Red Cliff alumni talk about the old days |

Red Cliff alumni talk about the old days

Matt Terrell
Vail, CO Colorado
Kristin Anderson/Daily file photoGraduates of the Red Cliff school, now town offices and a community center, gathered for a reunion this weekend.

RED CLIFF ” Life was simpler back in 1947 ” and it snowed more too, apparently.

“I used to walk to school with snow up to my chest, that’s what I tell the kids,” said Emerson Medina at the Red Cliff Union High School reunion.

He graduated 60 years ago from the school, a red brick building that is now a town hall, community center and museum.

Medina’s wife and friends around him agree ” yeah, it really did snow a lot more back then.

A reunion like this is a rare occasion, a gathering of memories from a very distinct period in our valley’s history ” the days of mining and railroads. Every year, there are fewer and fewer students ready to meet, and at every reunion, fewer show up.

About 90 people ” including spouses ” spanning the school’s history walked through the school’s front door Saturday.

When these old friends do meet, it takes an hour or so for everyone to recognize each other. Some faces are tougher to place than others.

Is that Jennie the tuba player, some wonder, or is that John’s wife from Denver?

“I can recognize most everyone ” I don’t know if they can recognize me,” Medina said.

Old photos of Red Cliff greet the former students as they walk in, reminding them of their fashion sense and wrinkle-free faces. The boys have short, slicked back, crispy looking hair, and the girls wear high volume, poofy doos, many wearing elaborate necklaces and pearls. In some of the photos, every boy lined up is wearing overalls.

You overhear snippets of conversations as they stare at their former selves.

“That’s me there. Don’t I look like a fox?”

“They don’t make dresses like that anymore.”

“I don’t know what we were doing there. We look like a bunch of fools.”

“That’s our band there. We had a great band.”

Ask these graduates what class was like back then, and they’ll say “It was school. It was a good school.”

School will always be school. Just because Red Cliff High served a small population of miners, rail road workers and mill workers doesn’t mean you didn’t learn math, science, English, band, and sports.

The main difference though between today and 1950, really, is the simplicity, they all say. Everyone seems to refer to how simple life was back then. The reunion seemed to be a celebration of that simplicity, a homage to the times they grew up in.

“I’m glad I grew up when I did,” said Minturn resident Ella Burnett, class of 1944. “We played kick the can, rode our bicycles, played in the snow, had sleigh rides on Cemetery Hill, made our own fun.”

Most families there grew up in the mining, railroad or lumber industry. Otherwise, you had no real business living in Red Cliff, Burnett said.

“There wasn’t anything there,” Burnett said.

If there was one person everyone recognized, it was Alan Albert, a 33-year fixture at the school. He was a band teacher, coach, principal and just about everything else.

He too remembers simpler times ” days when discipline was a matter of a few whacks on the backside.

“The super was strict, and I was strict, I had to be,” Albert said. “Kids do what they want now. If they get in trouble, what will they do? Suspend them? They’ll do it again.”

He remembers very distinctly the effect Vail had on Red Cliff and the school. While fathers still worked in the mines, mothers found better wages in the hospitality industry in Vail.

“People were paying off their houses, buying TVs, buying cars, doing well in life, moving up” Albert said.

Staff writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 748-2955 or

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