Garry BrewerGrand Junction Free Press History Columnist

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February 18, 2013
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GJ HISTORY: The Sampliner cousins - Two pioneers set out to make Grand Junction a diamond in the desert

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. - This is a story about two cousins and their wives, and the mark they left on our fair city. And the "almost visit" of the President of the United States to Grand Junction, Colo.Our first cousin was Joseph M. Sampliner, born at sea aboard a ship bound for America on June 30, 1864. His father, Herman and Herman's brother, Solomon Sampliner, had crossed the ocean a few months earlier from Hungary. Herman sent for his wife, Sallie, and Joseph was delivered en route to America.Herman and Sallie Sampliner settled in Cleveland, Ohio, where the family became active in Jewish causes in the Hungarian community and attended the B'Nai Jeshurian congregation.Son Joseph was raised and educated in Cleveland and helped his father in his business. In 1889 he decided to move and went west to Crested Butte, Gunnison County, to work for his brother-in-law, Herman Glick. A few months later, Joseph moved to Ironton, and met up with his younger cousin, Albert R. Sampliner. Albert was born in Cleveland on March 1, 1867.The two young, ambitious men wanted to start a business and began to buy up inventory of stores that were going out of business. In March 1894, they purchased the goods at Cripple Creek and along with all the other clothing stock they had acquired moved to Grand Junction and opened a store. Their first location was at the corner of Third and Main Street; they later moved to the corner at 401 Main St.Joseph and Albert became more than cousins; they were now brothers and friends. It was said: "When someone asked for 'Sampliner,' it was without distinction or deference to see who would answer first."These young, single men had worked very hard to start their business and now found themselves as "Lone Men in the Garden of Eden" and determined it was time to start a family. Albert was the first to marry and on Feb. 12, 1895, he married Cora Mae Strayer in Ouray, Colo. Albert and Mae, as she liked to be called, had two daughters. Joseph was married three years later on Sept. 8, 1898, to Jennie Kaufmann in Cleveland. From this union came two daughters and a son.Life was good for the young men and over the years they bought several properties in Mesa County. They purchased George Crawford's ranch of 382 acres located above Palisade on Rapid Creek, and in 1900 they purchased the lot and store at 401 Main (now known as Rockslide Restaurant) from Albert's mother-in-law, Alice Strayer. They also bought the business lots of 346-362 Main St. (Reed Building); 454 Main St.; 533-539 Main St.; plus their homes on Seventh Street.JOSEPH BECOMES GJ MAYORBuying property, running successful clothing store and becoming family men were not the total contributions to the community. They also became very involved in various groups in the valley. They were charter members of the Elks Club, members of the Masonic Lodge 55, Royal Arch Masons, the Scottish Rite and Shrine, served on the board of directors of Mesa County Building and Loan, Mutual Building and Loan, Fruit Growers Association and were Woodmen of the World.In 1901, Joseph was asked to run for mayor of Grand Junction. Joseph was a Democrat and friend of the editor of the Daily Sentinel, Isaac N. Bunting. Together they ran a campaign for the office while the Grand Junction News supported the other candidate.It was a short, contentious campaign with lots of negative ads and words spoken by his opponent. Joseph, however, never spoke a disparaging word about the other candidate.He won the election and printed in both newspapers a statement of things he thought should happen in Grand Junction. He wanted for Grand Junction to become a leading commercial city on the Western Slope and he felt streets needed to be paved, and taxes needed to be lowered. He requested the merchants clear the wooden sidewalks of street signs so the citizens could walk down the sidewalk without having to step in the street. He also asked city employees to double up on jobs to save money, and he asked the city council to cut their salaries. As mayor, Joseph was instrumental in bringing a library to Grand Junction. When there was a choice for old Buttons, the horse who pulled the firewagon, to be turned over to the city or given to the local firemen, Joseph and the council readily agreed to turn the animal over to the firemen so they could put Buttons out to pasture.During his two terms as mayor, Sampliner and the city council voted not to approve some liquor licenses to saloons because it was found that the young men of Grand Junction, some as young as 13, where getting drunk at night near the Electric Power Plant (near the Fifth Street Bridge). It was said the boys were so drunk by midnight they could not pour tobacco into the cigarette papers. So until the bars in town stopped selling liquor to the young men, no licenses.A highlight for Mayor Sampliner was when he was one of 10 Colorado mayors selected to meet President William McKinley and his wife at the border of Utah/Colorado and ride with the president and first lady to Grand Junction, then on to Glenwood Springs for a lunch and then to Denver in June 1901. The president and first lady started their train trip from Washington, D.C., through the southern states, and north through California to San Francisco. That's where the first lady became so ill the Colorado trip was canceled and McKinley took his wife back home to Washington, D.C. It's sad McKinley never made it to Colorado because a few months later he was assassinated. Maybe if he had been able to come to Colorado he might have missed that appointment with history.Joseph had an eye for state office and ran for State Treasurer, but was defeated. He knew he could reach for that dream with Albert watching out for him and their business interests at home. Life was good for the cousins who were Mesa County pioneers. The cousin's wives made their mark in the community as well. Albert's wife, Cora Mae, became Regent of the Mt. Garfield Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and Joseph's wife, Jennie, was very involved with the Elks Club Ladies.

THE END OF AN ERAIn late 1921, Joseph took Jennie and the three children to Southern California to their vacation home and he returned to Grand Junction. Early in January 1922, Joseph was having a light breakfast at home when he was stricken with intense pain. Doctors Bull and Hanson were called and an operation performed for a perforated ulcer. The operation went well and it looked like he was improving, but after a few days he took a turn for the worse. Jennie was sent for and headed home, but the train track along the route had washed out, delaying her return. When she finally made it home, Joseph had died just a few hours earlier. The children were sent for and the funeral was held in Grand Junction and Joseph's body was taken Cleveland, where he was buried in Mayfield Jewish Cemetery. He was 58. After the funeral Jennie and the children stayed in Cleveland. On March 4, 1965, Jennie died in California. In the 45 years since Joseph's death Jennie never remarried.Albert and Mae remained in Grand Junction. But the bond between the two cousins was very strong and with Joseph gone Albert was like a ship without a rudder and his health began to decline. In December 1923, he and Mae booked a trip for Europe. They were to leave on March 8, 1924. However, on the morning of Feb. 4, 1924, Albert Sampliner suddenly dropped dead of a heart attack, leaving his wife and two daughters. He was buried in the Masonic Section of the Orchard Mesa Cemetery; he was 57. Mae died July 17, 1952, in California and is buried next to Albert in the Orchard Mesa Cemetery. She also never remarried and was a widow for 28 years.EPILOGUEThis may seem like the end of the story, but not by a long shot. Joseph and Albert Sampliner had set up a family trust for all the property they owned in Mesa County. This trust for over 93 years helped their wives, children and grandchildren. The last property left the family trust in 1993, when the Sampliner building at 401 Main St. was sold to the owners of the Rockslide Restaurant.For two cousins from Ohio, who went west to make their fame and fortune they did pretty well. They started a business, worked hard, bought property, found wives, had children, and made many friends. Joseph became the first Jewish mayor of Grand Junction, while Albert served five years on the school board, with two years as board president.These public spirited men's aims were devoted to the interest of the community. They tried not to speak discouraging words and it was their hope that Grand Junction would not become "a mean city."While the Sampliner cousins lived, their positive influence in the community was apparent. After their deaths it was greatly missed. Within a few years, for a short time, the Ku Klux Klan arose and had influence in Grand Junction and Mesa County. That would have probably met with the disapproval of Joseph and Albert. But that's another story for a different day.By the end of their lives, the Sampliner cousins had seen their dream for this community come true. The cousins stated in an ad in the Daily Sentinel on Dec. 31, 1913, that they have "the utmost faith in the future prosperity of this city and valley." Grand Junction, Colo., is a bright diamond in the desert, available to all who wish to come, work hard, live, raise and enjoy your families and just be able to rest under the shade of your own tree at the end of the day.=========================Garry Brewer is storyteller of the tribe; finder of odd knowledge and uninteresting items; a bore to his grandchildren; a pain to his wife on spelling; but a locator of golden nuggets, truths and pearls of wisdom. Email Garry at & PHOTOS: Museum of Western Colorado, Loyd Files Room; Outstanding Thanks to Michael Menard, David Bailey, Bill Buvinger; Wanda Allen, Snap Photo; Mesa County Library staff; Grand Junction News records; Daily Sentinel records; Vicki Beltran; City of Grand Junction; Anita Caldwell & April Dunn of the D.A.R.; Ellen Miller; Access Jewish Cleveland Associate; Jewish Federation of Cleveland; Pat Gromley; Museum files of Mesa Federal Saving and Loan; Journal of the Western Slope, volume 4. vol 1. Ku Klux Klan.

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The Post Independent Updated Feb 18, 2013 07:03PM Published Feb 18, 2013 06:55PM Copyright 2013 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.