Grand Marshal returns to childhood

Barbara Lawlor

Each year, a grand marshal leads the Old Timers’ Day Parade. Jeanette Smith who has traditionally chosen the person who would have this honor is an old timer herself and is aware that folks who were around when Nederland was in its growing stage are becoming far and few between.
It is her goal to make sure that these people who lived in Nederland 50 to 60 years are remembered and honored for their memories of a town that doesn’t look the same, but has the same historic small-town feel. This year’s grand marshal is Roberta Childress, who now lives in Boulder but was once part of the gang of Nederland children who saw the miners dwindle and hippies hop into town.
Roberta was born on Jan. 22, 1939. Her father was a butcher by trade, but his career ended when he hadminers days an accident with a slicer and had to look for another line of work. He ended up driving a truck for Town Talk breads out of Longmont, and one of his stops was the Tanner Grocery Store in Nederland. When he found out that the store was for sale, he was determined to buy it.
At that time his brother-in-law was Danny Deaver who owned the Meeker Park Lodge and was the superintendent of the Boulder Valley School District, a good person to ask for a loan. Deaver came up with $1,000 as a down payment on the $10,000 building which is now Nature’s Own on the corner of First Street and Highway 119. The family moved to Nederland and rented a cabin over the river and ‘back in dark places.’
Later on they moved to a log home in front of the lake where there was a pasture. When Roberta was six years old she started first grade at the old Nederland K-12 school, which is now the Community Center. She could walk to school from her house.
Her parents were talented people. Her father Bob was a ballroom dance teacher and her mother Marion was in vaudeville. Roberta herself loved to sing. She remembers that Mrs. Holder was her teacher, an old-fashioned woman who favored physical discipline, using a yardstick to make sure the students understood the rules.
Roberta earned A’s all the way through school, with English and writing her favorite subjects. “My best friend was Annie and we had a playhouse on the creek. Her sister and my sister were best friends. We did a lot of hiking together. I can tell you every train on every mountain in the area.
“One time we walked along the right side of the dam and it was steep and the water below was deep and it was scary. When we got to the dam, there was a wire over the water and we hung onto it and ran to the end of the dam. There was a fence we had to squeeze under. That was quite an adventure. Nederland was a nice place to grow up in.”
In the winter the town children would skate on the pond that was formed from the Wolftongue Mill water that froze .The children built a lean-to shed to keep them warm. They also skated on Pactolus Lake. It was a splendid childhood, especially when Roberta got a bike for her 12th birthday and the world opened up to her explorations.
At that time, Paul Ludtke was the Town mayor, and Jimmy Griffith was the marshal. Everyone knew everyone in the town of 500 people. In the summer, it expanded to 700 people when the part-time residents showed up to enjoy the cool mountain air.
Roberta said the summertime was the store’s opportunity to make some money. Her father bought good steaks to sell to the summer folk. He also supplied the Branding Iron with steaks for their restaurant.
The elementary school taught two grades in each room with a total of about 20 students in the room. Irene Smith, who was Jeanette’s mother-in-law, taught fifth and sixth grade, and Roberta remembers that she and Dallas Glasser used to compete to get the best math scores.
She remembers that the girls wore jeans to school and once the principal begged them to just one day, wear a skirt, which they did. She sang in the choir at the Presbyterian Church, and after school she and her friends would go to the store and ask her daddy for a treat, a cream puff. One traumatic memory is the time her mother bought a kitten home for the girls but their dog Blackie chased it away and the cat never came back.
Finding a piece of metal and sliding down the hill up to the school sticks out as a fun winter sport. When Roberta was in sixth grade, her father decided to move to Hawaii, but they ran out of money and ended up in San Mateo, California. Her school had a swimming pool and drama courses which she was happy about. “I would never have had those classes if I was in Nederland,” she said.
She met her husband in California, and the couple was married in 1958 at the old Christian Church in Boulder. They had three children, Barry, Marcy and Jeanine, who will be here for the parade, cheering their mom in the lead. At this time, their Boulder house burned down, destroying all of their photographs except for a few that were charred but intact.
After that, they were on the move, from Colorado to Missouri, to Arizona and then back to Boulder. In 1983, Roberta went to work for the Daily Camera as a tear-sheet person, sending advertisements to the advertisers for approval and files.
“I tore so many papers apart that I wore out my arm,” Roberta said. The company settled and sent her to a vocational and technical school to learn computers, after which she became a news assistant in charge of Memories, Births, Obituaries and faxes as well as bringing the mail to the newsroom, storing the newspapers and typing letters to the editor that came in handwritten. There was no email at that time.
She spent 18 years with the camera and retired in 2001. She volunteers at the Humane Society.
Roberta can’t wait until Saturday when her whole family will be here to join the party. She plans to buy a new outfit for her ride around town and looks forward to seeing classmates and reminiscing about the good ol’ days in Nederland.

Barbara Lawlor

Barbara is a reporter for The Mountain-Ear.