‘Don’t do what grandpa did’
GYPSUM – Gypsum Creek resident Virgil Newquist just hit a pretty big milestone. He turned 90 years old on Aug. 14, and he has a book of memories to prove it.Newquist, who grew up on the Bellyache Homestead, was born in 1915 in Centerville, Iowa. His parents, Bertha Mae Hopkins and Hilmer Gus Newquist, moved the family to the Trail Gulch Homestead on Bellyache Ridge when Virgil was still a child.Growing up, he remembers days filled with hard work, and an adolescence spent jumping trains from here to California, he says. He has been in Eagle County for the majority of his life – some 65 years – and he can tell you about the first road through here, the rich farming history that this valley was founded on, and about a whole lot of other things.”I have seen a lot here in my life,” says Newquist, who adds that being 90 “doesn’t feel any different to me.”At 15, Newquist quit school and began hopping trains on the Denver and Rio Grande line that runs right down the middle of the valley. His first trip to California, in 1933, was made in a boxcar when he was 18. He made two subsequent trips in the following years.”I have seen 300 guys on one train,” he says, with a mischievous look in his good eye (the left one). “They were not to be trusted. It’s probably more dangerous now, but those men were up to no good.”
Newquist tried marriage in 1938. He says it wasn’t for him, though. After nine years, he and his wife were separated, and he has been single ever since. While married, Newquist had three sons and a daughter, Elsa, the only one of his children who is still alive.When he speaks of his family, he does so sadly. His son, Virgil, died this spring after a debilitating injury 10 years ago that left him a quadriplegic. “He never fully recovered from that accident,” Newquist says.His other son, Charles, died of cancer, and son Hilmer died as an infant. Newquist also did a stint in the army, starting in 1944, which took him to the Philippines and Korea. He sailed 17,000 miles during his post-WW II combat travels. After splitting with his wife, and spending more years in California, Newquist returned to Eagle in 1963. He has lived here ever since.
Virgil was employed for years at the Kaibab Sawmill after returning from California.He has always been handy with cars and mechanical things. “At a certain point I just learned to start taking things apart and putting them back together,” says Newquist.The additions to Eagle County and Colorado that Newquist has seen in his lifetime read like a laundry list.”I remember when they put in the Boulder Dam in my school days, then the Moffat Tunnel opened in 1927,” says Newquist. “The Dotsero Cut-Off was built in ’33 – ’34, and then the Dillon Dam. I watched Interstate 70 be built right through here.”Newquist also remembers the first road in Eagle County. The road – which Newquist calls “travel-able” – was built in 1902 when Governor Ed Taylor got $60,000 to build a route from Denver to Grand Junction.Virgil’s fondest personal memories from over the years are of his trip to Alaska in 1975, and of the “Big One” – a huge rainbow trout – he caught in 1996 at the age of 80, he says.
Newquist’s party was held at his neighbors Corky and Carol Fitzsimmon’s place, and was attended by more than 100 guests. They came from near and far to toast the life Newquist continues to lead. Many were from Gypsum, of course – including fellow 90-plus-year-olds Gussie Baker, and Melissa Tresize. But many came from other parts of the state, and from as far away as Arizona, Utah, Wisconsin and Idaho.When it was toasting time, it wasn’t Virgil’s exploits in life that the guests wanted to cheer.”The toasts all focused on what a good person he is,” said niece Helen Fish. “They all centered around his kindness and knowledge of the mountains, and his willingness to help others.”Typically, Newquist brushed off the compliments, focusing more on how the people at his party had helped him over the years.
“It didn’t seem right to make such a big deal out of me,” says Newquist, who quickly adds that the Fitzsimmons are “saints,” and that he could never repay them in two lifetimes for all they have done for him.Fish, who lives in Idaho but has a vacation cabin next to Virgil’s cabin on Gypsum Creek, is helping Newquist transfer his voice recorded memoirs to print. So far, they have nearly 400 pages, and more on the way. Newquist would like to have the book printed, if for nothing more than for his family to have. “I will leave a few in the drug store and around town,” he says. “Who knows? They might sell,.”Now, Newquist spends much of his days up on Gypsum Creek, but he gets out plenty, too. He drives to Grand Junction every Saturday for church; and regularly makes the trip down to the senior center for dinner. When asked what advice he would give to the younger generation, the response is simple. “I hope the younger kids don’t do what grandpa did,” he says. Anyone interested in finding out more about what Grandpa did, will just have to buy the book.Vail, Colorado
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