Akron

Late in the winter of 1960, Gen told us that we were moving again. She had found a new job as a public health nurse in Washington County, way out on the plains northeast of Denver. To describe her as a public health nurse is an understatement. She wasn't to be just a public health nurse in Washington County. She was going to be THE public health nurse. The Washington County commissioners had decided the county needed a public health department. They hired Gen to to set one up and gave her a budget, an expense account, an office in the courthouse, and free rein.

It was a job of exquisite perfection for Gen. She loved public health and she bristled at supervision. In Washington County, she had complete autonomy, reporting only to the county commissioners who supported her fully in a trusting, fatherly way, but kept their noses out of her work space. She could set her own hours, identify her patients, visit with them at their far-flung homes out on the prairie, and do what she did best--help people learn to take care of themselves and see that their needs were met when caring for themselves wasn't possible.

Washington County, CO courthouseThe seat of Washington County is the little town of Akron. In 1960, Akron had a population of about 1,200 people and the county's elementary, junior, and high schools. The county fairgrounds, swimming pool, and rodeo arena were on the west side of town. There was the courthouse, a Lutheran Church (and probably some others, too, but we were Lutherans, so that's what I remember), library, bowling alley, a couple of banks, a hospital, movie theater, two drugstores, a hotel, a Ford dealership, rail yards, the Vance Hatchery, a boarding house for seasonal farm workers, a florist, a grocery store, and a dry goods store. You can walk from one side of town to the other in 20 minutes. Everybody knew everybody then and probably still does. Akron was a great little town, out in the middle of the vast plains of eastern Colorado nowhere-next-to-Kansas.

We moved into the basement apartment in a house on the 500 block of Bent Avenue. The house belonged to Pax and Mary Ellen Baker, who lived upstairs with their two sons, David and Louis. Mary Ellen's parents, Mr. and Mrs. Fassler, owned the Ford dealership and lived a couple of blocks to the west. Pax worked farmland and ran cattle on family acreage north of town and was the county's game warden. Mary Ellen became Gen's friend and confidant, based in part on their common interest in health care. Mary Ellen was the leader of a group called "JUGS" (Just Us Girls), which taught first aid and conducted disaster drills for young women, with an eye toward steering them into nursing careers.

We made friends with people from school and church and with the lively Tumbleson kids across the street, where Jackie Tumbleson took care of Becky while Gen worked during the day. Sue and I walked the six blocks to school in a crowd made up of Tumblesons, Mary Ellen's sons, Carol Sisson, Nancy Vance, and anybody else who happened to be walking along Sixth Street. Mary Ellen kept an eye on us after school. Gen prospered. Aunt Dottie drove out from Denver frequently to visit. So did Gen's friend from the Martin Company, the Russian Alex, who still wasn't willing to leave his wife. I remember our time in Akron as stable, happy, and full of fun and friendship.