Wildfangs & LPEA

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald

There were pies-a-plenty for auction at the La Plata County Historical Society’s Community Heritage Awards on Friday night at the Bar D Chuckwagon Suppers. Members of the Durango Fiesta Days royalty Savannah McCarthy, 12, right, and Maddie Shaline, 13, wait for their turn to show off a couple of homemade pies. Savannah is the daughter of Tim and Andrea McCarthy, and Maddie is the daughter of Deck and Diane Shaline.

For the crew at the Bar D Chuckwagon, it’s a dress rehearsal, but for the La Plata County Historical Society, it’s the main event.

More than 200 people gathered Friday for a pie auction, chuckwagon supper and the Community Heritage Awards, all to raise money for the historical society and its Animas Museum.

Rani Holt, the auction organizer, billed the pie bakers as “the best in the county.” Flavors ranged from the historical – a Telluride boardinghouse apple pie that came with the supersized cast iron skillet it was baked in – to the spirited, including a margarita pie, bourbon-chocolate-pecan pie and Jack Daniels-chocolate-chip-mint-pecan pie. (Apparently the pecan pies leant themselves best to an infusion of alcohol.) Traditional pies such as peach and strawberry rhubarb were also on offer.

Calvin and Pat Story did their usual lively job of cadging more money out of bidders, despite the fact they had a large auction of their own to conduct the next day.

The Durango Fiesta Days royalty beautifully showed off the bakers’ wares, dressed in all their regalia. Members of the La Plata County Mounted Patrol Historical Reenactment Unit served as spotters. For some reason, they prefer to be called by their “desperado” names: “Fast Eddie” Killian, “Minnetonka Mike” Thornton, “Kennebec Kid” Ken Queen, “Mad Dog” Mark Anderson, “Lefty” Tanner Harwood, “Three Finger Dave” Harwood, Terry “The Terror” Northcut, Marshall Jim Bryce and “Durango John Chisholm,” also known as Jon Schuetz.

The Bar D served its standard delicious fare of barbecue beef or chicken, baked potato, biscuit, apple sauce and spice cake, a lot of food for those of us who had sat in front of a computer instead of on a horse all day, but that didn’t seem to stop any of us from cleaning our plates. Then it was time for the awards.

(Carolyn Bowra, executive director of the museum, was hoping some of the pie winners would have pie for dessert, thus leaving more cake for her. I believe her wish came true.)

Deborah Uroda’s day job is as director of marketing and fund development for the Women’s Resource Center, but on Friday, she wore the hat of mistress of ceremonies.

The historical society selects two honorees each year: a family and a business that have either played a significant part in helping La Plata County become what it is today, or who have played a significant role in preserving the heritage of our early days.

This year’s honorees were Fred and Diane Wildfang and La Plata Electric Association, which led to the theme of the evening: “Lights, Camera, Action!”

The Wildfangs, along with her son, Kirk Komick, and daughter, Cara Komick, took on the revitalization of East Second Avenue, beginning with the restoration of the aging apartments now known as the Leland House, and the deteriorating Rochester Hotel, which had become a flophouse. They didn’t just convert them into lodging establishments with all the modern conveniences.

The Leland House’s rooms commemorate personages who once lived there, and in the hotel, they commemorate our area’s heritage as a popular locale for Western movies in the 1950s and 1960s. (And anyone who’s ever gone to a garden party at the Rochester appreciates what an oasis it is on East Second Avenue.)

Fred Wildfang, who began his career as a writer as a Beat poet, has gone on to write several books on local history. He thanked the late Leonard “Red” Bird, for first publishing his work, Joel Jones, who sat on his dissertation committee at the University of New Mexico, Duane Smith, who goaded him to keep writing, and the late Morley Ballantine, who paid for the printing of the first History Durango, a publication Wildfang created while serving on the historic society’s board. (It’s now History La Plata,and the 18th edition came out on May 6.)

While Durango itself was electrified early, in 1893, it took the rural cooperative now known as La Plata Electric Association to bring electricity to rural La Plata County and much of the rest of rural Southwest Colorado in 1939. Uroda recalled interviewing “Pa” Engler while she was working for The Durango Herald in the 1980s. One of his fondest recollections? When electricity came to their farm, which was located between Tiffany and Allison in southeast La Plata County. Not only was he able to do his homework by electric light, his family could preserve food for longer periods with refrigeration than they could with an icebox.

Tom Compton, vice president of the LPEA board, accepted the board on behalf of the co-op and “the parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles who signed their names on the line” to create it. Also in the audience were board members Davin Montoya and Harry Goff as well as CEO Greg Munro.

Then the Bar D Wranglers, Matt Palmer, Richard Lee Cody, Gary Cook, and Joel Racheff, performed. What can I say about the Wranglers? No, I mean it, what can I say? They continue to be extraordinary musicians with a side of hysterical corniness, and a perfect way to spend a summer evening.

Fred Wildfang may have expressed why we were all there the best, “What makes Durango so dynamic is that we use the past as the foundation for the future.”

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Enjoying pretty perfect weather for their birthdays are Max Patton, Jayne Griffin, Caroline Todd, Sara Martin, Laura Burnett, Jill Choate, JeanetteHannah, Julie Kleva, Debbie Smith, Olivia Reynolds, Bill Roberts, Alan TeBrink, Will Kolb, Linda Radisovech, Craig Dabovich, Marsha Porter-Norton, Beth Lamberson, Della Johnson, Richard Vaccaro, Malcom Cannon, Barb Casey, Jacob Peters and Bridget Cahill.

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It has come to my attention that the barbecue lovers out there have been a little slow in purchasing their tickets for the Women’s Resource Center’s Men Who Grill event, which runs from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday out in front of Buckley Park.

The food is always delicious, the live music and chance to see all kinds of friends and neighbors is great fun, and attendees get to vote for their favorite grill team. The National Weather Service is forecasting a pretty perfect day, with a high of 78 degrees and sunny. (That dreaded term “breezy” is conspicuously absent.)

Tickets are available at Maria’s Bookshop, Backcountry Experience and the WRC, 679 East Second Ave., Unit 6. They’re $15 in advance and $20 at the gate for adults, $10 for children ages 5 to 12, and children younger than 5 eat free.

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Lovely sunny days await the anniversaries of Justin and Anna McBrayer, Sam and Rebekah Eggleston, Charlie Siegele and Deborah Uroda, Hayes and EstherCrapo, Alex and Cindy McLean, Doug and Debbie Wolfe, Jeff and Donny Thulson, Peter and Lynne Rudolph and John and Peggy White.

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