Learning more about my neighbor after she’s gone

BurkheadImageUseThisOneVirtually every week, there is at least one obituary, usually more, published in the Herald Times.
Historically, that’s something newspapers have done — they document the life, as well as the death, of a person. In between, the newspaper records other milestone moments in a person’s life — graduation, marriage, birth of a child, professional accomplishments, etc.
Some weeks, the obituaries we publish in the paper are of people I didn’t know, even by name. However, the longer I live here and the more people I meet, it’s more likely that I may at least have known of the person who died.
Last week was one of those weeks.
Four obituaries were published in the paper — Tom Allen Sr., Eldon Jones, Justin Neumeier and Frances Woolley. I knew of three of the deceased, but I had never met any of them.
Still, I felt like, in a way, I had at least some connection with three of them — Tom Allen Sr., Justin Neumeier and Frances Woolley.
In the case of both Tom Allen Sr. and Justin Neumeier, I know family members, and I could sympathize with them. The same with Eldon Jones. In the case of Frances Woolley, she was my neighbor.
I never met Frances. She had been homebound in recent years. But I walked by her house every day on my way to and from work. Invariably, I would see Frances sitting in a chair in her living room. Oftentimes, I would wave as I walked by her house, though I never knew if she saw me or not.
Other than what I read in her obituary, I knew very little about Frances. So I decided to learn more about her life.
I called her nephew, Steve Mantle, formerly of Meeker and now of Wheatland, Wyo. Steve was back here for Frances’ funeral and to look after her affairs.
“Frances was the glue of the family, you could say,” Steve said. “I know family meant a lot to Frances. She took care of her mother. She took care of my mother.”
Frances grew up in the same house she lived in as an adult.
“That was the family house,” Steve said. “She grew up in it. She spent virtually her whole life in that house.”
Frances never married. Her world revolved around work, her family and friends, her church — St. James Episcopal Church — and her cat.
For nearly 50 years, Frances worked at White River Electric Association.
“She had that job with WREA since God was a little boy,” Steve said. “That job and those people, they weren’t employees, they were like her family. That WREA, going to work to her was every bit as important as going home.”
Later in life, she and her sister — Steve’s mother, Laura Sue, or Sue, as she was called — enjoyed going on archaeological digs.
“The two of them got hooked up in that Archaeological Society thing,” Steve said. “Two old women going to places you wouldn’t think about them going to.”
In recent years, Frances’ world was pretty much confined to the front room of her house, which is where I would see her sitting in her favorite chair.
“She had osteoporosis really bad,” Steve said. “She lived in that chair. It got to be where being there, at the house, was enough. She just liked staying in the house. She had control there. She could do as she pleased.”
Even though her mobility was severely limited in her latter years, Frances remained as strong willed as ever, Steve said of his aunt.
“You weren’t going to tell Frances what to do,” Steve said. “She never wavered, whether it was with Father Scott (Hollenbeck of St. James), or me, or probably God himself, that was her.”
Steve and his aunt talked on the phone regularly, including after Broncos games. She called him the day she fell in her home, to tell him what had happened. Frances was taken by ambulance to Pioneers Medical Center. She never returned to the house she lived her whole life in.
A few days later, Frances was gone. She died Oct. 19.
While I never met my neighbor Frances, I’m glad I got to know more about her life.
• • • • •
Steve Mantle attended Meeker schools and still has family in the area — Tim and LaRue Mantle and Dean and Brooke Mantle in the Piceance Basin as well as Harold Ball and Jack Ball of Meeker.
Steve moved to Wyoming in 1996, where he operates Mantle Ranch and Wild Horse Adoption and Training Center.
“We train wild horses for the BLM (Bureau of Land Management),” Steve said. “Here at the ranch, we keep anywhere from 100 to 150 wild horses, from 2 year olds up to, I think, 14 year olds.”
Horse training runs in Steve’s family.
“My dad, he could get a horse to do things I still can’t, and my oldest boy can do that,” Steve said. “He reminds me a lot of dad. I’ve taught (both of his sons) all I know, but they went past me, which is what they’re supposed to do.”
Steve uses different horse training methods from those used by his dad and horse trainers of past generations.
Asked if he was a horse whisperer — a moniker made famous by the Robert Redford movie of the same title — Steve said, “I don’t call myself a horse whisperer. Some people like that (designation). But that’s not my deal. We use pressure and release and let the horse dictate what needs done and where they’ll go to. It’s different from the old way, that’s for sure.”
Steve said he did see “The Horse Whisperer” movie, which came out in 1998, and was based on a book by Nicholas Evans, published in 1995.
“Yeah, I did, I watched it,” he said. “There’s some stuff in there that we use, like reading the horse. But that was a movie.”
• • • • •
Congratulations to Onea Miller’s son Justin, who ran in the New York Marathon on Nov. 1.
• • • • •
Snow canceled last week’s Rio Blanco County Meet and Greet with Jane Norton, former lieutenant governor, who is running for the U.S. Senate. She was scheduled to appear at the Meeker Café. The visit hasn’t been rescheduled, as of yet anyway, said Karen Arnold of the local Republican Party.
• • • • •
Stopping to buy a cup of coffee last Friday, before heading up to the district volleyball tournament, I commented to friend Michele Morgan about the heavy snow falling outside.
“I thought this was supposed to move out by today,” I said.
“Are you kidding, it won’t move out until April,” Michele said.
Gee, that was comforting.
• • • • •
At a recent Meet the Candidates event, Rangely government students participated in the Q&A with school board candidates.
Questions included: What is your vision for the Rangely School District? And, in making budget cuts, what priorities would you set in making these decisions?
The government students asked a set of 10 questions. Each candidate then answered the question. Afterward, the forum was opened up to the general public to ask questions.
“The students did a great job of contributing to the meeting by not only asking questions, but coming up with some of the questions in class,” said Rangely superintendent Barry Williams. “Government students who were not on the question panel participated by setting up for the event and by taking notes.”
The teacher for the class is Quinton Kent.
• • • • •
An organization called Soldiers’ Angels is looking for help to send care packages to soldiers.
The organization’s three biggest needs are for one-time care packages for soldiers, adopting a military family for Christmas and sweatshirts and pants for military hospitals.
Donna Wille of Meeker is involved in the effort locally. For more information, or to make a contribution, you can contact Wille at bdylee@aol.com, or go to www.soldiersangels.com.
• • • • •
As a follow-up to a presentation he gave Oct. 27 at the Community Networking Meeting in Rangely, Kimball Rasmussen, chief executive officer of Deseret Power provided Internet links that deal with the subject matter he talked about: climate change.
The links are: http://scienceandpublicpolicy.org/other/rational_look.html and http://www.nwppa.org/web/presentations/09_Annual_mtg/Rasmussen_Climate_Change.pdf.
• • • • •
Sam and Ginny continue to work to resolve the nitrate problem at Cross L Estates, their subdivision west of Meeker.
High levels of nitrates prompted the Loves to advise residents of the subdivision to use bottled water for drinking and cooking.
“We are working on a nitrate filtration system for our water well and hoping that Jeremy (Simmons, Rio Blanco County) can look into a source (of the problem),” Ginny Love said. “We are hoping that the county will step in and assist in locating (the source of the nitrate problem), as it is not just our well. Ours seems to stay about the same (level), but it is still spiked. The source is still unknown at this time; we’re just trying to narrow it down.”
• • • • •
Whenever someone starts out a conversation with, “I saw you had a muff on the front page of the paper,” it makes me queasy.
Turns out I misidentified JoD Stults of Rangely as a sophomore, when he’s actually a freshman. Sorry, JoD.
• • • • •
Congratulations to Meeker’s Roni Bibb, who was judged the 2010 Mrs. Colorado International last Saturday at the state pageant in Montrose.
Roni will now advance to the national pageant in July in Chicago.
Way to go, Roni.
• • • • •
I walk most places — except when going between Meeker and Rangely, of course — and the other day, I had someone ask me, “Do you even own a car?”
I guess I must be getting a reputation.
• • • • •
One problem with walking so much is you can leave the keys to your house in your coat pocket back at the office — because the weather is so nice outside — when you walk home for lunch. So then you have to walk all the way back to the office to retrieve them. Not that I’ve ever done that, of course.

Jeff Burkhead is editor of the Herald Times. You may e-mail him at jeff@theheraldtimes.com.