Rancher, Carbondale teacher Pat Fender dies at 87
Longtime Carbondale teacher and Colorado Rocky Mountain School faculty member Patricia Fender, one of the last of a fading generation of Roaring Fork Valley ranchers, died at her home early Sunday. She was 87.
“Mom died very peacefully, on her own terms, just as Dad did and just as she wished to do,” her daughter, Susan Fender Handwerk, said Monday.
Pat’s husband of 59 years, Carbondale native Bill Fender, died at home, also at the age of 87, surrounded by family on Thanksgiving Day in 2013, Handwerk noted.
A springtime memorial service for Pat Fender is being planned.
The Fenders retired to their home on the west side of Carbondale overlooking the Crystal River in 2005, after having operated the Sopris Creek Hereford Ranch in the midvalley settlement of Emma for 45 years.
Mrs. Fender was born Patricia O’Neil on July 10, 1928, in Denver, the oldest of three children.
The family moved to New York and then to St. Louis when she was young.
“I can remember as a kid dreaming about moving west and marrying a cowboy,” she said in a 2013 interview she and Bill did with local historian Walter Gallacher for an article that appeared in the Post Independent shortly after Bill’s death.
“I read so much Zane Grey,” she said of the Western adventure novelist. “I remember when he died (in 1939) I ran up to my room and cried for an hour.”
After graduating from the prestigious John Burroughs School in St. Louis in 1946, Pat Fender returned to New York to attend Vassar College.
She graduated from Vassar in 1950 with a teaching degree and immediately cast her gaze westward, landing her first teaching job in Clifton, Arizona.
She spent a year there, then moved to Denver. It was that following summer that she met longtime Carbondale rancher, the late Bob Perry, who offered her a job teaching high school English in Carbondale.
“Bob and his wife Ditty gave me a place to live,” she related in that 2013 interview. “I had a room up on the third floor of their house with windows looking out on Mount Sopris.”
The Perrys also introduced Pat to Bill on an outing to the Garfield County Fair.
“It was rigged,” she admitted. But you also might say it was her dream come true.
Bill and Pat Fender were married in July 1954, and in 1960 they moved to the ranch in Emma where, in addition to cattle, they also raised quarter horses.
After teaching Carbondale public schools, Pat Fender worked for 39 years at CRMS, an independent college preparatory school in Carbondale, as assistant director of studies.
“Being an English teacher was very important to her,” Handwerk said. “Especially when it came to the use of ‘well’ and ‘good,’ she was always correcting people.
“You didn’t do good on the test, you did well, she would remind us when we were growing up,” Handwerk recalled.
Mrs. Fender was also a founding member of the Holy Cross Cattlewoman’s Association, and was a 45-year member of the Basalt Community United Methodist Church and more recently the Carbondale Community UMC.
She was also the longtime secretary for the Emma Community Trust, and was an original member of the Great Books Group in Carbondale.
In addition to Handwerk and her husband, Jeff, of Salt Lake City, Pat is survived by a son, William “Willie” Fender and his wife, Francesca, of Basalt, and two grandchildren, Derek Handwerk and Lauren Vagneur Burtard.
A full obituary will appear at a later date. Pat will be laid to rest next to Bill Fender at the White Hill cemetery above Carbondale.
As her husband also decided to do, Pat donated her body to ScienceCare of Colorado.
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