Pioneers honored

Elaine Gay, John Solandt recognized for contributions to the Yampa Valley

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— A rancher who has shown unswerving dedication to the land, and a pioneer doctor who died 85 years ago, were recognized for their contributions to the Yampa Valley by the Tread of Pioneers Museum Tuesday night during a dinner at the United Methodist Church.

Pleasant Valley rancher Elaine Gay received the Leckenby Pioneer Award, and Dr. John Solandt was honored posthumously with the Stanely L. and Laura O. Larson Award.

Award winners are evaluated for having been representative of the history of the community. They are also expected to have exhibited high levels of personal integrity and to have served as an inspiration to young people.

Gay and her late husband, Bob, were instrumental in a 25-year struggle to preserve the area surrounding their ranch about eight miles south of Steamboat Springs. Elaine and her son Bill continue to work the ranch today.

The Gays maintained their dignity and western hospitality through many years of resisting the original plans to transform the Lake Catamount area with construction of a major ski area and a resort village with enough dwelling units for 10,000 people. The reality of that plan today is much less impacting development of private estates interspersed among agricultural lands protected by conservation easements.

In a nominating letter, local historian Jayne Hill described Gay as a "gentle ranch woman" who isn't reluctant to take on cowboy chores.

"Participation in hard work on her family's farm made her a complimentary partner with her husband, Bob," Hill wrote. "When another field hand or cowboy was needed, Elaine could be counted on. At lunchtime, Elaine always had a spread ready for the ranch hands."

Gay authored a book, "How Pleasant is the Valley," which preserves memories and tales of everyday ranching life. She continues to meet annually with local fourth-graders to talk about forgotten implements used for accomplishing farm and ranch chores in another era.

When "the Steamboat springs community named 10 people who were important to our community in the last century, the team of Elaine and Bob Gay were included," Hill observed.

Millie Beall amplified Hill's nomination.

"As a lifelong resident of Pleasant Valley she joined her husband in not only ranching in the Yampa Valley, but also in preserving the land," Beall wrote. "Her soft-spoken voice and gracious movements hide the true strength and fortitude of a woman who has worked side by side with the men, driving the team and bucking the hay bales. I have met few women for whom I have held such esteem and respect."

Solandt left in indelible mark on the Hayden area in less than two decades. He was a country doctor who persevered in making house calls through the long Routt County winters. But he was also a businessman who invested in ranches and a bank. Solandt was the county coroner, mayor of Hayden and served on the Hayden school board.

Solandt died in an automobile accident in September 1916 after taking a Hayden patient to the hospital in Steamboat. Solandt never drove but was riding as a passenger when the headlights failed on an early automobile operated by a livery stable. It went off Trull Hill near Elk River and crushed him. He died 15 hours later at the age of 47.

Solandt was nominated for the award by the 1996 Leckenby Pioneer Award winner, Pat Holderness.

"The night was never too dark or the road too long or muddy but what he managed to arrive at the bedside of the sufferer in very quick time," Holderness wrote of Solandt's care for his patients. "He seldom sent bills for his services. His idea was if people were able to pay, they would call and reimburse him."

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