Steamboat Springs Two days before Beverly Ann Mason died, she was riding roller coasters at Disneyland with her grandchildren.
She died unexpectedly of a stroke on Monday at the hospital in Grand Junction, but before she died, she said, "Throw a party for me. Don't cry about my death. Celebrate my life."
On Saturday, that's exactly what her family plans to do.
Since her death, longtime family friend Phil Foli, her three children, Shani Mihalich, Brett Mason and Brandi Citron, and her husband, Nile Mason, have been sorting through her belongings, pulling out her poems, letters and photographs in hopes of constructing a memorial in time for the hundreds of guests they expect this weekend.
They found a poem she wrote titled "Mr. President" that she sent away to President Gerald Ford. He sent it back to her, signed.
"She was so proud of that," Shani Mihalich said.
They also found copies of the children's books she wrote every year and read to her grandchildren on Christmas Day.
In the process, Beverly Mason's husband of 39 years is learning that his wife is still full of surprises.
"I had no idea how much she wrote," he said. "She has unfinished books and hundreds of poems." He found a poem titled "If I ever Leave Him."
"If I'd found that 30 years ago, I could have made her life a lot easier," he said with a laugh.
On Thursday, the entire family was gathered around the dining room table of the Thorpe Mountain Horse Ranch. At 58, she was two hours away from getting her pilot's license. She was a prolific writer and renowned horse breeder and trainer.
There was more laughter than tears at the table as everyone discussed the woman who succeeded at everything she tried and helped everyone around her to succeed as well.
"She didn't know anything other than what she could give," Nile Mason said. "And she was embarrassed to get anything back."
Beverly Mason was born in Corsican, Texas, but moved to Denver with her family when she was 8 years old. She and Nile met on a blind date and were married 91 days later.
"She got me," he said. "I was in trouble from Day One."
In 1976, Nile was transferred to Routt County as the manager of Safeway.
"I had a choice between Frisco and Steamboat," he said. "The choice was clear."
The youngest of the children, Shani, was 6 at the time, almost old enough to join 4-H. Before they moved to Routt County, Beverly Ann had never seen a horse up close, but she knew she wanted one.
"She had a dream," Nile Mason said. "We had been talking about a lifestyle change for a while." Things were getting better at Safeway and they wanted to transfer the Mason family again.
"But we'd fallen in love with the valley," he said. They decided to stay and Beverly Mason bought her first horse, a quarterhorse named Buffy. Steamboat resident Mike Gotchey was trying to raise money to go to veterinary school and sold Buffy to the Masons to pay his tuition.
"Mom said that horses were like potato chips," Shani Mason said. "You can't have just one." That was 24 years ago.
Now, no one in the Yampa Valley can say Beverly Ann Mason's name without thinking of horses.
The family members credit their mother with turning the Thorpe Mountain Horse Ranch into a successful horse-breeding business. One hundred thirty-three foals have been born on the ranch, Nile Mason said.
Beverly Mason threw herself into raising, riding and showing horses. Every one of the Mason children joined the High Valley 4-H Club. Beverly Mason was the leader for five years and the horse leader for 20, they said.
She made sure the house was always full with neighbors and friends with events like broom polo, barnyard ballet and square dancing.
"The more people the better," Foli said. "This house was home to more than just family."
She organized the Routt County Rope and Horse Show for three years and introduced combined (carriage) driving to the Western Slope, Nile Mason said.
She organized carriage-driving competitions at the Thorpe Mountain Horse Ranch, at the Steamboat Ski Area, Perry-Mansfield and the Flying Horse Ranch.
"She could con anyone into doing anything for her," her husband said. "It was because she was so unbelievably kind and she would convince you of how much fun you were going to have and how much you were going to learn."
She taught riding and hired a number of people to do the same.
"So many kids have come through here," Nile Mason said. "I can't keep all the blond 10-year-olds straight.
"Bev used to say, 'If you forget the kids, you're done,'" he said. Conversely, the kids will never forget her.
A celebration of Beverly Ann Mason's life will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Thorpe Mountain Horse Ranch, 28925 Routt County Road 14.
To reach Autumn Phillips call 871-4210
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