Mary Bramer doesn't bother adding up the hours she spends every week inside the cozy schoolhouse on Routt County Road 62. The total might be too overwhelming. "It's a good thing I don't," said Bramer, director of the North Routt Community Charter School in Clark. "I might decide it's not worth it."
She never expected to be working the administrative side of education. The former special education teacher who retired from the classroom before the birth of her only child a decade ago found herself in the thick of a North Routt County effort to open a charter school for local students.
Almost before she knew it she had been hired as director of the school.
"It's a lot of responsibility," said Bramer, who possesses a master's degree in special education and spent years teaching special needs students at Hayden and Steamboat Springs schools. "I knew it was going to be a lot of work, but I never expected it would be this much. It's never boring."
The school, now in its third year of operation, has 20 students in grades kindergarten through seven. It recently opened an additional classroom and installed a new playground. More improvements and additions are in the planning phase.
"It has been fun to watch it grow," Bramer said. "We're still having growing pains. We're still making mistakes and getting better."
Of all the goals Bramer has for the young school, stability is first and foremost.
"Being stable is the toughest thing to do with the small enrollment, but that will come," she said.
Nancy White is a founding member of the North Routt Community Charter School Board of Directors and has known Bramer for 20 years.
"She has done a tremendous job," said White, who has two daughters enrolled in the school. "It's not an easy job. It has been an ongoing learning experience."
Learning is something Bramer has actively pursued her entire life, according to her sister, Soda Creek Elementary School kindergarten teacher Georgia Reust.
"She has kind of been an eternal student, always learning and always trying new things," Reust said.
It was Bramer's sense of adventure -- further fueled by Routt County trips to visit her sister -- that led to her move from Council Bluffs, Iowa, to Northwest Colorado in 1976.
She lived outside of Clark in a rudimentary cabin, and her love for the area was immediate.
"I was young and single and I think it was fun to be a mountain woman," Bramer recalled. "It was totally different than anything I was familiar with."
Routt County seemed a world away from Postville, Iowa, the tiny city where Bramer was raised by her parents.
"There wasn't a single kid who couldn't wait to get out of there," Bramer said of the sheltered experience.
"Once you get out of those steel gray skies of Iowa you never want to go back," Reust said.
Neither sister has.
After graduating from high school, Bramer attended the University of Iowa, where she began to work with special needs patients at the university hospital. The experience sparked her interest in working in education, and she eventually pursued a master's degree in special education and earned her teaching license.
Upon graduation Bramer began teaching almost immediately in Omaha, Neb., where she taught until her move to Routt County.
She estimates she has lived in about a dozen different North Routt County homes since she moved to the area. It's the uniqueness of a small community that will likely keep her here.
"Everybody knows everybody," she said. "It's a lot of fun, and it's a secure feeling, too."
But there's another side to Bramer than that of the teacher and school administrator. She is still known to many locals by her nickname, 'Mars,' picked up during the wilder days of youth.
She enjoys horseback riding, hiking and camping. She is a voracious reader who loves music, particularly the blues, bluegrass and rock and roll.
Trips to Europe and elsewhere fueled her love of traveling, which she hopes to now do with her 9-year-old daughter, Halle.
And when she needs to just get away, Bramer sits down at her piano and lets her fingers walk the keys.
"It shuts out everything else," Bramer said. "It really is an escape."
Reust describers her sister as a private person who always puts family first.
"She has always been a best friend," the younger sister said.
Bramer found love a little more than a decade ago, when she met and eventually married C.J. Bramer. The couple lives in their home off Routt County Road 56 with their daughter.
As for the future? Bramer said she still has plenty of work to do with the North Routt Community Charter School. Travels with her daughter also are on her list.
"I want to take Halle to all the places I went to," she said. "I want her to have some alternative education that's outside the norm."
Wherever those travels lead, one thing's for sure: the satisfaction of coming home. "There's nothing like coming back over that pass and looking down at the valley."