Ray Osborn, fourth generation Grand County resident, is right at home
Sky-Hi Daily News
Ray Osborn goes to the shelf in his living room and grabs three books.
One is a military yearbook, in which he, senior chief electrician in the Navy, stands among students he’d taught.
The other two are photo albums with page after page of Osborn among unshaven friends in the field displaying the fruits of their season’s hunt, a dirt-encrusted Chevy parked behind them and a campfire in the foreground.
He bagged an elk annually for 25 years, he said.
In one photo, Osborn kneels alone, showing off a 36.5-inch northern pike he caught in the Williams Fork Reservoir, a fish so large he had to arch his back to hold it for the camera lens.
“The biggest trout I ever caught was a rainbow trout in the Shadow Mountain spillway, 28-and-a-fourth inches long,” he said.
Both fish he either ate or gave to friends.
“I’ve never been a trophy fisherman,” he said. “I hunt for meat, and I fish for the fun of it.”
Osborn’s father, Elonzo Osborn was also an avid fisherman and hunter, and he and a neighbor stocked cutthroat trout the in the 1920s in the lakes in what is now Rocky Mountain National Park.
This fact seems to bring pride to Osborn, who spent his entire adolescence exploring the terrain surrounding the upper Colorado River. “Everything in the outdoors was so ingrained in the way we lived,” he said. “We lived in the outdoors, and we fished when we could and hunted when we could.”
Osborn’s maternal great grandfather is Warren Gregg, a settler and talented carpenter whose wife took the life of her young children, sparing two boys, in a story that has become legend in Grand Lake.
His maternal grandfather, Ray Gregg, was a blacksmith and a carpenter. He was also the justice of the peace in Grand Lake.
And Ray Osborn’s father was a rancher, a man who was forced off of his land when a large water delivery system came to define the West Slope.
Being fourth-generation Grand County can be frustrating, he said.
“There’s too many changes. None of them for the better. Rich developers are coming in here and tearing the country up and developing the county. They don’t care because they’re not going to live here. They’re going to get their money and go someplace else,” he said.
“I don’t like all the changes now, they’re destroying the natural beauty of Grand County.”
Osborn, who had six brothers and sisters, has seen two of his childhood homes be torn down “for progress.”
The first was the ranch house his family lived in before the Bureau of Reclamation claimed his father’s 54 acres for the Colorado-Big Thompson project. The ranch land is now a lake bed, 11 feet below the water’s surface.
When Shadow Mountain Reservoir was drained last year to kill weed growth, Osborn said he could still see the old foundation.
“The Bureau of Rec. came in and said we’re going to build,” he said.
The government offered his father $5,400 for the 54 acres, take it or leave it.
“My father was broken-hearted over it because he loved to ranch.”
With the money, Elonzo Osborn bought 11 acres on the north side of the North Fork of the Colorado, where he kept a milking cow and raised chickens, then went to work for the Bureau as a janitor at the government camps that sprung up for the construction of the project. Ray’s mother went to work as a mail carrier, with a route from Granby to Grand Lake up to Phantom Valley in the Park to supplement the family’s income.
During WWII, the family raised rabbits during a meat shortage.
“Rabbits were easy to raise, and we sold a lot of them,” Osborn said.
Ray Osborn attended first through ninth grade at the Grand Lake primary school before attending Middle Park High School, which had just been built in 1947. There were 22 people in Osborn’s class, and he was the first student to graduate mid-term from the new school. The very next day, he joined the Navy, the start of a 24-year career that involved two wars.
“On my first tour of duty, I came home on leave and went to a high school football game,” Osborn said. It was there that Osborn met Mary Ann, who was visiting from Iowa for a few months during her senior year in high school.
After a long-distance engagement, the couple married at St. Anne’s Catholic Church in Grand Lake in the fall. This September, they celebrated their 55th anniversary.
Most of his career was spent overseas, Osborn said, with more than 16 years in Asia. He credits his wife for raising their four children mostly on her own.
“It wasn’t easy,” Mary Ann said. “It would have been better if there’d been two of us.”
In 1973, he retired from the military; his youngest was 13 years old.
Upon retirement, after a stint in Denver, the family relocated to Grand County, where Osborn worked at Winter Park Resort for 12 years.
Why’d he move back? “This is home,” he said. “That’s about the best answer.”
He now shutters when he sees homes built along the stretch of the Colorado where he’d fished as a boy. He has since seen his parents’ home go up for sale, then sold and torn down for a new one in its place.
He and Mary Ann would have liked to have bought it for their own, they said, but at the time it was offered, they were barely scraping by on a military salary.
Nearly every day, Osborn heads to his favorite fishing spots, such as the canal that feeds into Shadow Mountain reservoir, a replacement of the river that once was.
He now brings his grandchildren fishing too, and grandma Mary Ann knows just how to cook up those brookies, “cornmeal and flower, olive oil in the pan, a sprinkle of lemon pepper” to make them taste real good. “Get them real brown,” she says.
Osborn likes how much fun they are to catch, and his youngest grandson does too.
“They’re like wild trout ” you got to know how to fish for them in order to catch them,” he said.
It’s when the 75 year-old outdoorsman is talking about the rivers, inlets and hills he knows so well, he seems most at home.
“Not too many people left here that have been here longer,” he said.
” Tonya Bina can be reached at 887-3334 ext 19603 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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