Vera Diemoz at 104: ‘I don’t feel any different than when I was a kid’
CARBONDALE — Vera Diemoz celebrates her 104th birthday today, making her one of the oldest residents of Garfield County — just behind Ida Toniolli, who turned 104 in January.
Diemoz maintains a cheerful and friendly disposition despite overcoming more than a century of challenges.
“Life is what you make it,” she said. “There’s a lot of things you can enjoy if you make up your mind to.”
Her parents, Joe and Aline Montover, came to the Roaring Fork Valley along with a host of other families from Valle d’Aosta on the Italian, French and Swiss border in 1908. They were greeted by her grandfather and great uncle, who paved the way in the late 1800s.
“Some of the men came over and found out that there was more work and more land than in Europe,” Diemoz explained.
“How they did it is beyond me,” she added. “In those days, life was hard. Sometimes we had it really rough.”
As a teenager, she lost two of her younger sisters to diphtheria and scarlet fever.
“That really hurt us all,” she recalled.
Even better times brought challenges. The Old Snowmass ranch where Vera and most of her 11 siblings were born didn’t belong to the Montovers, and they had to pay half of their income to the landowners.
“Sometimes you got a good price, sometimes you barely got anything,” Diemoz said. “We had what we had, and we made the best of it.”
In the 1910s and ‘20s, it was still a very remote and rural community.
“We used a horse and buggy to get to the store to buy groceries,” said Diemoz. The children had to trudge through the snow for miles to attend school, where the teacher would greet them with hot cocoa. Not everyone was so warm and welcoming, though.
“There were a few kids that spoke good English, and they used to make fun of us,” Diemoz said.
She particularly remembers one boy who used to pick on her and dip her hair in the inkwells. When she responded in kind, she got in trouble — but counted it worth it. Another time, her older brother confronted a boy about his own family’s immigrant status.
“That was the end of it,” Diemoz said. “After that, he was a real good friend.”
Her parents also put in the extra effort to be accepted as American citizens, a process which involved a court appearance and interview by a judge.
“You had to study hard,” Diemoz said. “My mother studied for two years.”
Vera grew up raising chicks and helping around the farm, and became as handy with a horse or tractor as any of the men. The family lived all around the valley — including on a ranch at the base of Mount Sopris which is now part of the Two Shoes property, and in a small house that still stands in a park in River Valley Ranch — before finally buying the Pizzotti Ranch at the near end of Jerome Park.
That’s about the time Vera met Fred Diemoz at a barn dance. They married in 1930 and moved to Silt with her father-in-law and mother, who was beginning to struggle with her health.
The couple had only one son, Stanley, who served in the Korean War and went into business before he died suddenly of an apparent heart attack. After her husband and mother passed away as well, she moved into the Manor 2 apartments in Glenwood Springs in 1978 and got a job as a housekeeper at the Hotel Denver. After a few more years, she retired to crocheting and baby-sitting.
“After that, I just took life easy,” she said.
As she aged, Diemoz kept most of her eyesight, hearing and voice, and is still able to walk using just a walker for assistance.
“I think I’m doing pretty good. I’m pretty proud of myself,” she said. “I never expected to live to be 100. I don’t feel like 100. I don’t feel any different than when I was a kid, except I have less energy.”
Over the summer, health concerns finally drove her to take a room at Heritage Park.
“They’ve been real nice to me,” she said.
It has given her a chance to make some new friends. Her remaining brothers, both in their 90s, plan to stop by for her birthday.
“A lot of people aren’t close to their families like they used to be,” she said. “People are living too fast today. I wish I could teach people about how I grew up. You planted seeds, and the seeds grew food.”
Her biggest message, though, is a broad one.
“If you’ll be my friend, I’ll be your friend. Everybody should try to get along,” she said. “There’s a lot of sadness, and life is very short.”
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Grace Wesseling is an animal lover, a cheerleader of seven years and another soon-to-be graduate of Bridges High School, class of 2021.