Steamboat Springs Jean Wren, who kept the history of Northwest Colorado alive through her weekly newspaper column, died at her home in Steamboat Springs Tuesday morning. She was 82.
Wren suffered a serious stroke on May 24. For more than 30 years, she gave modern residents of the Yampa Valley a glimpse of what pioneer life here was like. Her carefully researched column, "The way it was" ran every week, originally in the Steamboat Pilot and later in the Sunday Pilot & Today. Wren faithfully turned in her column on time unless she was on one of her annual trips to Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.
Former longtime Steamboat Pilot editor Dee Richards recalled that Wren took her history seriously.
"She cared deeply about the history of this region and its ability to preserve our culture," Richards said. "She was involved in doing that."
Wren researched the heavy bound volumes of the Steamboat Pilot from the early part of the 20th century to find the material for her column. But it was far from a dry recitation of musty clippings; she wrote in a narrative style that made it sound as if she was personally acquainted with all of the historical figures in her accounts. And she always allowed a dry sense of humor to come through in her prose.
In July 1993, she wrote about the fate of a notable trout 80 years earlier in July 1913: "A 3-1/2 pound trout was caught in Bear river near the Sellers ice house. Evidently the water in the river was getting too warm and the fish was trying to break into the ice house and put himself into cold storage."
No detail was too small for Wren, and it was that attention to detail that helped her columns come to life. If she wrote about a Fourth of July horse race that took place in 1918, she related the names of the first three finishers and also the local business that sponsored the prize ribbons.
Wren's accounts of decades-old newspaper articles were so meticulous as to include archaic grammatical constructions because they were faithful to the period. And she didn't hesitate to upbraid young editors who tampered with them.
In the span of a single column, she noted the comings and goings of outlaws and historical milestones in the valley.
That same summer of 1993, she recounted the capture of a horse thief up Elk River in 1913, and the decision by the Forest Service to appropriate $3,000 to build a new wagon road over Rabbit Ears Pass.
Wren's family speculated Tuesday that Jean's sense of history came from the fact that one set of grandparents homesteaded in the San Luis Valley and the other grandfather was a "horse and buggy" doctor near Castle Rock. Her own parents, Ray and Ruth Maxwell spent a good portion of their lives as artists working in Aspen.
Wren earned a degree in English and a minor in Spanish from Colorado College. She married the famed Steamboat Olympic skier and ski area builder Gordy Wren on July 18, 1948.
Her debut in the Steamboat Pilot came in the late '60s when she penned a gossip column called "The Mount Werner Ski Tattler." Her family recalls that she stirred up some trouble with that column and went as far as writing in the third person about her own appearance at a cocktail party: "Jean Wren looked stunning in that dress she always wears!"
Gov. John Love appointed her to the Colorado Centennial Commission prior to 1976.
Jean had an insatiable intellectual curiosity and always had two stacks of books in the house those she was reading and those that were due to be returned to Bud Werner Memorial Library. She also served a tenure as head librarian and took pride in the library's western collection. She loved speaking Spanish, gardening, rafting on the Green and San Juan rivers and exploring the natural world.
But mostly, Jean Wren loved history. In her book, "The Treacherous and Speedy Ski," her family says, she penned an expression that has become a part of local lore.
Writing about the deepest of winters, Wren observed that a really snowy season could be discerned by how high the drifts mounted against a barbed-wire fence.
A real Routt County winter was a "three wire winter."