By Doc Watson
Special to the Herald Times
MEEKER | Ethel (Stone) Starbuck is a quintessential example of “old timer,” not just because she’s made it all the way to the one century mark, but more importantly because of the history she has witnessed and experienced during that hundred years.
Ringing in the New Year in 1917, Stone was born on a Minnesota dairy farm on Jan. 1, the youngest of three children. Tragedy struck early, however, when the entire dairy herd was slaughtered by a government agency with no reimbursement to the family.
With no social security in those days, “the only poverty support was the Poor Farm,” Starbuck wrote in a personal file made available to the Herald Times by her daughter Paula (Starbuck) Armstrong. “My (Ethel’s) mother was too proud to ask for a ‘widow’s pension.’ It was ‘root hog or die!’” Starbuck added.
That old-timer expression for self-reliance came from the early colonial practice of turning pigs loose in the woods to fend for themselves.
On their doctor’s insistence that the family move to a drier climate because of tuberculosis exposure—Starbuck’s father died of TB in 1922, when she was only four years old—they found themselves in eastern Colorado. There both Starbuck’s mother and older sister by 14 years found teaching jobs. But they also found and fought sandstorms, blizzards, wildfires and herds of wild horses crazed by the smell of water from the schoolhouse pump.
“Fast forward to the good times of 1927 and ‘28,” Starbuck recalled. “It was the days of the speakeasies, bootleggers, flappers, plentiful jobs and stocks being bought for 10 cents on the dollar. But then came the black clouds of the Dust Bowl days and the crash of 1929.”
It was during this time that Starbuck’s older sister married. Her husband found work at a gas station in Aurora. Starbuck, her mother and brother moved in with them to share the rent of their modest home.
But hard times hit again when the check her mother received for teaching bounced, and when her brother-in-law’s job vanished after “the Feds uncovered a nighttime bootlegging operation in the basement and closed down the entire operation,” Starbuck wrote.
Those old times also brought the grasshopper plague that devoured their backyard garden, the need to glue rubberized replacement soles from Woolworth’s on their shoes, and a rash of arson fires in failing businesses.
Such “fire sales” were challenging because “many of the canned food labels were scorched beyond recognition, so what was for supper was anybody’s guess,” Starbuck recalled. As for so many people in those days, “Economic recovery was slow and painful, but everyone pulled together and survived.”
Starbuck graduated valedictorian of West Denver High School in 1934, from a class of 350 students. She then earned a B.A. from Colorado State College in Greeley in 1938 and finally over several summers a M.A. from Western State College of Colorado in Gunnison in 1965. She continued her education beyond her M.A. with courses in recent developments in business and office education, as well as several courses in photography.
After teaching at Hayden Union High School and Adams State College, Starbuck came to Meeker High School in 1952 to become the business/commercial studies teacher and remained there until she retired in 1983. Reporting in the May 26, 1983, issue of the Meeker Herald, Dolly Viscardi wrote, “Ethel Starbuck may be retiring from the school system, but her dedication to her chosen field will long be remembered.”
“Because of her shorthand skills—her typing was about 100 words per minute and her shorthand about 140—she did some court reporting as a side job,” Starbuck’s daughter Paula Armstrong recalled. “She also gave civil service tests in Meeker, which was really important. Her students needed a way to see if they could type x number of words per minute and meet the civil service requirements for getting government jobs.”
Along the way, Ethel Stone became Ethel Starbuck when she married Paul Starbuck in 1941, after whom the Starbuck Football Stadium is named. He was the vocational-agriculture teacher and a longtime coach at the school. He passed away in 1994.
Also along that journey came memberships in several professional organizations, including: National, Colorado and Meeker Education Associations, as well as National and Colorado Business Education Associations.
She was also a part of many community activities, including: past president of the Women’s Society of Christian Service, choir member at the Methodist Church and treasurer of its Building and Memorial Fund and a member of the Meeker Golf Association. To the envy of many golfers, in fact, she received the $100 Doyle Berry Award for the first hole-in-one on this course!
In a speech she delivered at the 88th annual Old Timer’s Celebration on June 3, 2000, Ethel Starbuck became a verbal time machine for her listeners. “Let’s revisit Meeker as it was over half a century ago,” she began.
Driving in from Rifle on an unpaved road, she pointed out the Smith Dairy Farm, followed by the Creamery on Market Street. She described “the beehive of activity” at the local implement dealers: Loren Idol’s John Deere store and Reg Nichol’s International Harvester. Next came Frank Kennedy’s Chevrolet dealership and then “the Taylor Grocery Store and a block long lumber yard.”
Crossing over to Main Street, she pointed at the Odd Fellows Hall, which almost every Saturday night hosted a ballroom dance. Next, “we withdraw some cash from the First National Bank on Fifth and Main,” she said. “The story is that all you need to get a loan there is to lead a calf into the bank with you.”
By now it was time for some refreshment, so she led her group next door to the soda fountain at Taylor’s Drug Store. Next came the Commercial Club, where the rumor was that poker games involved more than just chips. With the arrival of hunger, the next stop was Cuppy and Ann Sanderson’s Meeker Café followed by a little sprucing up at Rommey’s Barber Shop and a little rest at the Meeker Hotel.
After the rest stop, a little shopping was in order at Avery’s Dress Shop, Oldland’s Dry Goods and General Merchandise store and Tagert Hardware Store. Then came a little treat at the Bakery and finally a movie at the theater.
After a little more wandering around with her group, Starbuck ended with, “While we recall with fondness those ‘good old days,’ and what they meant to us, we can be proud of what we have achieved since then,” and then listed several of those accomplishments.
But still, aren’t memories wonderful?
By Doc Watson