Vera Diemoz celebrates her 100th birthday
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – Vera Diemoz, who turns 100 today, says she has no particular secret recipe for a long and productive life.
“I just worked hard all my life,” she told the Post Independent in an interview at her apartment at the Manor II senior living center.
“Even now, I do all my work,” she said, explaining that she vacuums her apartment, does her own laundry and cooking.
“I even go shopping,” she said with a laugh. “I still remember what to buy. You know, life is what you make it. You can control whether it’s bad or good.”
Even when the day starts out on a sad note, as it did the day Diemoz met with a reporter five days before her birthday, she is upbeat and quick with a smile and a twinkle in her eye.
“We had some bad news today,” she said as she invited her guest in. “My great niece passed away.” The niece was in her late 50s and suffered a heart attack, Vera reported with sadness.
Sitting up straight in a wing-backed chair, with her cane leaning to one side off the armrest, a firm gaze and a strong voice, she declared, “But I made up my mind. These next five days are mine!”
To her long-time circle of family and friends, Vera Diemoz is an inspiration.
“A remarkable lady,” said Ernest Gerbaz, 81, of Glenwood Springs. He has known Vera since the 1930s, when his father died and his mother remarried into Vera’s birth family.
“I love her spunk, I love her sense of humor, and she’s so generous and kind,” said Karla Richards, who works at the 7th Street Salon where Vera has her hair done. “She’s a wonderful example to all of us, for good health and longevity.”
Vera was born a century ago on a ranch owned by her grandfather, Joe Letty, in Old Snowmass, a ranching community about 15 miles northeast of Aspen.
For a time, Vera and her parents, Joe and Lena Montover, lived on Grandad’s ranch. The ranch, she noted, was later purchased by Harald “Shorty” Pabst, scion of the beer-making family of the same name.
Vera’ grandparents had emigrated from northern Italy, and she still has relatives there and in Switzerland, not to mention a host of local relatives.
“I’ve been over there twice,” she said proudly, adding that she also has traveled to Hawaii and Canada.
She was born into a large family – seven girls and five boys. Two of her sisters died of scarlet fever in 1926, and the family suffered through a lonely quarantine for a month.
Aside from her early years in Snowmass, she has lived and ranched all over the area.
From Snowmass the family moved to Carbondale, onto the old Thompson place south of town. Next was Spring Gulch, where the family ranched for half a decade or so, and then Dry Park, on what is now the Crystal River Ranch.
At one point her dad was running about 200 head of sheep and a herd of cattle, and growing hay.
Living through the Great Depression outside Carbondale was rough, Vera recalled. “But since we lived on a ranch, we had our own meat, chickens, butter, and we’d trade eggs in town for other things.”
The kids made their own toys, and she spent time playing marbles and “mumbledy-peg” (tossing knives into the dirt at players’ feet) with her brothers, or, in winter, sliding down nearby slopes using a cardboard box for a sled.
“We enjoyed our life,” she said. “I think we learned to appreciate things more than they (young people) do now. Now, they have too many things, and they want more of everything.”
She tried skiing, on barrel staves, but never got the hang of it, and when she tried riding a bicycle she got tangled up with a barbed wire fence, “so that was that. I stuck to horses.”
At some point, when she was still living with her family but was out of the house every day working, she got into the habit of pouring a shot of brandy for herself and her mother, “in the evening when I got home from work. And we’d have a nap.”
Living in a family of Italians, of course, she had grown up drinking wine as a matter of course. She said she kept up the brandy habit for much of her life, but ultimately decided to cut it out when she got to around 90 years old.
She married Fred Diemoz, from another of the area’s pioneering Italian families, and moved yet again to a ranch on Silt Mesa above the Colorado River. She remembers it as a broad expanse of pastureland. She and Fred lived there from 1930 until 1961.
“Now, it’s all built up with homes,” she lamented. “I was sick the last time I went down there.”
She fondly remembers the lifestyle of ranching and hard work.
“You know, when you marry a farmer, you’ve got to learn to work outside on the ranch,” she said.
She recalls growing a garden that yielded 80 quarts of canned produce one year. She raised chickens and rabbits, made her own cheese and did all her own baking, and cooked for threshing crews of up to eight men at harvest time.
In Silt, she said, there was nothing but a drug store, a small grocery store, a pool hall, post office and town hall.
“I can remember walking down the hill to go to the post office. That was about a mile,” she said. It was a hike she would do in the winter or the summer.
It was the same for the couple’s only child, Stanley, who had to walk to Silt for school. In the winter, though, Fred would mount a horse and drag a fruit crate filled with stones down the hill to break a trail for the boy.
Stanley Diemoz, who graduated from the Silt schools in 1950 and grew up to become a marketing executive living in California and Oregon, died four years ago. Fred Diemoz passed away in 1980.
Vera moved to the Manor II senior housing complex 35 years ago, shortly after it was built.
Socially active for her entire life, she recalled going to a polka dance in Basalt when she was in her 70s, and putting an elastic athletic bandage around one ailing knee before heading out.
When she got home, she said, “My knee was as red as fire, and hurt, oh, did it hurt. But I said, well, it was worth it.”
Her willingness to help in times of trouble has become a hallmark.
Gerbaz remembered that back around the year 2000, he was sick for a long time and couldn’t keep solid foods down.
“She made custard for me every day, because that was all I could eat,” he said.
Vera has a younger circle of friends and acquaintances as well, including a series of hairdressers.
These days, her hair is done by Marsha Kirkpatrick and Karla Richards of the 7th Street Salon in the Hotel Denver.
“I’ve known who she was for quite a long time, and I’ve been doing her hair now for four years,” said Kirkpatrick. “She always has a twinkle in her eye, she always walks to my shop from the Manor, and she’s always so cheery. She’s got the best attitude of anyone I’ve ever met.”
Kirkpatrick added, “I don’t know if I’d want to live to 100 unless I had her attitude. She’s had a lot of tough things happen in her life, but she couldn’t be a nicer person.”
In honor of her status as their tenant with the longest tenure, the Manor’s management threw her a surprise birthday party on Aug. 26.
Vera said she nearly missed the party by going out for her customary daily walk. Those in the know, she said, lured her into staying by insisting that she sign some paperwork.
“I was really surprised,” she said with a giggle.
A second party is scheduled for tonight at a local restaurant, and another on Saturday at St. Stephen Catholic Church in Glenwood Springs, organized by Marjorie Gerbaz, Ernest’s wife.
According to Vera’s admirers, family and friends are expected from near and far this week to help the centenarian celebrate her life and accomplishment.
“When I look back, to me, it’s like a dream. I’ve outlived three generations so far,” with the exception of two brothers, she mused.
Her health is still good, except for arthritis in her hands and knees.
“Sometimes my knees flare up, and they hurt me real bad,” she said. “But I just keep saying, tomorrow will be better.”
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