Kathy Winograsky-Main

Recording the history of Clark

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— Tucked inside her cozy Clark home, Kathy Winograsky-Main is making history.

She even has the books to prove it.

It began innocently 11 years ago with a quiet funeral ceremony for one of Clark's last pioneers, Hannah Murphy-Larsen.

On that day in 1992, a small group of people congregated at the old Clark cemetery, a small plot of land with spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.

But there was nothing spectacular about the cemetery itself.

Years of neglect had taken their toll. Grass and native plants were waist-high, and horses, which had been allowed to graze freely throughout the cemetery, had kicked over many of the headstones.

"Here we were, burying this 92-year-old pioneer in this mess," Winograsky-Main said. "You couldn't even tell it was a cemetery."

It was there, in the forgotten cemetery, that Winograsky-Main, a stay-at-home mother of three with too much pent-up energy, found her calling.

That fall, with her 2-year-old son in tow, she began the slow process of cleaning up the cemetery.

As she hacked away thick sagebrush and overgrown bushes, Winograsky-Main uncovered something that horrified her -- sunken graves without headstones.

"I thought that was awful," she said. "It just made me sick inside that there were people up there that were forgotten."

About this time, Steve Stranahan -- current owner of the Clark Store -- purchased the Whitmer Ranch, on which the cemetery was located. He offered to donate the cemetery land to Winograsky-Main so that it would remain protected. It took a couple of years before the red tape and paperwork were complete, but the end result was the Clark Cemetery Association.

With the help of Stranahan, Winograsky-Main raised enough money for a new fence to enclose the cemetery grounds.

But she refused to be satisfied until she identified the old pioneers who made their final resting place at the cemetery.

Winograsky-Main began to read through old newspapers and interview locals, looking for any information that would help shed some light on the forgotten deceased.

Slowly, obituaries, newspaper articles and old photographs began to accumulate. She used the accounts of old local residents to tie loose ends and fill in gaps. She located the original plot map of the Clark cemetery and one-by-one, Winograsky-Main matched names to the unidentified graves.

And as each vanished name was identified, Winograsky-Main researched the life of that individual. In time, it became an obsession. "You do have to be obsessed, because I didn't want to write anything wrong," she said.

It's a history that seems largely unrecorded.

At the Tread of Pioneers Museum in Steamboat Springs, Clark's historical information fits neatly into a small file-cabinet folder.

"We're pretty thin on Clark information," Tread of Pioneers President Jayne Hill said. "It's in bits and pieces."

Winograsky-Main's dedication is changing that. She's authored and published two books about historical Clark and its pioneers, and she continues to work to improve both works.

Copies of her books, "The Pioneers of Clark, Colorado: The Early History of the People and the Town from 1880-1939" and "Life and Times of Sophia Elizabeth Norman Smith...A Clark, Colorado Pioneer Woman," are bound by the Denver Bookbinding Company, which is operated by Winograsky-Main's aunt.

She's sold about 200 copies of "The Pioneers" book since it was first published about a year ago. Proceeds from the "Life and Times" book go directly to the Clark Cemetery Association, to ensure the cemetery is maintained for years to come.

"I never wanted to make any money out of it anyway," she said.

In addition, through her research she identified the occupants of all 27 unmarked graves. She has even erected her own concrete headstones with quarter-inch deep engravings to ensure the names will last for at least another century.

"I personally know everybody up there," she said. "It went from a grave with no marker to real people with pictures and stories. They're real now."

Winograsky-Main can't help but chuckle when she looks back on the last 11 years. "Who'd of thunk it?" she asked. "It started with cutting sagebrush (at the cemetery). Isn't if funny how life makes you handle all your fears? I handle a cemetery. I'm scared of death, but here I am."

The 43-year-old with hair that reaches her knees lives comfortably in her Clark home located off Routt County Road 62, or Cottonwood Road as it is known to locals. Her husband, John, is a master electrician who runs her dad's business, Delta Electric.

Winograsky-Main, who was born and raised in Steamboat, moved to Clark with her husband 15 years ago.

Much of her family remains in the area, including her parents, Larry and Judy Winograsky. Larry Winograsky owned a downtown sporting goods store decades ago, and he saw to it that legends like Buddy Werner had working ski equipment, Kathy Winograsky-Main said.

The oldest of three daughters, Winograsky-Main was the son her father never had. As a child, she loved learning about construction, operating heavy equipment and water systems.

"I was somewhat of a tomboy," she said. "There's not too much I won't try."

These days, in addition to her adopted position as Clark historian, Winograsky-Main is a property manager for numerous Clark-area homes. Most of the places are second homes for part-time residents. She also home-schools her son, Garrett.

With the deep connection she's developed with the largely untold history of Clark and its settlers, Winograsky-Main said she couldn't imagine moving.

"The biggest benefit of all this is to meet the people I've met," she said. "I've felt such a kinship with the people I've met. Nothing but good has come of this."

Thelma Whitmer lived in Clark for 47 years. For a time, her family owned the land where Clark cemetery sits.

Whitmer's parents are buried there, as well as the parents and relatives of her late husband. It's also where Whitmer wants to be buried.

The time and dedication Winograsky-Main has dedicated to the cemetery and Clark's history deeply moves Whitmer.

"It's very special to me," Whitmer, 88, said. "I really appreciate the fact that Kathy's been that dedicated. She's so thorough. She's quite a gal."

Whitmer has sent copies of one of Winograsky-Main's books to her children.

"They're just so amazed to see the story (of Clark and its pioneers) in print," she said. "There's not many of us who have the ability to write like she does."

Whitmer is one of a handful of old-time Clark residents who have been instrumental in Winograsky-Main's research over the past decade. Eight of them have passed away in that time, leaving Winograsky-Main thankful she started the project when she did. "In 10 years time I became the Clark historian," she said. "There's nobody left now. I'm it. If I hadn't asked or written it down, it's gone."

Winograsky-Main refuses to be satisfied. She continues to improve her books and the quality of the photographs in them. She still wants to make a handbook for cemetery visitors. "I don't know what I've gotten myself into," she said.

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