Steamboat Springs There is no one person who takes the head of the table at St. Martin of Tours Church in Oak Creek. Instead, at a luncheon Saturday, nine women were lined up at one table in the church’s basement, donning corsages and grateful smiles.
None of them would take credit for the progression of the small, community Catholic church during its 105-year history.
But they all played a role in it.
“We’re all a small cog in the wheel,” said Barb Gehl, who has been volunteering for the church for 16 years. “This church is such a family. We all work together.”
The 10 women all considered matriarchs of the small town church are Joann Lombardi, Ann Crawford, Jane Weston, Rosemary Ferrell, Gisele Miller, Barb Gehl, Connie Sigler, Mary Maynarich, Virginia Rossi and the late Marilyn Goggin.
They have serviced the church by cleaning it, caring for the altar, caring for the parishioners and cooking meals for hundreds of combined years. The younger parishioners wanted to honor those years of dedication.
“We just need to recognize these women who have been so instrumental in our church,” said Sandy Miller, who helped organize the event and decorate the church’s basement along with Belinda Rossi. “They’ve given so much of themselves for so many years.”
Throughout the course of the afternoon, church members waited on the matriarchs hand and foot as well as shared memories, stories, songs and poems.
The longest-running member of the church was Mary Maynarich, who has been cleaning the church since before the Sharp Street building was even erected.
She recalled that the first Mass in the new building was on Christmas Day in 1941 when she was just a preteen.
“It was wonderful,” she recalled. “It was very exciting.”
Then, the church only held Mass twice each month. Now, Mass is every week, led by Steamboat Springs’ Father Ernest Bayer, who attended the event and served the women their hors d’oeuvres.
Maynarich looked around the small room Saturday, decorated with butterflies and flowers punctuated with blue tablecloths and doilies. It was a far cry from the church she remembered from 70 years ago, but the matriarchs agree that it’s still St. Martin’s through and through.
Connie Sigler, who has been with the church since she moved to the area in 1971, said that not much about the core of the church’s community has changed in her 40 years there.
“It’s really close knit,” she said. “It’s a family; it’s a community.”
Donna Stich, who said God planted in her the idea for the luncheon, spoke just before the main course, and tears came to her eyes almost immediately.
“These ladies have been my inspiration since I got to St. Martin’s,” Stich said. “They are what I think we all want to grow up to be. Love pervades our church because of them.”
Joann Lombardi first came to the church in 1950. When the basement was built in 1961, the church was looking for a way to raise money to furnish the kitchen, so they threw a spaghetti dinner for the entire town.
This November will mark the 50th spaghetti dinner, now well known in the community for Lombardi’s famous Italian meatball recipe. The church estimates that Lombardi has cooked more than 1,200 pounds of spaghetti.
Sitting next to Lombardi, matriarch Virginia Rossi looked around the church and saw the vitality and enthusiasm needed to carry on their work.
“It’s really, really great, the younger ladies are coming up and stepping forward,” she said.
Lombardi chimed in cheerily: “Now, we’re the old people,” she said with a touch of pride. “The young ones are coming in, and we’re the oldies now, I guess.”
Even the generation after that was represented at the matriarch’s luncheon.
Six-year-old Olivia Rossi, granddaughter of Virginia Rossi, said she knew why she had dressed up in a purple, polka dot dress for the occasion.
“It’s because we’re honoring those ladies at the table,” she said, pointing. “Cause they did a lot of work for the church, that’s why.
“They did a lot of spaghetti dinners.”
To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or email ninglis@ExploreSteamboat.com