by Dawne Belloise
Danica Ramgoolam and her hubby, Arvin, have their hands full with a rambunctious set of second-generation Gunnison Valley-born twin girls who just turned that difficult age of three years old.
Still, Danica, a native Crested Buttian, keeps a smile on her face as she deals with motherhood and the busy daily doings of the couple’s downtown shops, Townie Books and Rumors Coffee & Teahouse.
Danica’s mom, Claire, was a bookkeeper and her dad, Tom Ayrund, was a potter with his shop in the Company Store (now Secret Stash Pizza). She essentially grew up in the store, walking to class from there when the small school was where the town offices are now.
The family lived in Crested Butte South, back when there were only about five houses in the now burgeoning subdivision. Danica recalls, “When I was growing up, it was very desolate but it was great fun. When my older sister Tami and I were young, we used to tool around town, climb snow banks, hang out in Totem Pole Park, and go to various businesses, especially Handworks, and Tony’s because he had the cheapest candy in town. When we were out in Crested Butte South, there were a couple of kids across the street and we just rode our bikes around the dirt streets.”
She remembers only two main streets in those days, Teocalli and Casadilla, and the duplex she lives in now was built by her father and uncle in 1979. The house she grew up in is right down the street from the home she now makes with Arvin and their twins.
She feels the kids of Crested Butte today have more freedom than children growing up elsewhere, “but back then, when we were growing up, we had even more freedom. I look back on my memories and sometimes I think, where were my parents? I mean, not in a bad way, because clearly they were working and it was a lot harder to make a living back then, too. Dad had the pottery shop but also had his own tile-setting business. We knew that we didn’t have a lot of money but we still skied. My parents always found a way to get us gear.”
Danica was seven years old when her parents bought 15 acres in the Crested Butte South Highlands and moved up there. “When we moved there, my sister and I became wood sprites, running around in the aspens all day,” she recalls fondly.
“I had a seismic event when I was 11, when my dad took his life,” Danica recalls the cataclysmic turning point of her young life. “It was shocking also because I thought he was the fun, happy, goofy dad, because manic depressive people are really fun when they’re manic and I didn’t really know the depressive part. When you’re a kid, you’re very self-involved and don’t notice. You don’t have that sort of depth or understanding. When it happened, my mom explained to me that he was so depressed, so low, and so sick that he didn’t know what he was doing.”
Afterwards, their mom moved the girls into town, which Danica wasn’t happy about because she loved her wood sprite playground and her Crested Butte South home. Her life became somewhat difficult as her mom had to work even harder as a single mother and the sisters had to become more independent.
In high school, Danica’s saving grace was diving into Soo Bahk Do. “I wasn’t very good at team sports and I was dorky but with a good amount of friends. Soo Bahk Do gave me the discipline, and the confidence, and it became my spirituality. It really formed who I am. It made me feel that I can do whatever I put my mind to.”
She notes that she headed for the slopes in the winter like every kid in Crested Butte, it just wasn’t her main thing. “I was also into theater so a lot of my friends and I were theater geeks. The Mountain Theatre was awesome and really welcoming and supportive of teenagers. We also had a drama program at the school with Cindy Petito teaching it,” she says and laughs, “I think it’s good to have some self awareness, and I realized I just wasn’t that good but I still want to be involved in the theater.”
These days, their shops sponsor the Crested Butte Mountain Theatre and Arvin is in the stage’s limelight occasionally.
When Danica graduated from Crested Butte Community School in 2002, there were 23 in her class, a lot smaller than now, she points out, with 60 seniors graduating from CBCS.
“I thought I wanted to major in art, because I had gotten into the arts and ceramics. I went to Montana State my freshman year but I didn’t like how big the college was, so I came back and finished at Western [Western State Colorado University, WSCU]. By then I had decided that I wanted to teach Soo Bahk Do for a living so I majored in kinesiology, the study of movement. Most people who major in this become coaches, athletic directors, or personal trainers, but that was the closest major relevant to what I wanted to do.” She graduated in 2007.
The summer after college graduation, Danica wanted to further her study in Soo Bahk Do and traveled to Seoul, South Korea, to the central Do Jang, which translates into studio or classroom. Korea is where the discipline began and Danica spent three months there.
“They had me teaching the kids’ classes because they wanted the kids to have exposure to English,” Danica says. “I traveled a little bit, trips to the outlying towns. Koreans are really into hiking so I’d go with some of my classmates. It was really different for me to be in a place where no one knows me,” she says, having grown up in a place where “everyone knew everything about me, a place where everyone cares and watches out for you, but in Seoul, you’re in a city with millions of people and not one of them cares how your day is going.”
When she returned home, Danica worked in the Grand Lodge coffee shop, and continued teaching Soo Bahk Do. “I needed to regroup and decide what I wanted to do. I was planning on moving somewhere to start a Soo Bahk Do school since there was already one here,” but she decided to stay and was part of West Elk Soo Bahk Do for ten years.
“Then along came Arvin,” she grins. The two had been friends for three years, meeting when Natalie Pfister married Arvin’s best friend, who, like Arvin, was also from Miami. “When I met Arvin, he was quiet and wasn’t the Arvin everyone knows now but after three years of living in Crested Butte, he came into his own. He became King of Soul a month before we got together in 2007, and I noticed a change and we started dating.”
They married in 2012 because, Danica says looking around their adjoining shops, “we opened Rumors Coffee & Tea House in 2009 and then Townie Books in 2011 and we thought okay, we finally have time to get married now.”
The twins came along in 2015 and it wasn’t easy. “I think we had the two most difficult babies that ever existed. They cried for five months and thank god for my husband and my mother because I would have died without them. The only reason I could come up with,” she thinks of the girls’ orneriness, “other than the general diagnosis of colic, is past-life trauma,” she says somewhat jokingly. “Now the twins, Anya and Sahira, are almost three and are more fun, super precious, but still very challenging,” she smiles, and adds, “as most toddlers are. As a mom, I’d like to pass martial arts discipline on to my daughters.”
With the recent school shootings and seemingly continual violence children are victims of, Danica is deeply involved with Moms Demand Action (MDA), a gun violence prevention group that now has a new local chapter. “The latest shooting was the impetus because we’ve all been thinking that something needs to be done and we’re going to be a part of the solution. MDA, a national organization, is about changing legislation and urging lawmakers to vote for gun control measures.”
Danica attended the Lobby Day in Denver this week, where MDA met with Senator Bennet, Cory Gardner and other state lawmakers. “We had a session with them. Currently, there’s a concealed carry weapons legislation that would allow one state’s laws to carry over in other states.” She explains that the federal law would allow a person with a permit in one state to legally carry a concealed weapon into another state.
These days finds Danica in her bookstore. Standing in the middle of her empire, she laughs, “As you can see, I’m using my college degree so well,” spreading her arms out to the shelves of books, educational trinkets and toys, games and puzzles, the tee shirts hanging from the ceiling, the inviting nooks of chairs and couches in an atmosphere that begs for another espresso, Americano or Chai. As if all her commitments, businesses and motherhood weren’t enough, she and Arvin decided to open a bookstore, coffee and wine shop last year in West Palm Beach with her sister, Tami.
“I love this community and I want my kids to grow up in this amazing community. The beauty of the place and the environment, everyplace else is so concrete and people-filled.” Danica became a Red Lady five years ago, a respected and cherished title, and she feels, “It meant so much to me because I grew up with my parents going to the Red Lady Salvation Ball. It was such a symbol in our town that to actually become a Red Lady was like a coming of age for me.”
Last June, Danica published her first book, “Goodnight Crested Butte,” for children and illustrated by former local Brent Laney. “For the past five years, bookstore customers have been inquiring about a children’s book about Crested Butte. Then, when I had my own kids I thought, why don’t I write one for them and for all the kids who love Crested Butte? My hope is that even when my kids are grown and are off in far away places, they can take a little piece of home with them.”