Longtime civil deputy Blakeslee set to retire
Judith Blakeslee, 74 and affectionately known as “Ma” by many of her co-workers, is retiring this month after 35 years as a Garfield County civil deputy.
“It seems like those years went by in the blink of an eye,” she said. “Almost half of my life I’ve worked for the sheriff’s department. It’s my home. It’s part of me, and I’ll really miss it.”
A Western Slope native, Blakeslee came to Glenwood Springs to be closer to her parents. She worked at the Hotel Colorado until 1980, when a friend tipped her off to the recently vacated civil position with the Garfield County sheriff.
Back then, it was a one-woman show. Blakeslee was responsible for delivering summons, complaints, notices to vacate and temporary restraining orders all over the county. When she thought there might be trouble, she brought along an escort.
“The deputies were very willing to help me,” she said. “It was a family.”
Blakeslee got into the position hoping to help people, but folks weren’t always glad to see her.
“It’s always a very emotional thing,” she said. “Sometimes it’s a surprise, sometimes they probably knew it was going to happen. Maybe they’ve lost their job. Maybe there’s an illness or an accident. Sometimes they just get down and don’t know where to turn, so they just sort of give up. A lot of times these people have no place to go and no money, and they just walk out the door and leave everything.”
Instead of buckling under the pressure, Blakeslee seized the opportunity to ease the process.
“I think the fact that I cared made it easier,” she said. “People responded well to me.”
The longest-serving member of the office, Blakeslee has worked under four sheriffs — Jack McNeil, Verne Soucie, Tom Dalessandri and Lou Vallario — and seen tremendous change in the county.
“I used to think of them as little Western towns. Now everything’s more modern,” she said. “People seemed more kind; more friendly. There weren’t as many people, so they’re weren’t as many papers.”
The Sheriff’s Office has grown, too. In 1980, the whole operation — including dispatch, the jail and even the District Attorney’s Office — was housed in a small building on the corner of Seventh and Colorado. The county hired a second civil deputy in time for the oil shale bust, and the department has continued to grow.
Blakeslee raised four children, but lost her youngest in an avalanche eight years ago. She has 11 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren, many of whom live near enough to keep in close touch.
For a multitude of reasons, Blakeslee believes the time is right to move on from the position she has devoted herself to for so long. She’s not quite ready to give it up altogether, though.
“It would be nice to come back part time,” she said. “That would mean a lot to me.”
The public is invited to a celebration of Blakeslee’s years of service beginning at 2 p.m. Tuesday and 108 Eighth St. in Glenwood Springs.
“Please join us in recognizing a truly wonderful and exemplary lady,” public information officer Walt Stowe wrote in a press release. “Meet a woman whose human and personal side shone through her daily duties at the Sheriff’s Office.”
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Recreation and travel in Glenwood Canyon will be much more hazardous due to the potential rockfall and debris flows originating from destabilized ground, rock and weakened trees burned by the Grizzly Creek Fire last summer.