‘Women of Vail’ serialization: One of Vail’s finest ladies

Jackie Higgins
Women of Vail
Special to the Daily

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. Books are available for purchase at, the Colorado Ski Museum, Pepi’s, Gorsuch, Annie’s and the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens.

Ella Mae McWhorter Knox, born March 25, 1911, and died in June 2008, arrived in Vail in 1962 from Colorado Springs with husband, George Sr., and sons George Jr. and Allen. George and Ella had been involved in business ventures before moving to the new resort. George, an advertising man, decided Vail needed a publication to promote the new ski village, and the idea of The Vail Trail became a reality. The newspaper served the community with news and advertising. Ella used her talents as a wonderful cook to bake her famous pies sold at local eateries including the Clock Tower Restaurant.

Ella had many talents: Mother, wife, gardener, and gourmet cook. She could take an ordinary head of lettuce, a few herbs and spices, and make a feast. She also wrote a popular newspaper column, “Green Thumb Ella,” where she explained how to grow beautiful flowers, plants, and anything green at high altitude. She was extremely active in the Christian Science Church in Vail and her beloved Republican Party. She kept photos of President Ronald Reagan at her Intermountain home. Ella never failed to try to make a Democrat into a Republican, nor was she afraid of expressing her political or religious views to anyone.

Social life was a whirlwind of fun in the early days of Vail. George and she entertained and were entertained by their many new friends: Marge and Larry Burdick, Pepi and Sheika Gramshammer, Betty and Jerry Ford, and many more of Vail’s first pioneers. Ella often told stories of gatherings at the Burdick’s Red Lion Inn. Ella gave up skiing in her 40s but managed to keep her love of the mountain. She kept busy with young employees at The Vail Trail acting as a second mother and grandmother, mentoring the next generation of Vail. Although there was a 40-year age difference with most of them, they invited Ella to their weddings, and she babysat for their babies.

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Ella loved Vail. She loved her family that multiplied here with her sons, their wives and grandchildren. She made Vail her home. In the early years, Ella belonged to a ladies’ ski club and a hiking club. She could put together any jigsaw puzzle given to her. Ella was never boring and kept her life full and interesting. She worked at The Vail Trail with son Allen after her husband’s death. She was head of the subscription department and learned how to work a computer to update her subscriptions.

Ella enjoyed skiing and spending hours in her garden. She kept fit by walking her little dogs. She was an active parent in her sons’ and their families’ lives and was very proud of her boys, George Jr. and Allen, and the proud grandmother of four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. The Vail matriarch had many stories, loved a little gossip, and knew the details of all the people who came to Vail: How many times they had been married, who had changed their names, and tidbits about who they used to be. She was one of the most intelligent people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing and one of the most interesting. Her interests never ceased to amaze me, and her knowledge of so many things was incredible. I remember Ella loved to study the stars and planets and donated her telescope to Battle Mountain High School. She was also interested in geology, had a rock collection, and was a terrific card player.

Her baked brownies were the best things in the world, and she was “green and organic” before it was cool to be so. As a young Vail Trail reporter, I met Ella when she was 69. We had an instant connection, and I always felt she was my contemporary with a twist of humor and an edge. We didn’t always agree, but her sage advice and what I learned from this amazing lady keep her close to my heart every day. Ella was an original — one of Vail’s finest ladies and a true pioneer.

“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-editor.

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