No time to slow down
March 29, 2003
Steamboat Springs — Ann Casey has done everything she wanted to do in this life. At 90, she’s not done yet.
On the kitchen door of her apartment she has a navigator’s map of the Puget Sound. In red ink are the sailing trips she made with her son, Bill, in the last few years and trips she took as a young woman with her brother.
Six years ago Casey got to live out her dream of sailing through the Panama Canal. Casey’s son sailed down the west coast of the Americas and Casey got on a plane in Denver. They met in Panama City — Bill, Ann Casey and Casey’s granddaughter.
“It was a lovely, lovely trip,” she said. “It was something I had wanted to do for years. I’ve read everything written on the Panama Canal.
“It was interesting to be followed by a huge cruise ship,” Casey said. “It felt like it towered a mile above us.”
The Panama Canal stretches 50 miles from Panama City on the Pacific coast to Colon on the Atlantic.
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At the end of the canal, the sailors rested in Colon for a week.
“I learned a lot about the early history,” Casey said. “I met an author who was writing a book about the area.”
She would do it again, she said, if her son still had the boat.
It was a return to the water for a woman who grew up on the coast between Vancouver and Seattle.
She graduated from high school in Everett, Wash. from a class of about 200 students and immediately packed her bags for a new life of solo exploration.
It was 1934 and while the United States was suffering through the Great Depression, Casey was on her way to Michigan, alone, to go to school.
The dean of women at the Michigan State Normal School interviewed Casey. The dean was taken aback by the independent young woman.
“She asked me how I was able to come all that way by myself as an 18-year-old, but when I told her about my mother’s life, she understood,” Casey said.
Her mother was originally from Scotland. In the 1800s there were few women in the frontier West. Boats of women were being shipped over as brides and “working girls.”
“My mom wasn’t one of those women, but she came over with them,” Casey said. “My mom came over in 1906, by herself, and paid her own way.”
On the wall of Casey’s present day apartment, she has a piece of framed embroidery of her mother’s Buchanan Plaid from Glasgow.
As Casey worked her way through college, the Depression got worse. “There was no money to go home.” Casey didn’t see her family for four years.
Casey graduated with a bachelor’s degree in later elementary education and geography. She had taken classes all year round — summer and winter — because she couldn’t afford to go home. She graduated a semester early.
“I thought that graduating early would give me an advantage, but it took me the whole summer to find a job,” she said.
She finally found a job at a junior high in Marysville, Wash. Several girls from the school wanted to play sports, but there was no coach for girls at that time.
“They gathered us all together and asked who could teach outdoor sports and who could handle the kind of girls who were interested in sports,” Casey said. “I’d taken one class in basketball coaching, so I ended up with all the girls’ sports, plus teaching P.E. plus history and geography.”
This summer, when Casey turned 90, a former student from the class of 1941 attended her party and gave her a copy of an old yearbook from Marysville.
It was a day for everyone who Casey had touched in her long life to say his or her thank yous.
Tammy Herfurtner arranged for 89 people to sign 89 quilt squares for Casey. Without Casey ever suspecting, she collected the squares and sewed them into a pattern with one red star in the center for Casey’s name.
Herfurtner grew up in Steamboat with Casey’s daughter, Jean.
“(The quilt) was a lot of work, but I learned a lot about her while I made it,” Herfurtner said. “And she had done so much for me in my life, it was a chance to give something back.
“At one point, (Casey) was my friend’s mother, but over time, she has become my friend. She attracts people of all ages. She loves to travel and she is an avid reader, always educating herself about the world.”
The theme of Casey’s 90th birthday was “When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple with a red hat.”
“Every day for three months, Ann wore purple and red,” friend Kay Wagner said. “It took us awhile to catch on to what she was doing.
“The day after her party we asked her why she wasn’t wearing purple. She said she threw it all away and didn’t want to see it again,” Wagner said. “We got a real laugh about that.”
Casey came to Steamboat 41 years ago.
She was the mother of three and the wife of a “jolly Irishman.”
The family made the move after Ann Casey’s husband fell in love and bought a piece of land that now sits at the busy intersection of Walton Creek Road and U.S. Highway 40.
“We bought it on a Labor Day car trip,” Casey said.
In conversation, Casey always refers to it as “the lake.” Everyone else in town calls it Casey’s Pond.
A man named Joe Ireland had just completed the construction of a few houses on the backside of Casey’s Pond to house workers who were busy rebuilding Rabbit Ears Pass.
“Steamboat was a lot different when we moved here,” Casey said. “There was only a jeep trail going up Storm Mountain. (Mount Werner was still called Storm Mountain.) But we could watch helicopters bringing materials in.”
Steamboat’s population was hovering around 2,000 people.
Casey and her husband opened a gas station and diner near “the lake.”
Casey worked as a short order cook for the men who sat at the counter during lunch breaks.
On the night before hunting season, she said, the diner stayed open all night.
The diner had no name officially, but was locally known as Casey’s Diner. It closed in 1969 after Casey broke her hip from a fall on the ice and couldn’t stand up for hours of cooking.
Casey took a job as a substitute teacher at Soda Creek Elementary when Wagner met her.
Wagner was living in an apartment behind Casey’s home.
“I was going through a divorce and I was hibernating,” Wagner said. “I hibernated for a year and after that (Casey) went out and got me a job. She decided that I had hibernated enough.
“She is an amazing woman,” Wagner said. “We call her a gadabout because she loves to travel.”
In Casey’s life, she has ridden a camel in Niger, been to France, Germany and all over Europe, Wagner said. “She has sand in her shoes.”
The hardest thing for Casey in the last year was the loss of sight in her left eye after cataract surgery.
At 90, she had to give up her car, Wagner said.
“She is fiercely independent. She does her own thing and goes her own way. Losing her car was like giving up her independence.”
Her children gave her an open pass to Alpine Taxi as a way to ease her loss of mobility, Wagner said. “She raised three incredible children.”
One son is the former ambassador to Niger and now works as a petroleum engineer. Her daughter is a chemical engineer in Golden and her other son works for Martin Marietta in Florida.
At 90, Casey is still very active and still making a name for herself in Steamboat.
“Casey is the kind of person that is always around and always giving, so you take her for granted sometimes,” friend Jo Stanko said. “But she always steps in when you need her.
“When Ann Casey gets started on something, you better get on board, because it’s going to get done.”
Casey volunteers at the Unique Shop, the senior citizen cooperative on Ninth Street, just as she has since 1980.
She is a founding member of the Yampa Valley American Association of University Women and is in the Ladies Recreation Club, a century old tradition started by Routt County ranch women to meet for lunch once a week.
“She is always busy. She goes like a demon,” Wagner said.
“I have earnestly tried to serve my fellow man and every community I have been a part of,” Casey said. “I believe you should live every day of your life and that’s what I have tried to do.”