Hayden Jan Leslie lives on through her contributions to Hayden.
Her legacy is the three books she wrote and the nearly 25 three-ring binders of newspaper clippings and photos she compiled to make sure the history of the small west Routt County town wasn’t forgotten.
“She was very intent on making sure that history was presented accurately to the point that if Jan said it was so, you almost would take it to the bank,” said former Hayden Heritage Center curator Mary Pat Dunn. “She was very precise about her research, very intent, very dedicated.”
Leslie, a Hayden resident almost her entire life, died Wednesday. She was 72.
Janet Rose Leslie was born Jan. 1, 1938, in Steamboat Springs. Her sister, Nadine, said their family moved to Meeker and Mount Harris before settling in Hayden in 1943. Their parents, Truman and Velora, bought the town’s drug store. The entire family, including their brother, Richard, worked there at one time or another, Nadine said.
Jan graduated from Hayden Union High School in 1956 and then attended the Colorado State College of Education in Greeley (now the University of Northern Colorado), where she studied history.
She returned to Hayden in 1966 and taught fourth grade after first teaching in Yampa, Nadine said. She said Jan didn’t teach history because at that time, to do that would have required Jan to coach, which she wasn’t interested in doing. Nadine couldn’t exactly recall when Jan retired but said her sister taught 32 years.
Since 2005, Jan Leslie spent most of her time as a volunteer at the Hayden Heritage Center compiling the binders about the businesses that lined Hayden’s streets, the town’s mayors and high school graduates, among others.
She was recognized last year by Historic Routt County with a Historic Preservation Leadership award.
“Jan’s done stuff that no one else has taken the time to do,” said Rebecca Wattles, president of the Hayden Heritage Center Board of Directors. “She’s gone through and put information in a format for anyone who’s interested in the history of Hayden and looking through that. The information that she’s found won’t be lost. There’s no way to put it into words the value of that.”
Leslie wrote “Windows to Yesterday: Routt County Rural Schools 1883-1960” and “Anthracite, Barbee and Tosh: The History of Routt County and its Post Offices, 1875-1971.” Leslie wrote the captions for the photos in her most recent book, “Hayden,” part of the Images of America series by Acadia Publishing, which came out this year.
Nadine assisted her sister with “Anthracite, Barbee and Tosh,” a project she said they worked on for about a year. She said Jan loved the research. And Nadine said Jan loved Hayden and learning about its history.
“It has an interesting history,” she said. “There’s so much history left here. It hasn’t been rebuilt much. You can still see a lot of it.”
Nadine said her sister never married. She said Jan considered some of her students to be like her children.
Former student Jody Babcock, vice president of the Hayden Heritage Center Board, said Jan Leslie was tough and no-nonsense, but a good teacher. Babcock said she recognized him in 2008 after he returned to Hayden after spending a dozen years on the Front Range.
“I think if she liked you and you did well by her, she kind of remembered you throughout the years,” he said. “To think about the number of kids she’s taught throughout the years and for me to walk in there after all that time and her to remember me, I thought was pretty neat. She recognized who I was. She called me by name right away.”
Jan was diagnosed with lung cancer Aug. 1 at Swedish Medical Center in Englewood, Nadine said. She said Jan was a longtime cigarette smoker. Nadine said the cancer spread to Jan’s brain, where doctors found two tumors. She said Jan spent a month in the hospital and a month at a Front Range rest home before returning to the Yampa Valley. She had been staying at Sandrock Ridge Care & Rehab in Craig since her return.
Hayden Heritage Center curator Laurel Watson, who started at the museum in April, hadn’t known Jan Leslie long. In that short period of time, Watson said she was able to see the funny and quirky side of Leslie, who sometimes referred to herself as the “Village Idiot.”
And Watson said she quickly learned that if anyone had a question at the museum, the thing to do was ask Leslie.
“She definitely knew so much about history,” Watson said. “It’s a great loss losing Jan. She was the go-to person for this area, the history of this area. And she definitely was an asset to the museum. She’ll be sorely missed.”
— To reach Jack Weinstein, call 871-4203 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org