Steamboat Springs Linda Long was bracing for death in 1965.
Doctors told the 19-year-old she would succumb to ovarian cancer in three months.
Faced with the grim news, Long wanted to live long enough for her newborn son to remember who she was.
She wanted to hang on a little while longer.
But the battle quickly grew tougher.
Throughout the next two decades, the cancer spread to Long’s liver, breasts, kidneys, lungs and spine. Doctors never could tell her how much time she had left.
So she took many long trips to Denver for treatment.
She sought solace in the classrooms of the South Routt School District.
She beat odds and expiration dates.
“I didn’t want my sons to remember me as being sick all the time,” Long, now 67, said Thursday while explaining why she volunteered as a second-grade reading aide at South Routt Elementary School in 1972. “The schools gave me a reason to keep going.”
In 1974, the district hired Long as a teacher. The next year, the district was broke again, and she returned to volunteer status.
She continued volunteering, and in 1986, doctors told her she was cancer free.
“Kids have always been important to me, and they still are,” she said Thursday on the bench in front of Soroco High School. “It was easy for me to keep volunteering.”
Starting in 1995, Long went on to serve 17 years on the South Routt School Board and the Northwest Colorado Board of Cooperative Educational Services.
She retired from those boards last year.
On Thursday, she was sipping sparkling cider in the South Routt School Board meeting room as a long line of current School Board members toasted her many accomplishments.
She then passed around the golden apple she was handed earlier this month in Glenwood Springs, where she was recognized as a Colorado BOCES Association All-State Board Award winner.
Long was one of seven board members across the state to receive the award this year for outstanding service.
“Whatever recognition Linda gets, she richly deserves,” South Routt School Board President Tim Corrigan said. “I’ve never met a harder working person in my life. It’s not just that Linda has served for so many years; her voice has always been recognized and respected because she’s always had such great judgment about the right things to do.
Long said her worst board meeting came in the 1990s when the district was forced to cut the cheerleading program.
There was a “big fuss” at that meeting and “the whole community” came out for it, she recalled Thursday.
She said her best meetings were the remaining 90 percent of her board gatherings.
“She was always kind of like the rock here,” South Routt Superintendent Scott Mader said. “If you needed some guidance on something, she could give you some history. Just all that experience is invaluable.”
David Long enjoyed having his mother work in the schools. He said Thursday that her presence motivated him to behave and work harder in the classroom.
“I didn’t want to be disciplined in school, because if we were going to be disciplined in school, we were going to be disciplined at home,” he said. “She wasn’t opposed to coming in and holding (my younger brother’s) hand and taking him to class when he didn’t feel like going.”
David, who works at Twentymile Coal Co. south of Steamboat Springs, said he was proud of his mother’s recognition. He said the family is proud of all of the recognition she receives.
Linda Long was diagnosed with cancer the year David was born. She wasn’t declared cancer free until he was in high school.
“She instilled into me that no matter how bad you’re feeling, you need to show up for work,” he said.
And her public service is not exclusive to the school district.
She served on the South Routt Medical Center board, and has been a leader in the county’s 4-H program.
Before she left for the School Board meeting Thursday night, she made sure her 88-year-old mother was comfortable watching television in the living room of her ranch home on Trout Creek.
Long traveled all across Northwest Colorado to attend BOCES meetings in Walden, Granby, Kremmling, Oak Creek, Steamboat and Hayden.
She said at first, she envisioned serving on the school boards for only a couple of years.
“I think Linda brings a lot of strength,” Northwest Colorado BOCES leader Jane Toothaker said. “It’s kind of a quiet strength. She’s very solid. She’s very thoughtful. If she says she’s going to do something, she’s going to do it.”
Although many educators say much has changed since Long started in the schools, she disagrees.
She says schools were “just as broke then as they are now.” Board members 17 years ago still had to respond to budget cuts.
“It’s a big responsibility, and none of the decisions are easy,” she said about being a School Board member. “You can’t satisfy everybody, but you can certainly do the right thing for the majority of all kids. Some board members come on with an agenda. There’s no agenda, you know. You don’t have an agenda on the School Board. And if you have one, you don’t belong here because it’s for all kids. It’s not for your kids. It’s not for your neighbors’ kids. It’s for all kids.”
She said she misses being a School Board member and is now dedicating more time at home and on the Routt County Fair board.
Still, she often reminds her school district she’s only a phone call away.
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com