Kight column: Keeping holiday history alive in Glenwood Springs |

Kight column: Keeping holiday history alive in Glenwood Springs

A couple of weeks ago, the popular lighting of the Hotel Colorado was stewarded on by its new owners. The Melville family recognizes the importance of this tradition and how it honors our sense of community.

Glenwood Springs has a well-deserved reputation for being a friendly and welcoming town. Its well-lit trees along Grand Avenue during the holidays are inviting to visitors in our resort town.

What’s more, Glenwood residents have an intrinsic sense of social capital. And that got started long ago.

Let me share two historical examples, from the earliest days of Glenwood’s settlement, who likely got our ethos of giving, hospitality and social capital started. Both Katie “Mother” Bender and Louisa Schwarz were immigrants from Germany, whose pride in becoming American citizens was manifested in their generous spirits.

In 1886, Katie Bender opened The Commercial restaurant on Riverfront, now known as Seventh Street, or Restaurant Row — parallel to the Colorado River. That restaurant is now our award-winning Juicy Lucy’s, owned and operated by Glenwood Springs Historical Society members David and Cece Zumwinkle. (Before Juicy Lucy’s and after The Commercial, the space held popular watering holes the Lariat and Defiance Station.)

Perhaps because of her Dec. 23 birthday, Christmas was Katie Bender’s favorite time of year. She made holiday baskets of food for many people in town who were struggling to make ends meet. In the bottom of each basket was a carefully placed turkey. The children who came by her restaurant would get cookies, candy and an orange. Often, this was the only orange children would have all year.

In the Christmas season of 1910, Katie sent 1,871 presents to children in every state of the union. Not surprisingly, she earned the moniker “Mother Bender” from the residents of Glenwood Springs even though she had no children of her own.

Louisa Schwarz set another example of community spirit. Every Christmas, for more than 30 years, she held an open house for the children of Glenwood at the residence she shared with her husband at Ninth Street and Pitkin Avenue. Louisa would entertain youngsters by winding up her small musical Christmas tree, which spun around and played carols. Before the children left, she would pass out sacks filled with candy, her famous cookies and something from Santa.

But it wasn’t only children who were helped by Mrs. Schwarz. She sought out and entertained new arrivals and tourists, inviting them to her home so no one would feel lonely during the holiday season. Over her lifetime thousands of people experienced her community spirit and caring hospitality.

When Louisa died two weeks before Christmas in 1932, the Glenwood Post had this to say about her: “Probably no other person could be missed as Mrs. Schwarz will be missed, for few have the capacity of touching so many lives or of leading a life so full of service.”

Louisa was so well liked that after her death, her friends of the Glenwood Garden Club planted a six-foot Colorado Blue Spruce in her honor. The tree, at the corner of 11th Street and Grand Avenue, still stands. (Louisa had been one of the founding members of our long-standing garden club.)

At the dedication of the tree planting in the spring of 1933, Judge J. W. Bell gave a speech with dozens of Glenwood citizens in attendance. From 1950 until recently, the now-huge spruce tree was illuminated with Christmas lights to further honor Louisa.

Someday, the aging tree will likely be cut down for safety reasons. As time passes traditions change. But by knowing the legacy of past giving traditions in our town, we can proudly continue the same community spirit with our own caring gestures.

So, in the spirit of Louisa and Mother Bender, please consider how you might give back to community this season and into the new year. Open your home. Serve a community meal. Or help one of our many nonprofits carry out their mission with a donation of your time, talent or treasure.

Bill Kight is the executive director of the Glenwood Springs Historical Society and writes a monthly column about history. He can be reached at 970-945-4448.

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