Italians immigrants were essential to the early growth and prosperity of Colorado. They played a significant role in the development of our railroads, mines, agriculture, and construction industries. Ernest Gerbaz is a descendant of the Arbaney and Gerbaz families who helped settle the valley. Here, Ernest Gerbaz, who began his career in banking as a clerk/janitor and retired as CEO and Chairman of the Board, talks about how the early Italian immigrants succeeded.
Gallacher: Talk about the impact of Italians on the valley.
Gerbaz: They worked very hard. They didn’t rely on other people other than maybe their own to help them at their place and then they would go and help the other person at their place. The Italians worked hard and they were frugal. They became the informal bankers for so many other people in the valley, many times for other Italians. As a matter of fact, my mother and dad borrowed for our place at Redstone from an Italian here in Glenwood.
We didn’t borrow from banks, even though I was a banker, we borrowed from the Italians. We always knew somebody up the country who was the Italian banker.
Gallacher: How were the Italians able to accumulate wealth?
Gerbaz: They worked very hard and they knew methods of growing crops that they had learned of in the old country. One of the crops that was successful here in the valley was potatoes. I had an aunt and uncle who lived in Aspen and grew potatoes one year and paid off their ranch the same year with that crop.
They weren’t the only ones who were able to do that. There were many others who did the very same thing. They were able to choose the right crop. When potatoes became hard to sell in later years, many of the Italians were able to switch to other crops and still make money.
The early Italians didn’t have the playthings that you see today. They didn’t have the four wheelers and the boats, but they still had a good life.
Gallacher: There wasn’t much going on in the upper valley in those early days.
Gerbaz: No, there wasn’t. In those early years it was just the start of the settlement there. They often had to supplement their income from other means. My grandfather worked in the mines in Aspen and he also worked for the railroad. He always seemed to have additional jobs in order to gain additional capital to buy more land and more equipment, which were horses in those days.
Gallacher: Who would work the land while he was working other jobs?
Gerbaz: Some of older children and his wife would feed the cattle, milk the cows and work the land while he was away working.
Gallacher: So the whole family worked.
Gerbaz: Oh yes. It was a land of work, was what it was. But, I will always remember Sundays. Sundays were the day of visit. We would get in the car, when we lived at Redstone, and go visit someone or somebody would come visit us. It was what we always did on Sundays.
Gallacher: What would you have to eat on Sundays when people came to visit?
Gerbaz: We had fried chickens and potatoes and vegetables, which my mother grew in the garden. By the time winter came, we were pretty self-sufficient. We could get by on what had put up for the winter without going to the store every week.
Immigrant Stories appear every Monday in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent.
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