From 8-year-old mayors to 72-year-old gardeners, Garfield County is a mosaic of interesting people doing interesting things
Here are 5 human-interest pieces we think are worth a second read
Nicknamed “Dead Horse,” Mitch Spencer has been known to dig his heels in on a variety of topics. Regardless, the Glenwood Springs Middle School science teacher and bus driver is admired by students and faculty alike.
“There’s two stories to (how he earned his nickname),” Glenwood Springs Middle School Principal Joel Hathaway said. “One is that he’s always beating the dead horse. But I prefer to think it’s because he’s the last of the old cowboys, riding the yellow horse back and forth every day. On a steel horse he rides.”
On the short days, Spencer is awake at 5 a.m. and works a 12-hour day, before returning home. Students who ride his bus know him for his cheery small talk, and in class, seventh-graders learn about dinosaurs.
Although Spencer is the son of legendary Glenwood Springs High School girl’s basketball coach Harlan Spencer, the science teacher didn’t intend to follow his father’s footsteps into an education career.
After a failed attempt at becoming a real estate mogul, he volunteered as a firefighter and made ends meet by working at City Market.
After obtaining his teaching degree in his 30s, Spencer went on to lead the Glenwood Springs Middle School’s football team to finish second place at state. As a teacher, he leads his students on excursions to mine memorials and camping trips, often being the one behind the wheel.
“My wife and I feel very fortunate to be a part of this community,” Spencer said in his school biography, “and for myself, (I am fortunate) to follow in my father’s footsteps as a teacher at GSMS working with the wonderful students and families of Glenwood.”
Karen Garrison was a child when Western Garfield County was the sugar beet capital of the world. And though the sugar beet farms of her youth have since cleared out, she still feels a connection with the earth and all things grown.
For six seasons, the 72-year-old green thumb has helped stock pantries throughout Garfield County through her efforts at the Glenwood Springs Wulfsohn Community Garden.
From spring to fall, Garrison harvests enough potatoes, carrots, peas, beans and onions and “anything else you can put into potato soup” to feed about 2,000 people a year, she said.
“I get thank-you cards from everybody filled out from all these dear souls that say I haven’t had a tomato this good since I was a little girl,” Garrison said. “That makes a grower happy.”
Garrison’s grandfather, Dewey Williams, owned ranches in the Roaring Fork and Colorado River valleys. Before his tenure as Garfield County commissioner in the 1950s, he survived the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, which killed about 50 million people worldwide, the Centers for Disease Control reported.
“He ended up caring for really sick people and burying the dead because there was no one else around to do it,” she said.
Garrison compares this dark time in U.S. history to what’s going on right now with the COVID-19 pandemic. But it’s more of a lesson in perseverance than anything else.
“You find out that the COVID is not so bizarre and weird and deadly,” she said. “It’s like anything else. You make the best of it as you go and don’t get paralyzed out of fear, because that’s never solved anything.”
Raised mostly by her grandparents, Brianda Cervantes immigrated to the U.S. after completing law school.
Instilled with a passion for helping others, she followed her grandfather’s words — “Whatever you do, you do the best” — which led her to become one of Riverview School’s first community liaisons in 2017. She now works as school-community organizer for all of the Roaring Fork District schools.
The daughter of a traveling lawyer in Mexico, Cervantes immigrated after her grandfather’s death, leaving her homeland to live with her mother in the U.S. At first, she worked housekeeping jobs, but eventually took time off to raise her son, Freddy.
Once old enough for preschool, Cervantes enrolled Freddy at Riverview, a newly founded dual-language school at the time. Despite her lack of English-speaking skills, Cervantes’ background in law caught the attention of school staff, who repeatedly encouraged her to apply for a position at Riverview.
“It was hard, because I didn’t speak English, and I tried my best, but I didn’t think I did well,” she said. “A couple of days after that, they call me and say, well, that position is yours if you want it.”
At Riverview, Cervantes worked side by side with the school’s parent leaders, school leadership and teachers and was instrumental in establishing the school’s Family Volunteer Organization, Parent and Community Advisory Committee and student leadership projects.
Not long after Riverview opened, leaders in other district schools started to take notice.
“We did a parent survey, and we scored super high on family engagement,” Cervantes said.
When most people encounter one of the world’s largest wasps, they — perhaps wisely — walk away.
Not 13-year James Miller Roe, a Silt resident and budding entomologist.
Instead, when Miller Roe spotted a tarantula hawk, which earns its name from hunting some of the largest spiders in the world, he caught the winged terror — with his bare hands.
“I sympathize for wasps,” he said. “They are great creatures.”
Miller Roe’s love for the insect world started long ago, and the bug that started the collection was a California root borer beetle found at a neighbor’s house.
“What always keeps me interested is their world, whether it’s fungus or insects, it’s a completely different planet,” he said. “People are always interested in space, but we’re not focusing enough on the things that already exist here in our world that we just don’t get to see.”
Miller Roe has a passion for researching the things that are known in the insect world and an immense curiosity to learn about the secrets that have yet to be discovered.
“I think the insect world is so important because it has so many things that can benefit us, but no one pays attention to it,” he said. “It’s crazy how there are so many different things in a bug’s world that we can’t see that could seriously help us.”
Eight-year-old Axelle Hansen has a knack for politics and a love for snowboarding.
Elected in November as Sunlight Mountain Resort’s sixth Mini Mayor, Hansen is focused on making the mountain a safer place for young winter enthusiasts.
As the founder of the Sunlight Safety Club, Hansen plans to implement a coloring-sheet map, which could allow children to learn the mountain’s various runs before hitting the slopes.
“The idea was kind of born out of the coloring mats at restaurants,” said Alesha Marrow, Hansen’s campaign manager and mother. “She colors all the time in the restaurants, and she asked, ‘What if we could color the mountain?’”
Mini mayors are tasked with representing the resort on opening day and some public events as well as creating a policy within their first 100 days in office.
Coloring maps are just one of Hansen’s Sunlight safety improvements, and it all started in the snowy hills at her home near Rifle Falls.
“We have big hills that get covered with snow every year,” she said. “Sliding down the hill was fun, so I kept doing it. And I did ski school at Sunlight.”
The eldest of three, Hansen said her role as big sister taught her safety is more than a political slogan.
“I like (snowboarding) with my brothers,” she said. “I help them with things like not being scared to get on the snowboard and learning to trust the mountain.”
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