Garnet Ping never met a stranger | VailDaily.com

Garnet Ping never met a stranger

Scott N. Miller

Special to the DailyGarnet Ping in the 1930s in front of her family's hotel on the corner of Capital Street and Highway 6.

Garnet Ping was Eagle’s one-woman welcome wagon.

Ping, 91, died Dec. 12 at the home of nephew Claude and Vieva DeGraw in Gypsum. A celebration of her life will be held today at 2:30 p.m. at the Methodist Church in Eagle.

Ping was an Eagle native, born at her family’s hotel on the corner of Capital Street and Highway 6 in Eagle on Oct. 11, 1912. Family legend has it she was born prematurely and was kept warm in a shoe box placed on the wood-burning oven in the kitchen.

Ping lived her entire life in Eagle until she could not live alone. She spent the last few years of her life living in Gypsum.

Until then, Ping was a fixture in downtown Eagle. No matter how cold, she would take walks through the old town center. When all of Eagle’s commercial activity was downtown, Ping’s daily walks put her in contact with new and old residents, as well as visitors from around the country.

“I can’t tell you how many people tell me she’s the first person they met when they moved to town,” said Terry Fischer, Ping’s grand-niece.

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Vieva DeGraw recalled that the family once took a trip to Hannibal, Mo. While watching the barges on the Mississippi, the family started talking to a man working in the area. When he found out the DeGraws were from Eagle County, he asked if they knew Garnet.

Fischer, Claude and Vieva’s daughter, said she’s met people in South Dakota who had met her great aunt.

“She liked to start a conversation if she could,” recalled cousin Barbara Pearch. “She’d notice the license plates on cars parked outside the cafe, and she would find out where they were from. She found out a lot about people.”

After meeting people, Ping would often keep in touch. Pearch recalled that in the days when Eagle had daily rail service, her cousin would often walk to the station with cards and letters to mail. She’d go to the station instead of the post office in order to watch the trains come in and see who got on and off, Pearch recalled. And, she added, it was a bit longer a walk than just going to the post office.

People Ping wrote to often wrote back. “We’ve got boxes full of cards and letters from people who wrote to Garnet,” said Vieva DeGraw.

Ping’s curiosity knew no bounds. Fischer recalled that when the family would take Ping on shopping trips to Glenwood Springs, she wouldn’t go into the stores, instead preferring to sit outside, the better to talk to new people.

Ping never learned to drive, so she would get rides from family members or take the train. She rarely traveled far from Eagle, and always returned.

Pearch recalled that she and her cousin would often take the train to dances near Camp Hale when the 10th Mountain Division was stationed there.

With a friendly nature and an easy smile, Ping was the kind of person who didn’t know the meaning of “stranger.”

“I’ve known her for years, and she was always a dear friend,” says longtime Eagle resident Pat Seabry, “I will always remember her telling me about different people-and it was always good.”

Ping’s 91st birthday party in October was a special occasion. Friend Virginia Rose was there, as were nearly a dozen other friends. “That was a nice time,” Rose recalled.

Fischer said over the last few weeks of Ping’s life, she began to really reminisce about people she’d known over the years. It was a long list.

“It’s hard to describe her; you had to know her,” said Fischer. “She touched so many lives.”

Garnet Ping was preceded in death by her parents, Otis and Minnie (Wedmore) Ping; brothers Leonard and Floyd Ping; and sister Ruby Ping DeGraw. She is survived by a cousin, Barbara Pearch of Eagle; and many nieces and nephews.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to Mountain Hospice, P.O. Box 40000, Vail, Colo. 81658.

This story first appeared in the Eagle Valley Enterprise.