Barbara Lawlor, Nederland. Ressa Lively and Mark Smith had been flirting with each other for about a month, he more than her. It was the fall of 1983. Ressa worked as a waitress at the Assay Office and Mark worked for the county and would come into the restaurant after a day of working with machinery and muddy roads.
He noticed the tall redhead and asked his friend Sue Leto if she would ask Ressa if she would go out with him. Mark wasn’t usually shy but he was kind of hesitant to ask this friendly, pretty woman who was almost as tall as he was, out on a date.
Ressa may have been friendly but she was also strong willed and told Mark’s friends she might go out with him if he asked her himself.
Finally, Mark, who is big and strong and can do anything he sets his mind to found the gumption to approach the lovely lady and ask her if she would like to do something with him. He said he would pick her up after her shift at the Assay Office. She agreed.
That night, when he arrived, before she realized what was happening, Mark picked her up and bent her over his shoulder and marched her outside. He had told her he would pick her up and he kept his word.
Steaming, Ressa told him to put her down or the date was over. He complied and they went into the Pioneer Inn for a drink. Once again, however, she felt herself being picked up by her date, but this time he threw her across the bar at the bartender, who grabbed her and threw her back at Mark.
Turns out the bartender was Mark’s brother Jim and the two Smith brothers were well known for their antics. Ressa wasn’t the first female who fallen into the mischievous hands of the bros.
If you didn’t know them, you would wonder why anyone would ever decide to even consider date number two, but the two young men were good-hearted, fun-loving mountain guys, and Ressa was intrigued.
She was a farm girl from Omaha, Nebraska, grew up with wheat fields, corn, and pigs. There were a few cows for the family and it was Ressa’s job to care for the chickens. She attended Archbishop Ryan Memorial High, leaving the house for school in her plaid skirt and blue blazer.
When she graduated from high school, she gave Creighton University a try but decided she’d rather make money and went to Sears, where she had worked part time during high school. Her goal was to work in hardware because she knew more about pneumatic tools than other girls, but instead she ended up in the catalog department. Sears didn’t want a female working on the hardware floor.
During this time, she met and married an Air Force man who brought her and their six-month old baby to Nederland in 1968. The trip ended when their car broke down near Barker Dam. She met many people who helped them and when her marriage ended, she decided to move to Nederland.
In 1972, she worked for the Boulder Valley School District driving a school bus. She lived in Rodeo Court. He daughter Kimberly was in junior high, Curt was in eighth grade and Jessica was five.
In 1981, Ressa heard they needed a mountain school bus driver and she was hired for the Gilpin Route. Because she needed a year-round job to keep her section 8 status for her housing situation, she worked at the Assay Office too, but that wasn’t all. Ressa also volunteered at the school and cleaned houses.
“I managed to go out and have a good time about twice a month,” she remembers. “I used to go to the bars and dance with George Blevins. When Mark finally asked me out for Friday night, he said ‘I will pick you up after your shift.’” And he did.
Mark was raised in Nederland, the second oldest son of the Smith Family, son of a miner and brother to two sisters and three brothers. He graduated from Nederland High School in 1974, at 17 years old. There were 34 seniors in the class.
“All I wanted to be was a motorcycle test driver. When I was in high school I scrounged around for parts for a dirt bike, mostly from JRs back yard. J.R. Reynolds was a hippie back then, with a big red afro and looked just like his Chow dog.”
Mark wasn’t old enough to drive but he figured he didn’t need a driver’s license to put his dirt bikes to use around town. He lived on West First Street and loved working with machinery and hunting. During high school he took as many industrial arts courses as he could, knowing he wanted to work with his hands.
Those were the days when teacher Jerry Buck helped Mark build a muzzle loader gun in shop class. It started out as a 2’ by 6’ piece of wood and after much work ended up with brass inlays and polished to a rich sheen.
Mark also belonged to the high school gun club. He ran his grandfather’s bulldozer, digging holes around the house and cleaning up old mines in the area.
Mark was hired by Boulder County. He and his brother Jim bought the red house near the RTD Park and Ride. By 1983, Mark was working for the county and beginning his own excavating business, buying an old Allis Chalmers, graders, and a dump truck. His toys.
Then one night he went to have some beers at the Assay Office and saw Ressa and knew he would pick her up, one way or another.
Their second date was in a hot tub in Boulder with ice cream afterward.
Their third date was breakfast IHOP and the stock show. They were slowly moving towards something important.
“When our relationship was still iffy, I had been dating someone else who hurt my feelings. When Mark found out, he held me while I cried. He was the kindest guy I every meet, a sweet guy, a real friend. After that we moved in together and then became engaged to be married.”
In August of 1985, Mark and Ressa were married on a beautiful fall day at Mark’s grandmother’s house on West First Street. Almost 31 years ago.
It was a bit bumpy at first: she took out all of his furniture and replaced it with hers. Mark says, “I liked my furniture. I found it all at the dump. Then she replaced my tools with her books. I couldn’t work on my motorcycle in the living room anymore, or clean my gun on the bed.”
She also picked out a new wardrobe. He was still wearing the clothes he wore in high school.
They worked it out and in 1988 purchased their property on Magnolia Road. Ressa said she wanted to surprise Mark with the land and talked to realtor Jimmy Keith asking him to sell her five acres. It was landlocked with no legal access. When the deal went through Ressa discovered that the property was actually 37 acres, big enough to build on and had cost $25,000.
By 2002, they had access and a house and Mark was building up his Antique Excavating business, digging septic systems and grading roads. He dug fire lines during the Black Tiger Fire, helped get people out after the 2013 Flood. He says, “I spent three weeks helping Jamestown dig out. It was hard work, dangerous, but rewarding.”
While Mark became known as the guy who would help anybody with just about anything, Ressa began volunteering in the community, working with the Nederland Food Pantry since it began. She also became Mark’s office manager, doing the scheduling and helping with the bids. She also works the desk at the community center.
As Mark approaches retirement, he and Ressa talk about the next step in their lives. Mark will continue to do excavating; Ressa will still volunteer, but they will become semi snowbirds, taking winter vacations where it is warm.
“I have never seen the ocean,” says Mark. “I thought I saw it once but it turned out to be the Mississippi River.”
Ressa wants to visit National Parks.
When asked how he feels about his marriage, Mark gets that devilish smile and says,”Well, it’s been pretty nice. We had five good years.”
Ressa frowns and punches his arm.
Mark continues, “And we had 25 great years.” It’s just one of the jokes the two of them play on each other.
Ressa says she figures they have had really good marriage. She says she gets roundabout compliments from Mark like: “Hey Ellis, (the cat) did you allow someone to steal all my dirt off the floor?” or “This bed smells just like soap.”
“He never says it directly, but I know he appreciates the things I do.”
At first Ressa wanted to get married in February, but Mark told her she would always be alone on their anniversary because he would have to plow snow. They hope to have a special dinner at home this year and Ressa says she’ll put a Valentine’s card in his lunch box.
Mark’s bad back won’t allow him to pick her up anymore, but he doesn’t have to. She’s ready to go with him wherever he takes her.
Side by side, arm in arm, together.