Elder growing from Rifle roots
Special to the Telegram
Mary Elder, 86, lives in the same house in Rifle where she lived with her parents when she graduated from Rifle Union High School in 1946.
She bought it from their estate and moved back into town after years living just outside of Rifle, where she raised two sons as a single mother.
Elder was born in Western Colorado, but moved around for her father’s mining work throughout her childhood.
“I was often only in a school for a year at a time,” she said, “sometimes two schools in a year.”
But the family planted roots in time for Elder to go to high school in Rifle from start to finish. And Rifle became the first and only home she has known. When she got married after graduation, she found herself moving all over the country for her husband’s work on the railroad.
“When my oldest son started school, we moved back here permanently,” Elder said. She knew she didn’t want her kids having to move all the time the way she did when she was young. “They did all their schooling right here in Rifle.”
After a divorce, Elder stayed busy.
“I worked four jobs at once for a while,” she said. “I was raising my kids on my own. I waited tables and kept books. I ran the Elks Club for a while.”
Eventually, Elder landed at the police department, where she worked as a regional dispatcher for more than 15 years. She would dispatch the Rifle Police along with some State Patrolers and Garfield County Sheriff’s deputies. She also dispatched firefighters when there were big forest fires in the area.
Even when Elder was busy working and raising a family on her own, she was involved in the community.
“I was raised that way,” she said. “My folks were very giving, and they volunteered a lot. It was different then. Back then neighbors helped neighbors. If someone needed something, you did it for them.”
Volunteering wasn’t so organized then. It was moving hay bales for a neighbor, cleaning someone’s house when she was sick or bringing a meal to a family having trouble. Elder’s mother was a nurse’s aid. Since they lived in the country a lot of the time, he mom would be the first on scene for a birthing, and she delivered several babies.
That was the kind of helping out Elder did with her parents. By the time her own children were growing, things had changed. Elder volunteered with the boy scouts for 17 years while her sons were involved and beyond. She also gave her time and effort to the Salvation Army for the better part of two decades.
Today, the Senior Center is Elder’s biggest passion.
“I was still working at the police department the first time I went up there,” she said. “Heavens, I can’t even tell you how long it has been — at least 20 years. There are all kinds of things going on up there.”
She helps with healthy lunches at the Senior Center three days a week and helps with the program to collect aluminum cans for fundraising. She sets up puzzles and shuffle board tables, sewing and knitting classes and balance and exercise courses.
Volunteering at the Senior Center has always been a good fit, Elder said.
“I’ve always been comfortable around seniors and enjoyed their stories,” she said. “Of course, now I am a senior.”
She has several friends who visit the center regularly.
In addition to her work with the Senior Center, Elder volunteers with her church and at the information center, where she worked as a receptionist part-time for about four years.
She started volunteering at the information center nearly 40 years ago, she said.
“I love greeting people from other countries and from all over this country,” she said. “It’s extremely interesting.”
Elder is proud of the center and all it offers.
“So many of our own people here in town have never been up there,” she said. “When they come, they’re just amazed. We have so many birds and animals on display. Most of them are on loan from the Division of Wildlife, except our lion. That was donated to us.”
Elder enjoys talking with visitors and newcomers about Rifle. It’s a rich community filled with good people. It has gotten a lot bigger than it was when Elder grew up, and people don’t look out for each other the way they used to, she said. She has a neighbor she hasn’t even met yet. That certainly wouldn’t have happened in the old days.
“But I can see some good in the changes,” she said. “I’m just not sure how to describe it.”
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