Giving thanks for our generous Grand County community |

Giving thanks for our generous Grand County community

Tonya Bina / Off Beat
Grand County, CO Colorado

A person who lived many years in Grand Lake recently told me that her mother used to tell newcomers not to immediately expect to be accepted in the small mountain town.

The reason, she said, was winters can feel isolated and long, and that may not be everyone’s cup of tea, so locals tend not to invest a lot of energy in someone until they’ve proven they’re committed to staying past the first year.

I found the anecdote amusing, perhaps with a shred of truth. But from what I’ve seen of Grand Lake and similar mountain towns – as far as the other side of that first year – once you are a vested citizen, the energies of the community become more than you ever expected.

It becomes a place that tightens around you and swells with each death, with each hardship, with each celebration, with each political clash.

On two occasions this fall, Grand Lake community members have gathered to pay lasting respects to departed longtime citizens who shared with them this essence of a mountain town, the bond created through loving a place and supporting its people. The one citizen did so through his mayorship and hospitable approach in the bar business, the other through his ambassadorship.

Citizens then gathered again on Nov. 12 leaving behind their own problems and economic worries to fundraise for a friend who has been hospitalized for three months. The husband of Cathy Walton Smith, who for many years has written her own thoughts of Grand Lake on these same pages, suffered an autoimmune-disorder that has left him paralyzed from the waist down.

Again, organizers arranged food, musicians tuned their guitars, artists donated their work for auction and the community swelled again. As much as $17,700 was raised for the man friends call “The General,” Michael Smith, a construction worker and 35-year Grand County citizen whose veterans benefits are not enough to cover this hardship. Friends gave well-wishes to the General through Skype during his benefit, and each wore Western garb and sported big horseshoe mustaches, just like his.

“I’m overwhelmed,” Cathy said. “This is a community that never stops giving. It’s amazing.”

Suzi Maki helped to arrange the event – her own family once embraced by the whole town in the wake of her son’s tragic auto accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down.

I know these examples of kindness are not unique to Grand Lake. We see these shining bursts of humanity time and again from Kremmling to Winter Park and in the greater county we share.

There exists a heartbeat that collectively belongs to we mountain folk, surpassing expectation with every collection jar, with every benefit plate, with every hand placed on a burdened shoulder.

Like for the mother who lost her husband from a tree accident, or the newlywed lumber worker in a losing battle with brain cancer, or the mother in the firefighting community who had a brain aneurysm, or the boy hospitalized from a dirt-bike accident, or the many citizens who simply struggle to put food on the table or pay the heat bill in the ebb of a high-country economy.

Just the other day, I was interviewing Kelly Croft, an amputee who grew up in Grand Lake, and I found that her words say it best. Tonight, a fundraiser to support her skiing aspirations with the National Sports Center for the Disabled is at the Gateway Inn. Croft, who moved back after living 15 years away, told me that when she was growing up, her mother was overcome with alcoholism, and Croft has memories of Grand Lakers stepping in to care for her and her sister when her mother couldn’t.

“They would see us walking around town, and they would pull us in and give us something to eat,” she said. “You now that saying, ‘It takes village to raise a kid?’ In Grand Lake, it literally happened.”

Now, 20-30 years later, “I’m again asking for help,” she said.

“I wouldn’t live anywhere else. I don’t care if I’m as poor as a church rat, I wouldn’t live anywhere else. You get a feeling of community and family here you just don’t get in a city.”

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