Geraldine Elkins given Larson Award

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So many years have passed since she died that the people who knew her are starting to forget, and a whole generation has grown up not knowing about Geraldine Elkins.

Which is why the annual Larson Award, given at a ceremony Tuesday night, is so important. Each year, the community gets a chance to remember someone who should never be forgotten.

For those who knew her, Elkins was more than the Routt County school superintendent who enacted the state mandate to consolidate all the many disparate one-room schoolhouses into three distinct school districts. She is more than one of the founders of the Steamboat Community Players, an acting company that performs to this day.

No matter what her accomplishments were, Elkins is remembered for her kindness and her encouragement.

Years ago, long after Geraldine "Gerry" Elkins died, the family received a letter from a woman in Yampa who remembered a small kindness. The woman always dressed up to come to Steamboat Springs, she wrote.

One day, she was walking down the street when a speeding Volkswagen (Geraldine always drove really fast) came to a screeching halt in the middle of the road. Elkins stepped out of the car and told the woman, "I just wanted to tell you, Suzie, that you always look really nice." Then she jumped back in her car and sped away.

That was Elkins -- kind to a fault and always willing to stop everything she was doing to listen and draw someone out.

Before Elkins moved to Steamboat, she earned a degree in music and education from Colorado A&M University in Fort Collins, now Colorado State University. She then attended Pasadena Playhouse, a premiere school for aspiring actors and dancers in California.

Instead of pursuing an acting career in Los Angeles and New York, she decided to marry Marvin Elkins in 1945 and make her life in Steamboat.

She looked across the landscape of her small town, and if she found something missing, she did not complain. She filled the gap.

She started the first preschool in Steamboat, her daughter Marveen Elkins said.

"She believed in education."

Geraldine Elkins' father died when she was 13, but she and her mother managed to save the money so she could go to college despite the Great Depression.

In the 1950s, she helped start the Steamboat Community Players and put on plays in the high school gym. She often played opposite Lowell Whiteman in the productions.

She was also the instigator for the Sunday Night Enrichment Hour, where anyone in the community who had a talent was asked to perform.

If someone had played an instrument in his or her childhood, she made the person dust it off and bring it to Enrichment Night. If someone went on a trip, she asked him or her to tell the group about it. If someone wrote poetry, she asked him or her to read it.

Although Geraldine never pursued a professional acting or singing career, she never gave up her love for either.

Elkins sang whenever she got the chance -- at any local event or during the evening sing-alongs in her living room.

"When she sang, she sang with such meaning that tears would roll down her face," Marveen Elkins said.

"Her voice was such that it could have taken her to stardom, but she chose to stay here and use her talents here," said her son, Steve Elkins. "She put everything she could into this community."

Geraldine's favorite song was "I Love Life."

She sang, "I want to live and drink of life's fullness ..."

"That exemplified her life," Marveen Elkins said. One of Marveen's most vivid memories of her mother was a trip they took together to California when Marveen was a teenager.

Geraldine asked to go straight to the ocean. When they arrived, she took off her shoes, lifted up her skirt and started dancing in the surf. Marveen was mortified at the time, but to this day, she can picture her mother dancing and laughing on the beach.

"It was that openness that made her so special," Marveen Elkins said. "She wanted to feel the sand and breathe in the salt air."

Geraldine Elkins was 48 years old when she died. She had a lump in her breast, but she hated doctors. She hid it from everyone until her husband finally noticed. By then, it was too late.

Her job as school superintendent was over, and she was teaching third and fourth grade in Hayden. She still taught, even through chemotherapy. At the time of her death, she had just signed a contract to teach another year.

Before she died, Geraldine told her family that she wanted Marvin Elkins to remarry.

"She knew he would need someone to take care of him," Marveen Elkins said. "It made the transition a lot easier.

"She's been gone so long now that we've know our step--mom (Roberta) longer than we knew her, but that was her last lesson to us. She didn't think people should be alone."

-- To reach Autumn Phillips, call 871-4210

or e-mail aphillips@steamboatpilot.com

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