Good Memories

One of Crested Butte’s best, if least advertised, events will occur this weekend. The Crested Butte Reunion is planned for Friday, August 8 to Sunday, August 10 with dozens of people whose families pioneered Crested Butte enjoying a weekend of friendship, barbecue and, of course, polka.
I had the great fortune to attend this event the last time it occurred three years ago where I met families whose names read like the annals of Crested Butte’s history. They each had their own unique tie to Crested Butte and told stories of growing up here in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. Many of the families were forced to leave town after the Big Mine closed in 1952.
I loved the stories told by then 87-year-old Julie Nemanic, who was shocked to discover the home she was born in was still standing on Elk Avenue. It now houses the Secret Stash restaurant. “Even the outhouse is still out there!” she told me incredulously.
Others described the hardship they endured in those days.
Flora Martinez Amborn told me that her father had been killed in the Big Mine in 1939 when he was placing an overhead timber and the mine tunnel collapsed. The death left Flora’s mother widowed with eight children. The boys all went to work in the mines until the Big Mine closed in 1952, sending the family to Colorado Springs, leaving behind furniture and property that was later collected for property taxes. Even so, she had good memories of Crested Butte. Flora’s brother Bernie was a well-known baseball player in Gunnison County.
Almost all the attendees I spoke to three years ago had wistful memories of childhoods spent in Crested Butte. Utah resident Eddie Garcia told me of always having something to do—be it playing with rubber guns, corralling their stick horses or swimming in Coal Creek. In the winter, he said, they’d have snowball fights and dig intricate tunnels through the snow banks.
His former neighbor, Boulder resident John Michael Spritzer, said they’d stay outside until the fire station’s bell rang at 8 p.m., signaling that children needed to be home for supper. Until then, “nobody worried about us,” he said.
These are the types of stories that I remember my grandparents, aunts and uncles telling me about the places that they grew up—Texas, Mississippi, Alaska, California. Those stories were important in giving me a foundation of who I am and where I’m going.
Many of us don’t have those kinds of deep family roots here in Gunnison County (although some lucky families do). The reunion is a unique opportunity to connect with what Crested Butte used to be—through the eyes of people that knew it best.
In 2005, every person I spoke with was a treasure trove of memories about this place—each had a story to tell about their school, their family, friends and neighbors. I’m sure it will be the same this weekend.
The public is invited to participate in a variety of Crested Butte Reunion activities, most of them based at the Crested Butte Mountain Heritage Museum. Stop by, strike up a conversation and get a new insight on this place we call home.
—Aleesha Towns

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