Citizen Spotlight: McCowns bowl into Rifle and never left
Citizen Telegram Contributor
“Citizen Spotlight” is a monthly feature profiling a longtime resident of Western Garfield County and their contributions professionally, personally and otherwise to make this area an attractive place to live. If you know someone who might be interesting to tell others about, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 384-9114.
Sandy the mechanical horse has been in Rifle since the 1930s.
Dee McCown, 64, who’s always loved Rifle’s history, rescued Sandy after the Ben-Rex Thrift Store closed. Sandy was first in the Rexall Drug store, which merged with the Ben Franklin store to become Ben-Rex. The horse has entertained generations of Rifle children.
When the Ben-Rex owner told Dee the horse was in a garage in Grand Junction, she jumped at the chance to buy it.
“That horse belongs in Rifle,” she said.
Clients come into Dee’s Sate Farm Insurance office in downtown Rifle and recall when they used to ride the horse as children. Now their children ride it.
“It still just costs a dime,” Dee said.
Dee, 64, and her husband, Larry McCown, 69, have lived in Rifle since 1981 and have grown to love it more every day.
Larry hunted in Western Colorado when he was young and fell in love with the area. He always wanted to call it home, but he and Dee never expected to move from Missouri.
Then their friends got jobs with Daniels Construction to work on area oil shale projects.
“We just came out with them and worked on that construction project,” Dee said. “It was an opportunity to move to Colorado and we took it.”
That was in 1981. After Unocal shut down its project in 1983, there wasn’t any more work.
“We were both unemployed,” Dee said. “Everyone else was moving on with Daniels Construction to Texas and other places. We decided to stay.”
Larry worked with Flatiron Structure to build the highway through Glenwood Canyon and Dee started as a secretary at State Farm. When an opportunity to become an agent in Rifle popped up a couple years later, she jumped on it.
Larry kept working in construction until 1988. That was a big year for the McCown clan. Larry had two children from a previous marriage and his older son had already graduated from Rifle High School when Dee announced in 1988 that she was pregnant.
“No one could believe it,” Dee said. “Everyone was just so surprised.”
Their daughter, Nicolle, now lives in Grand Junction and manages public relations for Club 20.
1998 was also the year the McCowns teamed up with friends who owned the Fireside Restaurant (now Fiesta Guadalajara) and opened the Fireside Lanes bowling alley.
With the exception of a short break in 2005, the McCowns owned the bowling alley until 2010 and Larry operated it.
Larry decided in 1996 that he wanted to make a difference in the community. He won a seat on the Garfield County Commission and served as commissioner for 12 years.
Both Larry and Dee have been active in the community from the beginning. Dee joined the Rifle Area Chamber of Commerce in 1985, when she became a State Farm agent, and has remained active ever since.
She won the John B. Scalzo Lifetime Achievement award in the 1980s. Larry won it just last year for all of his behind-the-scenes efforts, Dee said.
She served on the board for several years and was a founding member of the Chamber Ambassadors in the 1990s.
The ambassadors are the public relations arm of the chamber.
“We do ribbon cuttings when new businesses open and we do the business after hours events,” Dee said. “We’re kind of the goodwill ambassadors for the community.”
Lately, she’s taken a few trips down memory lane, helping to put together the chamber history for an upcoming anniversary celebration.
“When I first started with the chamber it was just in an old railroad car,” Dee said. “That was our office. And we didn’t have a budget to speak of.”
It’s grown a lot since then. Still, it’s nice to know some things don’t change. Dee’s office has been in downtown Rifle through a couple booms and a couple busts over almost 30 years.
“When we’re booming, people spread out and open businesses on the outskirts of town,” Dee said. “When we bust, everything seems to come back to the core. I knew when I bought the State Farm building, I wanted to be in the core.”
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