place was near the Broadmoor where he was a member, so she became quite the social butterfly.
“They dressed me up!” Blanche said.
She was 19 when she and a 16-year old soldier named Charles Mauro caught each other’s eyes. He went off to the Navy and came back “all grown up.”
“He chased me until I caught him,” Blanche said.
Blanche’s brothers all fought in World War II. They all came home.
Lifestyles and stories
Avon’s Hahnewald Barn was the site of all kinds of barn dances back when the cousins were growing up in the valley, as was the American Legion Hall in Gypsum. After Blanche moved to Colorado Springs, she was a regular at USO dances.
“My feet almost never touched the ground,” Blanche said.
Skiing was not part of the program back then, although there was this guy Earl Eaton (Vail’s “finder” who grew up in Edwards and as a child worked and played in the area where Vail is now) was about the only skier around. Eaton made his own skis.
Edwards’ only commercial enterprises were the gas station, now the Gashouse, and a small grocery. There really was a man named Bearcat, who earned his nickname for wrestling a bear in the yard.
Brett Ranch is named for the Brett family, who ranched the area.
Blanche was one of a big Squaw Creek crowd that gathered in a big yellow ranch house for her first radio broadcast, a Joe Louis boxing match.
Blanche’s first job was housekeeping in the Wolcott hotel.
Blanche’s dad finally sold their 250-acre homestead in the 1950s and moved to Clifton, just east of Grand Junction.
Time flies by. Blanche was recently looking for her brother’s grave in Edwards. The reference point is two little trees by the headstone. She finally found it. The trees are now 60 feet tall.
Blanche’s family’s small cabin is still in Squaw Creek. It’s actually the second version of that cabin. That first cabin burned. Lightning hit it. Blanche’s mother had played her piano all over the South and brought it to Squaw Creek from Mississippi, about the only thing of value that the family owned. Blanche came home from school to see the cabin ablaze and her mother’s burning piano rolling down the hill.
They rebuilt and life went on.
Blanche took a trip up Squaw Creek to visit the old school site and corral. The school building is still there. So is the corral. They sometimes rode their horse to school, three girls on “Old Gyp,” named for cousin Margaret’s town.
Sometimes they rode their sleds to school. Blanche still carries a scar on her right knee, the trophy from a sled crash.
“I had a good time growing up,” Blanche said smiling.
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