Photo by John F. Russell
John Wither recalls a story about sliding off the roof of his home on a sled along with his sister Sally, behind, on Friday during the Brown Bag Lunch Series at St. Paul's Episcopal Church. The organizers of the series, which usually is held at the Tread of Pioneers Museum, moved the event to accommodate the large number of people.
Tom Ross' column appears Tuesdays and Saturdays in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4205 or tross@SteamboatToday.com.
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Steamboat Springs Friday’s weekly Brown Bag Lecture Series at the Tread of Pioneers Museum comprised a warm collection of memories of growing up in Steamboat Springs in the 1950s and '60s from Sally Wither and her brother John made all the more poignant for the audience, and in particular museum staff, by the death of Sally and John’s mother, Frances, a week earlier July 13.
Sarah Frances Colt Wither was 96 when she died this month. She was a co-founder of the Tread of Pioneers and served as the secretary of its board for 30 years.
When she married Robert “Bob” Wither in 1940, Frances became part of a pioneer family that first arrived in 1889. She and her family lived on Eighth Street in a time of relative innocence, when children played in the unpaved road and in the horse pastures that lined Soda Creek where rows of houses stand today.
A third sibling, Pete Wither, grew up to become director of ski patrol at Mount Werner and remains one of the community’s leading Realtors.
John and Sally were in good humor Friday and recalled how their mother made their Halloween costumes by hand every year.
“My favorite was the headless horseman” of Sleepy Hollow, Sally said.
The Wither family lived just a half-block from school, and the children came home to eat a big lunch with their mother and father every day.
In winter, a frequent Sunday outing after church was to ski up Spring Creek and shovel the snow off Aunt Dorothy Wither’s cabin. Other days, they slid off the garage roof on their butts, landing in the growing piles of snow.
The late Bob Wither was the son of Archie and Pearl Wither. Archie was one of three brothers, including Pete and George, who came to Steamboat in 1889. Nine years later, Archie and George opened A&G Mercantile in Hahn’s Peak and then a store in Steamboat in 1902.
The members of the Wither family still visit the well-cared-for family cabin in Hahn’s Peak, which dates to those earliest days in Routt County.
Children growing up in Steamboat Springs in an era when the population was between 1,500 and 1,800 souls devised much of their own entertainment. The Wither kids often got 25 cents each from their parents for popcorn and a movie. (It was always a Western, naturally.) And in the late 1950s, they were among the first families to acquire a television set that picked up a fuzzy signal relayed from Emerald Mountain.
But most of their leisure time was spent outdoors.
There was so little traffic on Eighth Street that the kids could play marbles in the middle of the road.
“We used to form teams and kick a football back and forth in the street between two light poles,” John recalled. The team that could force the other to catch the ball behind its light pole was the winner.”
The town boys always were forming a new, impromptu club.
“There was the Tree House Club. We had a grand tree house we could sleep in overnight,” John said. “And there was the Boys Near Soda Creek Club. We always came home wet from playing in Soda Creek or with a cut knee or having dropped a rock on a foot.”
Sally was a lucky little girl who made friends with Mrs. Stehley, who kept two saddle horses in town over on Butcherknife Creek. Mrs. Stehley granted her riding privileges, and Sally was invited to become the only youthful member of the Routt Riders Club, which left town on summer evenings for a long ride out into the country. Members like Si Lockhart and Marvin Elkins arranged for a fancy dinner to be served at the turnaround. Often, the group rode home in the dark.
Like all Steamboat youngsters of that era, the Wither children spent a great deal of time at the hot springs swimming pool and skiing on Howelsen Hill.
It also was an era when all of Steamboat was mad about square dancing and the town hosted an annual summer square dance festival that attracted dancers from across the region.
Frances Wither was known to move the furniture into the front yard and roll up the rugs so she could host square dances in the family living room.
Now, those were the good old days.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com