By: Patrick Eidman
I have an irrational fear of bedbugs. Hate them. I’ve never encountered or been bit by a single bedbug, but I’m fairly convinced they lurk under every hotel pillow, in the carpet, the drapes, the towels, the coverlet with the high sheen.
It makes traveling difficult.
Somehow Kathy came to learn of my phobia and on my next trip to Grand Junction she presented me with a spray bottle of a lavender potion that was guaranteed to ward off the vile little creatures.
And when she found out that I have a bad habit of staining my dress shirts with coffee, or soup, or salad dressing, she mailed me a care package with a small bottle of Dawn and a toothbrush labeled “Pat’s stain removal kit” complete, of course, with instructions. After all, she later commented, if Dawn could clean oil out of the feathers of a seabird it could certainly rescue my designer-label button ups.
That was Kathy.
A woman, my friend, who remembered everything she read, heard, or overheard. A woman who loved her community more than any person I’ve ever met. And it wasn’t empty boosterism as I seem to often encounter and am occasionally guilty of myself, but genuine love of place.
I’m not suggesting that she turned a blind eye.
We had more than a few conversations where she lamented the fact that folks in Junction didn’t always share her enthusiasm and devotion to the cause of historic preservation. I can assure you “damn fools!” was uttered more than once. But the thing about Kathy was that she’d give every last “damn fool” the chance to redeem themselves, to join the cause, to be convinced. And some were. She could be very persuasive.
“Pat!” she nearly screamed through the phone to my office in Denver, “I think I found evidence of a long forgotten cemetery!” And so she laid out the case, her exhaustive research tinged with just enough conjecture to make things interesting. She had maps and contracts, personal letters, bills of sale, deeds and school records. I always wondered whether the local librarians, curators, and archivists were pleased to have such an enthusiastic consumer of their wares or terrified of not living up to her high expectations.
I’d like to believe it was a little of both.
But the voluminous records weren’t enough. She was convinced that the State Archives or the Historical Society or the Federal Center or the Denver Public library held the piece to the puzzle that would answer all questions. Conveniently, she had a willing accomplice on the Front Range with ready access to said resources.
But on that day I was tired or burnt out or just looking forward to the weekend.
“I dunno Kathy, I wouldn’t even know where to start.”
My statement was followed by an extraordinarily long pause, and if Kathy’s phone calls could be generally characterized by one thing it was the marked lack of long pauses.
Surrendering was my only way out.
“Ok, fine, I’ll let you know what I find.”
“Good!” She responded, adding “bring copies the next time you come to Grand Junction.”
My phone rang again minutes later and I didn’t need to look at the caller id.
“On second thought, you better scan and email what you find. The damn fools will probably pave over the place before we get it found.”
That was Kathy.
The bounds of her knowledge and interest in the history and people of the Western Slope and especially Grand Junction were limitless. I know. I tried to stump her more times than I can count. Never once was I successful.
This is how the game was played.
I would find an obscure text, article, or thesis buried in the bowels of some local library while doing other research that made glancing reference to an event, person, or building in Grand Junction. I’d proudly scribble said factoid in my notebook and anxiously await my opportunity to roll out this little bit of trivia.
Invariably her response would be to correct me on the date or the pronunciation of the name and proceed to add contextual history that shamed my little nugget of information. And more often than not, she’d have already written a column on whatever topic I’d called about, revealing of course that I’d not worked my way through her archived material.
This was, of course, unacceptable. To remedy the situation Kathy started emailing me her columns. A pop quiz was usually lurking just around the corner, and I learned it was best not to fail the quiz.
For two history lovers, that was a fun game. It’s a game I’ll miss even though I never managed to win. Much the same way the student never quite catches up with the teacher, but relishes the experience nonetheless.
And there are more memories and more experiences that tell the story of Kathy as I knew her.
I’ll never forget our first meeting. We scheduled to meet in the parking lot of the Grand Junction Depot on my first trip to the Western Slope after I moved to Colorado. She and her husband Teddy pulled up in a very loud, very low, very cool hotrod. I remember thinking to myself that I was really going to like these people.
I was right.
We bonded over fine terra cotta architectural detailing that day and never looked back.
We had fun while working hard, she as champion and defender of all things Western Slope while I did my best to not fall too far behind.
I’ll never forget her dining room table piled high with property deeds and notebooks, Teddy on standby to catch the tower of papers should the table be so ever slightly nudged.
I’ll never forget her ferocious dedication to her family, her friends, her community and maybe most of all to the passel of Cocker pups standing guard at the wrought iron gate.
I’ll never forget seeing she and Teddy’s gorgeous historic home the first time after its most recent paint job (I’d been hearing stories of poor Teddy hanging sideways off ladders at nearly 3 stories up). I didn’t know could you find house paint in a yellow that bright. But if we’re honest, it was a perfect fit.
A personality that big deserves a house that bright.
I’ll never forget working with her to get a new roof installed on the Handy Chapel House. When a grant we needed for the project didn’t come through, Kathy called looking for names and numbers — first for the tight-fisted grantors who needed to be admonished and then later for contacts of other places to find the desperately needed funding.
I’ll never forget the perils of trying to have a quick lunch or walking through town with Kathy while late for a meeting. She knew everyone and everyone knew her.
I’ll never forget the experience of working with someone so intensely passionate about saving the places that matter, and telling the stories of places long ago lost. She serves as beacon and inspiration to me, and so many others. Her loss will be deeply felt for many years to come.
Felt both by people that knew her well and those that didn’t. And that perhaps is Kathy’s true legacy. Her infectious love of that bright yellow house and 7th Street and Grand Junction lives on, her commitment to saving and protecting these and many other places lives on. With every column read and remembered by someone who then looks at Grand Junction in a new light, Kathy lives on.
Unbeknownst to me, I was happily shopping for books in LoDo the day Kathy was stricken with the brain aneurysm that would ultimately claim her life. After loading up my arms in the architecture and history sections I was on my way to the checkout when I noticed a sale bin full of historic maps.
This, of course, required stopping and perusing. Historic maps!
And I wasn’t finding much of interest until I ran across a turn of the century map of Western Colorado. I figured Kathy would be able to find a spot for it somewhere and I was just glad to have finally found something special enough to reciprocate for the bedbug potion.
I emailed Kathy that next Monday or Tuesday checking in and telling her that I had a present to send her and that I wanted to make sure I had her correct mailing address.
I didn’t hear back right away which was unusual, but figured she was out researching her next big project.
And then the news came. Most unwelcome news. And then the news became increasingly dire, and then finally the worst news of all was delivered.
I’ve decided to have the map framed and I’ll hang it above my desk. In remembrance of a great woman whom I am proud to have called my friend and the place she called home. In recognition of the fact, as Kathy would not so gently remind me, that there is more to Colorado than the Front Range. In honor of her.
Kathy, you will be profoundly missed. By me. By many.
Patrick Eidman is a former Endangered Places Program Manager for Colorado Preservation and worked closely with Kathy on historic preservation projects in Grand Junction and on the Western Slope. He now works for History Colorado as a Preservation Planner.