Your Story is Our History: Their children are at the core of everything they do
Your Story is Our History
Your story is our history
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Intro: Dorothea and Doug Farris recently celebrated 55 years of marriage. Dorothea has spent over 30 years in public service, 19 of those years on the Aspen School Board and 12 as Pitkin County commissioner.
Doug chose the outdoors as his workplace. He started working as a logger in his 20s and eventually started his own logging business. Today he works alongside his son in the business.
Today’s story is a collaboration with the Mt. Sopris Historical Society and the Immigrant Stories Project.
Dorothea: I was born in 1935 into a difficult time. My dad was a policeman, and we lived in East Orange, New Jersey. He had grown up on a farm, so I spent a lot of time in the country with my grandparents.
My mom’s parents lived with us or us with them, I was never sure about that. They were immigrants from Sweden who had come here as young people to work in the steel mills of Pennsylvania and the Holland and Lincoln tunnels.
The area that I grew up in was very urban and Mafia-run. Essex County was the headquarters of the New Jersey Mafia, so it was very clear who was in charge. If people had a problem they went to see their “Uncle Tony.” My dad was a policeman, so he always came home with stories.
The schools were good, and the teachers were excellent. When I got out of school I went to college in New Jersey and didn’t like it. So I looked through Lovejoy’s Guide to Colleges. I had never been farther than Philadelphia on a school field trip, but I decided to transfer to the University of Colorado.
Gallacher: A woman’s role was narrowly defined back then. Were you encouraged to go to college?
Dorothea: My mom’s parents were hardworking immigrants who understood the value of education. They were pretty independent, and they encouraged me to do the best that I could do. My brother and I were the first ones to go to college in our family.
My grandparents had been able to save some money, and when I decided to go to Boulder my grandmother said she would help me pay for it.
So I was able to get on the train and make my way to Boulder. I can still remember the day I stepped off the bus on campus. I was overwhelmed with the beauty of the place. I had a great time there and graduated with a degree in education and signed a contract to teach school in Washington State in the fall.
That summer I got a job as a waitress at the Jerome Hotel in Aspen. By the end of the summer I didn’t want to leave, but I knew I had to honor my teaching contract. So I went to Kirkland, Washington, and taught for two years, traveled some and eventually made my way back to the valley and got a teaching job in Carbondale. That’s when I met Agnes Farris, Doug’s mother. She was a teacher at the school, and she welcomed me and introduced me around town.
Gallacher: What about you, Doug?
Doug: I grew up here in the valley at a time when the only two career options were farming or coal mining. When I got out of high school in 1954, I wasn’t encouraged to go to college. My family didn’t have the money for it, and I had concentrated more on basketball than bookwork, so I wasn’t eligible for scholarships.
So I went to work for a few years and then joined the Air Force in 1957 before I was drafted into the Army.
Gallacher: Tell me about your family origins.
Doug: My mom’s parents were Italian immigrants who came from the Aosta Valley in northern Italy. Their last name was Blanc and they came in 1905. My grandfather was the oldest child in the family, so when his father abandoned them, he had to go to work. He grew up with nothing and often went to bed hungry. So he came to Aspen looking for a job in the silver mines.
My Aunt said that on the day he got to Aspen he went to the mine to make sure he had work and they assured him that he did and told him to come back in the morning. But he wanted to be sure he had a job so he stayed and shoveled ore for the rest of that day in his dress clothes.
It makes me emotional when I think of what a hard life he had had and how desperate he must have felt.
My dad’s family came from Missouri in 1916 when he was 4 and initially settled out on the prairie in eastern Colorado. They eventually moved to the valley like so many other Missouri families.
Gallacher: How did the two of you meet?
Dorothea: Well, I taught with Agnes, Doug’s mother, and every day at lunch the teachers would eat together and trade stories. Doug was stationed in Alaska and writing home. So every time Agnes got a letter she would bring it to school and read it to us.
In one of his letters he asked who the new teacher was. I told Agnes if he wanted to know more about me he should write me and find out. So he did and we wrote for two years before we met.
Gallacher: Did you begin to fall in love through those letters?
Dorothea: I think so. You know when you write, you share your ideas and your core beliefs, so by the time I met him I knew a lot about him.
Doug: We fell in love through our letters, and when I came home on leave we met for the first time. Those first two weeks were really difficult because we knew each other really well in letters but we didn’t know each other in person.
We struggled through some awkward time, and I figured it could go either way. But about a week before I went back to Fairbanks we went to dinner at the Golden Horn in Aspen and then drove up Independence Pass and looked down over the valley.
Dorothea: That night I think we got back to talking about what was really important to each of us as individuals. We were fortunate to start on common ground with a common agreement about what was valuable. We talked about our love for this valley, the importance of being committed to one another and caring for other people.
Doug: Something clicked that night, and here we are 55 years later.
Gallacher: What were some of the difficult times you had to get through as a couple?
Doug: We have had some financial times that were hard for a young married couple to get through. We have three children, but we should have had six. We had two sets of twins. The first set was premature, and we were only able to save one of the boys. Our next set was a boy and a girl. The baby girl strangled on her umbilical cord, and the little boy only lasted 10 days.
Dorothea: This was a really tough time for us because on the one hand losing your children brings you together because it is so personal, but figuring out how to talk about it and resolve the loss as a couple is extremely difficult.
Gallacher: For some couples that kind of loss tears them apart. How were you able to support one another through the tragedy?
Doug: It was tougher for Dorothea because she had carried those three babies. I just tried to be there to support her and hold her.
Dorothea: Doug’s mother was there, too. Her love and support really helped me as well. The community really let us know that they were there for us, and that was a great comfort.
From the day I got here I have felt like I belonged here. The love and support I felt after the loss of our babies confirmed that for me. The entire town was a family of people. I just had a profound sense of belonging.
Gallacher: I wanted to ask each of you what accomplishments are you most proud of in your life?
Dorothea: My kids and our family unity. Whatever Doug and I did in regard to our kids, it worked. They’re good kids, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.
Doug: I agree: Our kids are my most important accomplishment.
Gallacher: You both have very different interests and careers. How were you able to reconcile your differences and forge a life together?
Dorothea: I think it’s because we are both very independent people, and we respect one another’s independence. He is going to do what he wants to do, not requiring my approval but asking for my understanding, and I am going to do the same for him.
Doug: I wouldn’t be happy going to meetings at all hours of the day and night, and she wouldn’t want to run a business. Somehow that formula has worked for us.
Dorothea: Even though we have had different careers the main thing we have in common are our kids. They have always been at the core of everything we do.
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