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MEEKER I How many people can say they have had the same best friend since first grade? Norma and Betty Oldland share far more than a last name. They share a friendship so strong it has lasted nearly 80 years, built on a foundation of loyalty and hard work and layered with stories made possible by decades of shared history.
Norma’s parents were George and Nellie Parks, two hard-working Meeker people. Her father worked on their Flag Creek ranch and her mother was, as Norma says, “The hardest working person she ever knew, and one of the toughest humans in the world.”
Nellie Parks raised 500 turkeys a year for sale in the fall. She would dress the turkeys (prepare the birds for cooking) for her customers without asking for extra money.
As part of her daily chores, completed after her four mile walk home from school, Norma ground grain and mixed it with the milk and eggs her mother had gathered during the day. She and Betty attended first- through third-grades in the school located on what is now the Sixth Street ball field. Fourth- and fifth-grades were held in a school where the Episcopal church is, and the elementary school on Main Street opened when Betty and Norma were sixth-graders.
Betty’s parents, Jessie and Dick Lyttle, owned and operated the Meeker Herald while Betty was growing up. Betty and Norma would spend nights together, reading with a light under the covers after their parents told them to go to bed.
Norma and Betty began working at the Rio Blanco Ranch in high school when Harry and Cleo Jordan were managing the ranch. They cleaned cabins in the morning and then rode horses in the afternoon all over the beautiful country around the ranch.
Norma married Rubin Oldland in 1948, and Betty married Alan, Rubin’s cousin, in 1950. Rubin and Alan’s grandfather (also named Rubin) homesteaded his Piceance Creek ranch in 1884. The old pump they used is still in the front yard of Jerry and Stephanie Oldland’s fourth-generation home.
The senior Rubin and an engineer from Leadville came to the area when the miners went on strike. The land was known for its tall grasses. So many people had previously homesteaded the area that Rubin had to travel 35 miles up Piceance Creek before finding land for himself. He and his partner went to Kansas City, bought 1,000 head of longhorns and trailed them back. The trip home took six months. The cattle began to sicken near Colorado Springs and they were advised to get the cattle to the high country. They took them over to Kremmling and down through Steamboat and Craig before reaching their destination.
They originally homesteaded 160 acres for Rubin and 160 acres for Sara Jones, his wife. During the Depression, several people were forced to leave the area and the Oldlands acquired a great deal of land at that time. Rubin and Sara had four children: Ernest, Walter, Gerald and Keri. Rubin helped to start the First National Bank in 1904, which Ernest would later run. Walter and Gerald stayed on the ranch. Walter married Josephine Love and the two had Sally (Norell). Gerald married Eva and the couple had Jean and Rubin. Rubin married Norma and they had Jerry and Chris (Uphoff). Norma has three grandchildren: Melissa, Gerald and Coe.
Betty married Alan while he was on leave from the Navy in 1950. Following his return from service, he worked on a ranch in Rangely before getting hired by Martin Marietta, now Locke Marietta. He tested the propulsion system on the large tanks on space shuttles. Betty and Alan had Robert, Alan and Janice. They lived in Denver where Alan traveled for his job and Betty taught school for 30 years. When they retired they moved back to Meeker in 1988, and bought the house Rubin and Norma built just west of Meeker. Betty substituted for the Meeker School District for nearly 20 years.
Norma and Betty helped raise each others’ kids and shared many memories through the years. They reminisce now about Rubin’s ability to make men out of their boys and the genuine friendship the cousins had through the years. So great a friendship, it even survived some family battles. Alan told Rubin he was responsible for his surviving his service during World War II, saying, “I prayed the Germans wouldn’t kill you so I could.”
Norma and Betty spent years playing cards, enjoying summer camp and going on family outings. They taught their children the importance of hard work and the strength of family and friends. Perhaps their greatest lesson is that of laughter and loyalty. The love and companionship these two remarkable women have maintained through the years is amazing. They have a friendship that has been through hard times, and withstood the test of time. These two could fill at least one book with the memories and lessons they have learned and taught through the years. Such a friendship is a gift, one the two have truly appreciated.