Larry Banman: Listen to those who have walked the path ahead
May 28, 2009
I can’t help but think that we are allowing our most precious commodity slip away.
Over the past 15 years, I have had the privilege of interviewing those people who have been selected as the Pioneers of the Year and the Citizens of the Year by the Middle Park Fairboard. The pioneers are those people who have helped shape Grand County and the Citizens of the Year are those people who have made significant contributions to the community.
From the perspective of what most of us call history, Grand County is very young. It isn’t that things weren’t happening in Grand County prior to the past century and a half. It’s just that we don’t have much of a written record. From our perspective, the people who are identified as pioneers, truly were pioneers. Even as we move toward the end of the first decade of the 2000s, the people we honor are the children and grandchildren of people who started from scratch and carved out an existence in this region. Some were born at home, some rode their horses to school and some know what it is like to have to move to town just so they could go to high school. All had experiences that, today, we would label as hardships. For them, it was part of growing up, a way of life. That perspective gives their stories a sense of poignancy.
The pioneers and citizens will be honored during the Middle Park Fair held in Kremmling in August. Featured this year will be Peg Toft, Richard and Marilyn Curry, Jack Orr and Jack McElroy. McElroy passed away early this spring and he will be honored posthumously. The Citizen of the Year is Therese McElroy. Marilyn Curry, Toft, Jack McElroy and Orr were all part of the same graduating class at Kremmling Union High School. Richard Curry was a couple of years ahead of his wife Marilyn and Therese McElroy is Jack McElroy’s sister.
The tight-knit nature of this year’s group of honorees is itself an illustration of the time in which they were raised. Most pioneers speak of the loss of that sense of community as the biggest change they have noticed in Grand County. Although I don’t sense bitterness, I do notice that they don’t refer to that change as progress in a positive sense.
When I purchased a woodstove years ago, I remember that my father was mystified about my choice. He grew up chopping down trees, splitting wood and cleaning up dirt and ashes. There was no choice if the family wanted to heat food and stay warm. He couldn’t understand why anybody would consciously make the choice to relive that experience. In his mind, his generation had worked hard to bring in rural electric cooperatives and propane companies so future generations would have some luxuries and advantages that his was unable to enjoy.
I think sometimes we define any change as progress. If something is easier, it must be better. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t really care to go back to outdoor plumbing, but I can’t help but believe that we have lost something on the road and perhaps in the name of progress.
Pioneers talk to me about selling hundreds of head of livestock on a handshake. They talk about drastic life-changing moves made with little more than faith that their needs will be met. And, they talk about hardships and tough choices without looking for somebody to blame.
That perspective really only comes with the passage of time. I have no doubt that our pioneers struggled with many of the same basic issues that face us on a day-to-day basis. They had their own share of successes and failures. When we talk to them today, they have had the benefit of seeing the results of their actions. They can see the results of steps taken and perhaps even a feel for “what might have been.”
I often wonder about the location of roads. When there were no fences and no property lines, I wonder, what made one route more attractive than another? Generally speaking, I suppose, travelers followed the paths of least resistance and had access to the necessities of travel, primarily water. Generations and even centuries later, we follow those same paths, taking advantage of the lessons learned by those first travelers. The lesson is that we are benefiting from those choices and avoiding the errors that were made. Those are the same kinds of lessons that can be learned from those who have been honed by the rigors and shaped by the joys of life. When we listen, we earn the advantage of avoiding some of the pitfalls and being guided toward some of the highlights.