April E. Clark
Post Independent Contributor

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November 24, 2012
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Artaz is the queen bee of Glenwood

GLENWOOD SPRINGS - When Jeannine Ford Artaz describes herself these days, she sums it up in three words: Octogenarian, plus three.

"I call myself an octogenarian, and sometimes people don't know what that means," she said. "That kind of cracks me up. I don't know what I'll call myself when I'm in my 90s."

At 83, the petite and bubbly Artaz - friends and family call her Jenny - is active as ever. She continues to host her "Western Living" show on Cable Channel 10 in Glenwood Springs, with her colleague and TV partner, Paul Vandre. The two have worked together for the past 27 years, with Vandre typically shooting video and Artaz doing the interviews.

"Paul, he's my buddy," she said. "We really work off each other. He says after all these years, we like each other more than some married people do."

Artaz's experience in the media world dates back to when she was a young teenager in Texas. An only child, Artaz grew up in San Antonio and traveled the world, as her father was an active member the Army Air Corps.

"I started in radio when I was 13, and my mother said it was OK," she said. "I was dubbed the 'Shirley Temple of Radio.' I just progressed along."

As a budding young reporter, Artaz was assigned to interview Lyndon B. Johnson when he was a U.S. senator from Texas, before he was the 36th president of the United States.

"I asked him questions his daughters might ask him, like what he was working on ... Questions a girl might ask her dad."

Her career in radio progressed to television, where she was the host of the "Romper Room" show and a fill-in dancer on "The Dinah Shore Show" in the 1950s. She later worked as a popular meteorologist for Channel 9 in Denver.

"I was the Butternut weather girl," she said. "I was blessed with something that literally fell in my lap. Over the years, I've been so blessed. I've just been very, very fortunate. I have kind of evolved through radio to television."

Along with continuing her successful TV career into her 80s, Artaz works part-time for Farnum-Holt Funeral Home in Glenwood Springs. She helps on Saturdays with viewings and visitations, soothing families as they cope with grief. Artaz said after losing her second husband, Souvenir Artaz, 15 years ago, she wanted to help others in difficult times.

"If you're going to do something like that, do it from the heart," she said. "My dad was killed in Korea and my mother died of cancer at 49, so I treat those who come into the funeral home like I remember I was treated when my parents died."

Artaz said it's the little details, things like giving the family hugs and leaving a nightlight on overnight for the deceased, that make a difference in the mortuary business.

"What I remember with my mother is that death, it's such an emotional thing. The thing I most remember is the hugs and the kisses on the cheek," she said. "I end up with quite a connection with the families. I just try to hug them, make a pot of coffee, sit and talk with them."

A breast cancer survivor, Artaz understands the need for compassion in life's darkest moments. Along with her parents and two husbands, Artaz lost a twin brother five days after he was born. She also mourns a daughter who died from heart complications as a newborn, and an adult daughter who succumbed to cancer 21 years ago. She keeps a positive attitude about the cycles of life.

"Sometimes, when I feel a little kick in the butt, I'm not sure if it's mother, daddy, or my brother, Vernon," she said. "My mother, she believed that when life gave her lemons, she made lemonade. That's how I was raised."

Artaz finds comfort through support from her many friends in Glenwood Springs, Denver, San Antonio and beyond. She also leans on her 5-year-old canine companion, Ember, a red and white Boston terrier she adores.

"I say she looks like a piece of cinnamon toast," she said.

Whether its hosting her own cable TV show, helping the community grieve at Farnum-Holt, or announcing the annual Strawberry Days parade for the last 47 years, Artaz keeps busy. She also volunteers with nonprofit groups in Glenwood Springs, sews and designs clothing, draws reads, and enjoys traveling and taking photos.

Artaz even has a Facebook page, where she says she loves living every minute God allows her.

"Trying to stay busy and out of trouble, that's hard," she said. "I'm a survivor, that's all. There's still something else for me to do here."

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The Post Independent Updated Nov 24, 2012 02:47AM Published Nov 24, 2012 02:12AM Copyright 2012 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.