Community Profile: A political pioneer for West Slope and women
Marian Smith recognized after years of dedication to politics and community
Late one recent warm morning in Glenwood Springs, Marian Smith walked from her mailbox through her yard toward the royal blue house she has lived in along Grand Avenue since 1953. A constant stream of traffic flowed by in the background.
“It sure is loud out here,” the 91-year-old Glenwood native wryly observes.
Glenwood Springs is no longer the rural community she once remembers; when West Glenwood was filled with rows of orchards and the city limits ended near her house at 13th Street.
Change is something Smith has experienced her whole life, particularly after the end of World War II.
“Life changed pretty dramatically after World War II. People had better salaries, so they could buy a few more things. The markets developed a lot,” Smith said. “It did change, some for the better, some not necessarily for the better. … It was an interesting time to grow up.”
Later in life, however, Smith brought change to her hometown by becoming a pillar of her community and a political pioneer for women. She was the first female to serve on Glenwood Springs City Council, including two years as mayor and the first of only two female Garfield County commissioners to date, including several years as commission chairwoman.
John Martin, who served two years on county commission with Smith in 1997-98, looked to her early on as a beacon of information.
“She was a great tutor. She taught us the process of what we do as a commissioner. … She learned a lot through experience, then passed it on to me,” Martin said. “How to read and do your homework and what to expect from different people.”
After high school, Smith went on to take journalism courses in Grand Junction and worked on the school newspaper before marrying her husband, Bud, and starting a family in 1949. Her mother, Nellie Duffy, was a journalist and wrote a local community column for the Glenwood Post for many years before her death in 1997.
“Most of the guys who came out of the service, most of them were older,” Smith said about her husband who enlisted in 1943 and served in the South Pacific. “They were ready to get on with their lives.”
The Smiths had five children: Marlyse, Maylinn, Robert, Roger and Barry.
“We stayed busy. They talk about guys in the Greatest Generation not talking. Well, we (women) didn’t either,” Smith said. “When you were raising a family, you were busy. We were doing school things with the kids. … You didn’t talk about your background much. You didn’t travel much, didn’t have cars. You did without a lot of things, so you just stayed close to home.”
Once the kids were old enough to no longer need a babysitter, Smith began getting more actively involved with local politics. With an aunt as company she started attending the weekly Glenwood Springs City Council meetings.
“My dad’s sister was interested, so I’d take her to the council meetings, and we got to going every time,” Smith said. “I don’t think they had very many outside people come in to attend the council meetings. It was always downtown businessmen and the banks and automobile dealers and so on.”
At that time, businessmen dominated the political decisions and made up the majority, if not all, of the government meetings.
“There really wasn’t much for women to do outside of earn a living; it was a strange sort of shifting time,” she said.
Start of political career
Civics and government was something Smith had an insider’s grasp on early in life and an interest that grew over time.
“My uncle was a county commissioner. … I always knew a little bit more about government than a lot of kids did,” Smith said. “When I got to college, I had a class on civics, but you didn’t have those kinds of classes in high school.”
Once Smith had a little more free time she decided she wanted to be more actively involved in things she was interested in. She not only started regularly attending City Council meetings but also started helping out in local elections.
“It was then that people started getting more involved in more things outside of their own family,” Smith said.
Smith’s first run for a seat on Glenwood Springs City Council in the early 1970s was unsuccessful.
“(My opponent) beat me, but not by a lot,” Smith said.
She tried again and was elected in 1975 and would later serve as Glenwood’s first female mayor from 1980-82 before later serving as a Garfield County commissioner from 1984-98.
“I never had that dividing line feel. I just worked with men,” Smith said. “That never was an issue as far as I was concerned. You just worked with the ones you had to work with. No matter which party they were or what you might disagree on.”
Communications authority board
During her tenure as county commissioner, Smith helped develop the Garfield County Emergency Communications Authority Board, for which she served as a board member off and on until retiring earlier this year.
The board runs the direction of the dispatch center and manages the budget, which is paid for by a countywide sales tax. The cost of running the communications authority was too much for any one agency to handle.
“What it amounted to was there wasn’t enough money for one agency to do it, and nobody could get it done. So when we all joined forces, we were able to go ahead and create that authority so we could used combined resources to do it,” Martin mentioned.
“It was under our term as county commissioners that we got all this done. We decided it was better to not have the politics involved and each municipality had a share, the sheriff’s office had a share,” Smith said. “I think it has worked very well.”
In May, a group of first responders surprised Smith with a drive-by parade and an award recognizing her “tireless dedication to 911 in Garfield County.”
“That was really nice. I never do it for the plaques or anything else. … They were a nice bunch of people to work with,” Smith said. “It was just a real nice send-off.”
Now that Smith has retired from her countless years of involvement between various boards and councils and serving as a pillar in the community, she has plans to spend her days learning about her family history and hopes to get back to regular days at the Glenwood Hot Springs Pool.
“I was going to the pool regularly, but I haven’t been in over a year,” Smith said. “I’ve always loved history, and I have touched base with family I vaguely knew. Luckily the family name (Duffy) is a little bit unusual, so it’s been easy to find family records. … It’s been real interesting to do some digging into family history.”
She hopes to make frequent trips down to the Cortez area where she has a second home to visit ancient Puebloan ruins.
“Old age in itself is an adventure,” Smith said. “And I’ll continue to live until I die.”
Visual Journalist Chelsea Self can be reached at 970-384-9108 or email@example.com.
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