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Teacher, midvalley matriarch reaches milestone

Submitted photoMargaret Darien was a long-time teacher in the Roaring Fork Valley. She passed away on her 100th birthday.
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Shortly after midnight on Thursday, Margaret Darien passed away on her 100th birthday. This story was written prior to her death. We hope you enjoy a story about a remarkable woman who left an indelible mark on the Roaring Fork Valley. This story first appeared the Valley Journal.

CARBONDALE, Colorado ” An important figure in the history of education in the Roaring Fork Valley observed a milestone when the clock struck midnight Thursday, July 24.

Margaret Darien, a lifelong resident of the Roaring Fork Valley, who taught in country schools in Emma, El Jebel, Snowmass and Catherine, was to celebrate her 100th birthday later that day.



Darien also raised a brood of teachers. Her oldest daughter, Shirley, taught for 35 years, 29 of them in Glenwood Springs. Alvin, better known as Sonny, taught in Carbondale for 30 years. Jerry’s teaching career in California spanned 28 years, and Bobby taught for two or three years before moving on to other pursuits, Shirley Darien said.

According to a manuscript Margaret Darien penned herself over the years, she was born on the Seeburg Ranch, now part of Aspen Glen, and lived there until the age of 4, when her parents moved to a ranch in the Emma-El Jebel area.



Margaret’s father, G. Major Letey, an orphan, had emigrated at the age of 12 from the Aosta Valley of the Italian Alps, near the borders with France and Switzerland. He lived with an aunt and uncle on a farm near Basalt.

According to Margaret Darien’s manuscript, her father went back to Italy at the age of 18 to serve in the armed forces for three years. He then returned to the Basalt area, and after working for a time at his uncle and aunt’s farm, brought his childhood sweetheart, Pascaline, over from Italy. They married and had four children.

Margaret attended school at the El Jebel Country School and spent three years at Basalt Union High School. She finished her secondary education at Garfield County High School in Glenwood Springs, because Basalt Union was not an accredited school, and her parents wanted her to attend college. She graduated in 1926.

Though Margaret earned a scholarship to Colorado State Teachers College in Greeley, she did not go to college right away. After attending a summer session and passing a county examination that qualified her to teach school, she began teaching at the one-room country school at Emma in 1927. Her salary was $75 per month, and she had about 20 students ranging from first to eighth grades.

The schoolhouse had neither plumbing nor central heating, so Margaret carried drinking water and coal with her.

She began teaching in the country school at El Jebel in 1929. In November of that same year she married Ben Darien during the state teachers’ convention in Grand Junction.

Margaret stopped teaching when her first child was born and did not resume until her first two children were in school in Basalt. At that time, she took a job teaching at the Wheatley School at Snowmass.

In her manuscript, Margaret tells of nearly being snowed in at the school after the county snowplow broke down one day. However, her husband, who ran a trucking company, was able to drive to the school with a dual-tired truck weighted down with coal and beat a path so that the children could make it back to the highway.

Wheatley School still stands, on the River Road, on the north side of the Roaring Fork River, just upstream from Snowmass Creek, Shirley Darien said.

Margaret Darien was the last teacher at the school before it was closed and the students transferred to Basalt schools.

“She closed that one up,” Shirley said. “She closed the Catherine School, too.”

Catherine students were transferred to Carbondale schools when the one-room school closed there.

Shirley said she and her three brothers attended the Basalt schools, while their mother taught in outlying farm communities.

“I started in Basalt in the old red school, the first year it was built, in 1938,” said Shirley. But they would sometimes visit the schools where their mother taught.

“They were all one-room schools,” she said. “My brother couldn’t believe they didn’t have a gym where you could play basketball; didn’t even have indoor bathrooms.”

She doesn’t remember much about the buildings themselves, but she recalls adding up numbers on the chalkboards, racing her mother’s students to arrive at the correct answer first.

In 1944, while Margaret was teaching in the one-room school at Catherine, Ben decided to sell his trucking business, buy the Kelley Building in Basalt and open a general store. The new business was called the Basalt Supply Co. The ground floor of the building is now occupied by MasonMorse Real Estate.

The store was indeed a general store.

“We had all kinds of meat and cheese,” Shirley said, “along with every kind of groceries.” They sold dry goods, too ” overalls, gloves, other clothing items. And, though they didn’t have room to stock them, they sold appliances such as stoves and washing machines to customers on a special order basis.

Ben also had seasonal sidelines. He shipped in and sold grapes to many home winemakers up and down the Roaring Fork Valley, Shirley said, and owned a threshing machine that he operated at area ranches at harvest time.

Margaret and Ben moved their family into the space upstairs from the store in 1944.

Margaret stopped teaching to work in the store, and the family expanded to four children during the next few years. They ran the business until Ben’s death in 1970.

Margaret returned again to teaching after her younger children were in school. The principal of Carbondale Union High School called her and requested that she come in to replace a teacher who had resigned mid-year.

The following year she filled out a second semester teaching position at Basalt High School, and then accepted a full-time job at Basalt Elementary.

Margaret later returned to the University of Northern Colorado, and finished her bachelor’s degree in 1966, 40 years after she started teaching. She returned to the Roaring Fork Valley and resumed her teaching career, retiring in 1977. After retirement, she made herself available as a substitute teacher until 1985. She also was elected to and served a number of years on the Basalt Town Council in the late 1980s.

Margaret lived in the Kelley Building until February of this year, when she moved to Heritage Park Care Center in Carbondale.

Shirley, who cared for her mother there until she moved to Heritage Park, continues to live in the building.

“We have a real normal house up here,” she said, “except it has a hallway, because it was a hotel at one time.” That long hallway provided many hours of entertainment for the four children, and eventually for six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

A rosary for Margaret will be held at 7 p.m. Monday, July 28, at St. Stephen’s Catholic Church in Glenwood Springs. A funeral service will be held at 1 p.m. Tuesday, July 29, at St. Stephen’s Catholic Church.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made in Margaret’s name to the Basalt Elementary School.

She will be laid to rest beside her husband in the Rosebud Cemetery.


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