89 years of living give Glenwood man wealth of material
George Wilson is a poet. And a father. And a husband.
He is a traveler. He was a sailor.
And he is a man of many memories.
On this sunny winter day, Wilson sat in his sun-drenched living room, stroking his white-and-ginger cat Boots and speaking of past times.
Wilson is also a part-time poet. Rather than committing his poems to paper, he stores them in his head, and recalls them readily.
For his and his wife’s and the children’s and even the cats’ birthdays, Wilson will pen a poem about that special day.
The verses come to him at night, when he can’t sleep. They speak of a happy life and happier years to come.
Born in windswept Toponas, in southern Routt County, 89 years ago, he spent most of his youth and adult life in New Castle and Glenwood Springs.
His father was a railroad man, a builder of concrete forms for bridges. The family left Toponas, a town south of Oak Creek “that hasn’t changed much in 89 years,” and settled in Collbran for a few years. Then they moved on to New Castle, “because it was closer to the railroad,” Wilson said.
Wilson graduated from New Castle High School in 1931 and attended Ross Business College in Grand Junction, where he majored in accounting.
Until the start of World War II, he variously worked in a Civilian Conservation Corps camp and in its administration in Grand Junction and Littleton. He ran a grocery store in Glenwood Springs for five years with his brother Richard.
Wilson remembers City Market on Ninth and Cooper, Safeway on Grand Avenue, and many smaller mom-and-pop grocery stores in town.
In 1937, he married Helen Ross, the daughter of the Ross of the business college.
“How else would I have graduated from college?” he quipped, although the two met and married after college.
Because his brother was declared 4-F on a medical disability, Wilson decided to represent the family in the military.
In the three years of his service, he saw action in the Pacific at such scenes of epic battles as Saipan, Kwajalein, Eniwetok, Guam and Okinawa. He was stationed on the U.S.S. Rockingham.
“I watched the Marines invade an island. They swam out under orange crates so no one could see them,” he said.
Japanese were entrenched on the islands in caves and buried bunkers. After bombarding the caves with missiles, the Marines landed and flushed the Japanese soldiers out with flame throwers, Wilson said.
At Okinawa he was on a ship that was pressed into service to treat the wounded.
“The wounded would come on board and get patched up and they’d send them right back out if they were well enough,” Wilson said. “At dusk the kamikaze planes would come. You’d think we’d be ready for them, but we weren’t. They flew along the coastline under the radar, so they couldn’t pick them up.”
He saw star shells dropped on troop emplacements that “were like the Fourth of July.”
When he came home, he worked as a teller at the First National Bank – now U.S. Bank in Glenwood Springs. He went on to work at the Coca-Cola bottling plant for 15 years.
During that time, in the mid-1950s and early 1960s, he served for six years on City Council. At the time, there was one city clerk, a couple of people to send out bills and one cop. Glenwood Springs’ population was about 2,250.
City Hall “was in the back of a small restaurant on Grand,” Wilson said.
While he was on City Council, the town got its first two traffic lights, on Eighth and Ninth at Grand. Because of the two big grocery stores on and near Ninth, it was busier than Eighth, he said.
In fact, during the winter, since traffic was so sparse, kids would sled down Eighth right on to Grand.
Instead of a snowplow on a truck, the city used a horse-drawn scraper. Prisoners from the jail hand-shoveled snow off the side streets, Wilson said.
After a short stint at Berthod Motors, Wilson went on to work for the post office for 15 years. He retired in 1978.
But life did not slow down. He and Helen traveled widely, visiting Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Belgium, Greece and its islands, Spain, Portugal, Scotland, Ireland, Britain, Egypt, Israel, Australia, New Zealand and Fiji.
He especially remembers a trip through the Panama Canal.
“It was thrilling. I didn’t know that the Atlantic side is further west than the Pacific because the canal runs north and south,” he said.
Fishing also was a favorite pastime, until the passing of “my fishing buddy Bert Gregory last year.”
Both George and Helen have been active members of the Eastern Star Auxiliary, Helen for 73 years and George for 56, and he has also been a Mason for that time.
The couple have two children, Margaret Wierenga, who is a community service specialist with the Glenwood Springs Police Department, and Hugh, a minister of the Worldwide Radio Church of God, with churches in Sparks and Battle Mountain, Nev.
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An inmate at the Garfield County Jail was found dead in his cell Sunday morning.