Remembering Uncle Edward
He was known as the eccentric town hermit, a perpetual bachelor who many in New Castle just couldn’t quite figure out. In his later years, he didn’t regularly bathe or wash his clothes, and his Victorian house on Fourth Street, once recognized for its exquisite gardens, was known for the junk that was often strewn all over the yard when he lived alone in the place.
He was Edward Brent Jordan, Jr., and he’s the reason why his niece, LaRue Wentz, is living in this very same house in New Castle.
Jordan, who died in 1996, may still be thought of as a bit of an oddity by New Castle townspeople, but all that dissipates when you sit down for a talk with Wentz. Her grandparents, Bessie and Edward Jordan, bought the family’s Victorian house in 1906 after moving to Colorado from Maryland.
Wentz readily admits Uncle Edward was misunderstood, but there’s a lot more to it. A whole lot more.
After attending school in New Castle, Edward “E.B.” Jordan went off to college, not only completing his bachelor’s degree at Colorado College, but his master’s in California and his Ph.D. in physics in Washington state.
“He didn’t do anything halfway,” Wentz said.
He split atoms in Chicago and taught at Harvard, too.
“He was really in the forefront of theoretical physics research,” she says. “He wrote his own textbooks because none had been written.”
Uncle Edward left New Castle for awhile, but Wentz and her mother, Jordan’s sister Audrey, came back in 1945. Wentz’s father was in the Army and off to war, and so mother and daughter moved from Georgia to live with Bessie and Edward Sr. Young LaRue attended first grade here.
“That was one of my first memories of New Castle,” said Wentz. “I have little windows of time that I remember about New Castle. It seems I’ve been here forever.”
The family moved to Greeley after the war, but continued visiting the house on North Fourth Street whenever they could.
Uncle Edward would be pulled back home as well. When the physicist contracted leukemia in the 1950s – which he blamed on all the chemicals he was exposed to in his work – he moved back to his hometown and lived with his parents. His life turned to other pursuits – like recovering from cancer.
“He would say, `I’ll walk these mountains until I get well,'” Wentz said. “So he did.”
In fact, Jordan went into remission from leukemia numerous times during the second half of his life in New Castle. And using the same concentration and intellect that he employed in physics, he began to delve into other areas, like archeology, art and poetry.
He unearthed thousands of antique bottles, which he found in New Castle backyards. He collected rocks and studied petroglyphs. He conducted an enormous study of the Ute Indian Trail, which Wentz turned over to the U.S. Forest Service.
And there was more. Jordan began painting – landscapes, portraits and his own designs, using thick oil paint and bold colors. One of his paintings is a portrait of Wentz when she was 12, and is reminiscent of an Andy Warhol. It’s especially remarkable because it was done years before Warhol and the pop art movement came onto the art scene.
“I have thousands of his paintings in the basement,” LaRue said of her uncle’s work.
He also began writing poetry and published stacks of meticulously typed and bound books that reflected his life and where he lived. The poems have names like “Main Elk Creek” and “Exploring.”
Jordan also had a huge fan in his niece. Wentz remembers her uncle with a sweetness reserved only for those who are truly and completely loved.
“Uncle Edward made me feel like a princess,” she said, smiling. “When I’d come to New Castle to visit, he’d make me an English breakfast, and draw pictures with me. He was an avid fisherman and he’d take me with him and we’d catch all sorts of fish. To him, I could do no wrong.”
Wentz’s grandfather died in 1952 and her grandmother followed him in 1962. Uncle Edward continued living in the house, where his only heat was from the kitchen’s coal-burning stove. He’d scavenge at the junkyard, and paint and write.
“People in town see him one way, but I see him another,” Wentz said.
Still, there were some townspeople who were good friends of Wentz’s uncle. They include Mike Miller, a fellow bottle collector extraordinaire, and Lise Gresock, who ran a knitting business. Jane and Dennis Bradley, owners of Antiques Etc. on Main Street, were also friends. So was Fred Parrish, the local blacksmith and horseshoer.
When Uncle Edward dies, Wentz was at a crossroads. She’d raised four children and had just completed her degree in horticulture and community forestry from Colorado State University. She was living in Fort Morgan, caring for her mother, Audrey, who is still in a nursing home there. But with the house vacated, she knew where she needed to be.
“I needed to be in the house,” she said, simply. “This is where I belong.”
But when she moved back in 1996, figuring out where to work proved a bit nerve-wracking.
“I had this degree I couldn’t really use,” she said. “I kept looking in the want ads, wondering what I was going to do.”
An ad for Americorps caught Wentz’s eye. The organization gives stipends that go towards tuition or student loans for those who work for participating nonprofits. Mountain Valley Development Services was looking for help. Wentz is now the assistant director of community participation, and teaches clients how to behave and participate in public activities.
“I had no experience whatsoever!” Wentz said, laughing about her work with people who have developmental disabilities. Anyone who has seen Wentz interact with Mountain Valley clients can sense her innate ability to connect with and nurture them.
Again, her sense of destiny has come to play.
“(Mountain Valley) is where I’m supposed to be,” she said.
Wentz is also supposed to be on the New Castle Historic Preservation Committee, which reviews ideas and advises the town council.
“It’s important to preserve as much of New Castle as we can,” she said.
Her sense of place is evident in a story she tells about her uncle.
“I recently found an old video of Uncle Ed shot before he died,” she said. “He’s sitting there with dirty clothes and he’s being asked about what will happen to the house once he’s gone. He says, `Oh I have a niece. She’ll take care of it.’ I was so tickled to hear that. We never once talked about it, but I know he’s glad I’m here.”
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