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HISTORICAL SOCIETY'S 20th ANNIVERSARY

Original Member Karen Griffith writes about her memories of the "early days"

The notice in the Johnstown Breeze of a call for those having an interest in starting a local historical society caught my attention back in the fall of 1987. Turning the clock back, that was when the population of greater Johnstown was something in the range of 1200 to 1800. At that time Hays Market was still located on Parish Ave and no McDonalds, Subway, Taco Bell or other fast food chain stores had appeared on the scene. The Johnstown Post Office was also in its old location north of Charlotte Street on Parish Ave, and the northeast corner of Highway 60 where it meets Parish Ave still bulged out making a distinct "jog" at that spot. Not only heading south on County Road 17 from Highway 60 and the Parish Ave intersection... but also all along the south side of Highway 60, from Parish Ave heading west... clear out to 1-25, one could view vast fields of farmland. There were no housing developments there in 1987. Nor were there housing or commercial developments on the north side of Highway 60 after you left town... and certainly nothing but agricultural panoramas heading west on Highway 60 beyond the area of the water treatment plant and the cemetery. These and other comparisons might help to emphasize the truly small town flavor that existed at that time. Oh, by 1987 Johnstown certainly did have a few newer touches to it, yet they were minor in comparison with the complexion of Johnstown today. Back then, much more so than now, at least as it seems to me. it was more old-fashion agrarian face, still obviously tied to its past, that Johnstown presented. Those who lived in and around Johnstown at that time were either decidedly long time residents or else were among a relatively small percentage who had moved into the area as newcomers.

In the 1970s my husband and I, both 4th-generation Coloradoans, had chosen the Johnstown area in which to settle and raise our children... primarily due to my own ties there with my great grandparents having homesteaded just 13-miles away and Weld County being the home ground for so many of my relatives.

All in all, my heart set on getting established and becoming as active part of Johnstown community, along with my long held historical interests, I jumped at the chance to respond to the newspaper announcement for the upcoming meeting.

There were only three or four of us at that very first Johnstown Historical Society (JHS) meeting. After that we agreed to meet regularly (meeting each month, I believe). We never wavered from that course. In total for those first years, there were only four to six of us who were able to remain active and to establish the foundation of today's Johnstown Historical Society.

The total spark and start of the JHS was initiated and led by the inspiration and dedication of Ardis Briggs. Joining her through so many resolute and hopeful efforts during those first years... with some of our initial membership gradually moving away as the needs arose to respond to other responsibilities in their lives... were; Ronnie Coats, Debbie Arndt Hernandez, Nancy Jacobson, Norm Carlson, Herb Beeten and myself, Karen Griffiths.

Working together we sought to build the foundation and to make JHS a recognized and respected name in the community. One of our first tasks was to complete all the paperwork and become officially registered with the state as far as bearing an authentic "historical Society" title, being registered as a non-profit organization, being tax exempt, etc. We further early-on discussed our so-called standing as JHS members and voted that our small group would henceforth be recognized as founding or Charter Members, with lifetime membership status. From that point on our little pioneering JHS group sought to grab any opportunity possible to raise money, to promote the group's existence, and to warmly welcome other to join us.

Included among the numerous activities we shouldered in those early years were our annual JHS booth at Barbecue Day festivities held each year in Johnstown. We also responded to the opportunity of obtaining a goodly number of bricks when a building on the old Great Western Sugar Plant property was torn down.

Without a doubt, there were so many industrious love-of-labor gatherings held and tasks taken on with just our small flock carrying the load. In regards to those bricks previously mentioned, we'd brush them off, cut and glue felt for the bottom, and secure engraved gold plaques on the front of each brick heralding The Johnstown Historical Society. These we continued to sell for years for money making purposes... as doorstops, paperweights, bookends and collectibles. We also tapped a connection for artistic services in getting annual Christmas tree ornaments made and inscribed on them was the JHS name each year's date. (I still have those first made JHS ornaments and they bring a smile to me when I hang them on our tree these many years later.)

At one time, being motivated to think big and more or less reach for the sky, we waded through the fairly intricate steps of grant writing and submitted a grant, our first... providing substantial data, argument for and projected plans toward preservation of old downtown Johnstown historic district. The benches along the commercial blocks of Parish and the corner extensions allowing for tree-planting seen along these blocks of Parish today were part of the results from that grant writing effort. What a thrill it was when the handful of us learned that JHS had actually been awarded that grant!

Of course there were countless phone calls, meetings and presentations down in Denver, and such a great deal more to add to the palette of colors of this picture of early JHS events for our dedicated little group. I'm naturally condensing a lot here... but, the award of that grant really energized is in so many ways. (Think of just three or four people constituting an historical society and pooling their efforts to write and be awarded a grant!) There was the time when, riding in an old borrowed carriage, one of our own JHS members dressed up to portray Charlotte Parish and subsequently gave a tour of the town, laced with commentary of pertinent historical facts. A friend of JHS was able to tape this tour.

Attached to this effort towards one day seeing old downtown Johnstown officially designated as an historic District, my eldest son, Travis, took over approximately 75% of the paperwork required by the state at that time (involving both research and recording) for his Eagle Scout project. Thereby all of both sides of downtown Parish Ave, the edifices along Charlotte Street (just around the corner to the west of Parish) and a portion of the lots and buildings on the street just to the west were fully documented as far as information on file in the County Deeds and Records and County Assessor's office. Scheduling a great number of community residents who volunteered to assist and instructing them on how to access county files and record information on the prescribed forms amounted to a full summer of time-consuming organizational work for my son to supervise. He had to be present 100% of the time every day at the county offices throughout that summer to see this task accomplished. With Ardis and myself present, my son later gave a presentation on the importance of this preservation project to the Johnstown Town Board. At some point afterwards, still hoping that the JHS would continue to pursue the completion of this activity seeking that Johnstown would one day feature on officially recognized Historical District, all of the related paperwork and data accumulated by my son was turned over to JHS.

Bits and pieces ebb and flow in my mind of those earlier days of JHS. Ardis, Ronnie, Debbie and myself were busy mothers and homemakers at the time, with our children active in the RE5-J school system. WE genuinely were each juggling a lot between jobs, family and dedication to the early stages of the JHS. I can recall meeting in each other's homes, laughing together and endlessly spouting off goals and dreams to aim for with our little JHS group.

From time to time back then we'd get calls from local folks wanting to donate something to JHS, with hopes that their items of historical interest would be well cared for, preserved and one day displayed in the JHS museum. Thankfully our little JHS group had taken the time to reach out and consult about this topic beforehand. As eager as we were to "jump right in," we were already making educational gains concerning some of the necessary basics required to efficiently operate an actual museum! We truly had so many dreams just out of reach, but we continued to make inquiries and to digest elementary rudiments about the responsibilities of an historical society. All in the name of preserving Johnstown's history, we longed for (and needed) a museum! One of my last active duties as a JHS member was, the same as others, to individually stand and present my own commentary in order to plea our case before the Town Board as to the need for a local museum of history.

While our perspective on developing a truly vibrant-working JHS was advancing, for many years the population of Johnstown did not mushroom or radically change at all. Much stayed the same. Although by that time there were just a few of us who constituted the active members of JHS, we seemingly didn't blink but kept right on going. We continued to speak and give JHS presentations at various community clubs and organizations, kept the JHS name alive in the local paper, and consequently more folks became aware of the JHS. Even so, people were pretty much busy being on-track with their own lives. While we increasingly received encouraging words (and even financial donation) as support from numerous residents, for quite a number of years JHS did not gain any new members, at least not those who had slices of time to attend meetings and contribute to our projects. In the calm waters of those years, when all seemed to remain so still and unchanging, the handful of us who were founding JHS members still living in Johnstown and able to remain active, continued to persevere and kept on striving for advancements with JHS and its purpose.

I cannot stress this enough. Our JHS meetings with the little cluster of us, often just three or four of us remaining as the substance of our group, were decidedly different from so many other social clubs to which I've ever belonged. No mater how weary I may have been from a day of work and duties/demand at home, I was always refreshed and invigorated by the monthly meetings and special gatherings of our tiny JHS over the span of... something like eight years. We absolutely became alive at those meetings. These was no dull spot or void of ideas when we got together.

My own impression is that our mutually held eager expectations and belief in the growth of a soundly founded and working historical society never left our thought. What's more, we honestly had a good time together, It was FUN to think of and discuss potential "one day" situations concerning the future of JHS. I consider it almost astonishing how, from meeting to meeting, we'd continue to pour our endless proposed ideas, possibilities for JHS activities, names of people to contact, avenues to further study and consider, creation of lists of events to sponsor, activities to undertake, etc. It was all immensely uplifting. This unwavering shared enthusiasm is what I believe carried us forward and, in part, was felt by the community. We may not have been attracting actively participating new members during those years, yet more and more citizens of Johnstown knew of the existence of JHS and knew our interests and devotion to the cause of the JHS. I perceive that in so many ways this is what really mattered in the long run... this element of expectation and eagerness was what carried us through those years and what kept JHS alive in peoples' minds. I'm earnestly thankful to have experienced those early times as part of JHS... to have felt and known the close pact of dedication shared among our small group.

As life does gradually move on and changes are bound to come... by the time the population began to grow in town, new real estate deals made, new faces appearing and the pulse of the community changing, I regret that by that time my life had shifted with new doors opened to me when I approached and eventually took early retirement. By then I genuinely was not at all burned out with the prospects of JHS, yet in honesty and fairness I no longer had quality time to devote to it. Even so, as I merged into other responsibilities for my family and my life, I have never ceased to keep abreast of the JHS group and to inwardly celebrate its tremendous progress. At long last newcomers appeared in the community and were interested on joining and effectively serving. New skills, talents, ideas and enterprise were tapped and JHS simply blossomed. The countless hours just that handful of us had spent during those early years of the JHS talking about ways of securing a building to use for a museum, the inspiration generated on how to finance, manage and conduct ourselves through an array of projects... from collecting oral histories, presenting workshops and programs highlighting local history, successfully building links with money making and advertising opportunities, research, recording and preserving... now, today, all of that and more is wonderfully in motion. Now JHS has a museum, a newsletter, and a tremendous amount of know-how and enthusiasm as seen from their active board along with lists of names on countless committees. What a blessed reality come true! What progress! What a profound gain for the Johnstown community!

Today's JHS workers are processing their own unique experiences, working together towards preserving that past so as to meaningfully contribute to the future. All goes hand-in-hand and is so extraordinarily special. I count myself lucky to have entered into JHS from the start and to have remained active during its notable formative years.

It is my own heartfelt joy to share these personal memories that ground me to JHS!

Sincerely,
~Karen Griffiths

From the November 2007 and February 2008 newsletters.