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MEEKER I The Rio Blanco Historical Society had an educational and entertaining quarterly meeting at St. James Episcopal Church in Meeker June 30. The meeting was held in the hall named for Father Will Richards, in honor of guest speaker Andrew Cooley, who was in character as Father Richards.
Cooley has given the presentation many times at many locations and has received accolades for his performances. The man he depicts was truly a man of his word, and Fr. Richards’ actions spoke even louder then his great words.
Cooley has done extensive research on Father Richards, and he feels he owes his career path to the man. Cooley is the son of Frank and the late Ann Cooley of Meeker and has been serving as an Episcopal priest for several years, including time in Pagosa Springs, where he baptized the daughter of Meeker’s current Episcopal priest, Father Hollenbeck.
Cooley gave a well-polished, informative presentation of the hard times and history of Richards’ journey to Meeker and surrounding areas. There are stories of him traveling from Oak Creek to as far as Leadville in a week to give his sermons.
Richards was amazing, simply in his ability to last in northwest Colorado, particularly at a time when travel was difficult and establishing churches was even harder. One winter trip to Leadville in impassable conditions left his wife saying, “He left on an eastbound train for Leadville and arrived on a westbound bus.”
Richards’ work for the Episcopal church was felt not only in Meeker but became known well across the state. He eventually retired in Meeker with his wife, Berle, in a home where her twin, Bernice, lived on the bottom floor.
Along with the presentation by Cooley, histories of other parishes and gospel songs were enjoyed.
Mary Kay Kruger played the piano and gave the history of the United Methodist Church. Included in her presentation was the story of the phenomenal efforts to start the church in a home on Powell Park before moving to the church that stood from 1912 to very recently, when the new Methodist Church was built.
In the early years, the Methodist women provided care for people affected by the terrible influenza epidemic that swept the country around 1919, and the work they have continued to do for the community.
Elaine Jordan led the gospel singing and gave the history of Holy Family Catholic Church in Meeker.
The first Catholic Mass was offered in the Meeker area in 1884 at the Delaney ranch, and the current church has been attended since 1914.
The work of several priests, along with the tireless efforts of Bill Ertmer, a member of the church as well as long-time principal for Meeker Elementary School, helped maintain and enlarge the church with the hall and living quarters for the priests. The church is known for its beautiful stained glass art and the longstanding attendance of approximately 100 families.
Stories of the beginnings of the parishes in Meeker were fascinating and a testament to the tenacity and faith of those pioneers.
The presentations celebrated the hard work of those who came before us, determined to share their words.
The presentations could not have been concluded any better than by the words spoken by Father Andrew Cooley, in character, when he said, “This is the cry of a world that thirsts for a peace only God can give.”