The Sopris Sun

Dorothea Farris: This year’s Hattie Thompson Award recipient

Protector of the land, teacher and more

By Sue Gray

Sopris Sun Contributor

“To me the landscape of the West reflects the character and the strength of the men and women who call this land home. Its stark beauty suggests openness and honesty; its sharp edges encourage directness; its forest offers solace; its clear skies demand clarity; its mountains require risk. Evidence of past cultures and lifestyles mark the land.” – Dorothea Farris, from the book “A Life Well-Rooted, Women of Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley” by Meredith Ogilby.

A sense of place runs deep in Dorothea Farris, the 2016 recipient of the Mt. Sopris Historical Society’s (MSHS) third annual Hattie Thompson Award. The award is presented to a woman in the community who is bold, industrious and daring, who possesses a true love of the land and joy of learning, and whose significant contributions have enriched our community, according to MSHS Executive Director Beth White.

White said Farris, 80, who is a former teacher, a community activist and a tireless champion of environmental and historic preservation, was the obvious choice for this year’s award.

Farris’ extensive public service positions include 12 years as a Pitkin County Commissioner, 19 years on the Aspen School District Board of Education, an appointment to the Colorado Wildlife Commission by former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, board member of the National Association of Counties and the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, and founding member of the Colorado West Elk Loop Scenic Byway and the Thompson Divide Coalition.

Currently, Farris serves on the Town of Carbondale Preservation Board and is an active member of the Mt. Sopris Historical Society & Thompson House Museum board of directors. She explained that her interest in preserving history comes from a belief that “if we know and understand our past, we can use that knowledge to protect our land and preserve our lifestyle into the future.”

Farris is a big believer in the ability of community members joining together to make things better, even if they don’t always see eye to eye. “Not all of us agree on everything, but we can work together to get things done. You find common ground, and you focus on your goals.”

Early on

Farris acquired her ability to work with people early on. Growing up Dorothea Ike, the child of Irish and Swedish immigrants in a New Jersey neighborhood populated with Italians, she learned the rules of the game and stood her ground, despite feeling out of place.  

When First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt came to Farris’s school and told the students they could do anything they wanted in life, Farris took it to heart. But when she applied for college at the University of Colorado, she was told she couldn’t have her first choice of major: geology, because that was a man’s field. “Back then, women had only a few choices of career,” Farris explained, “secretary, nurse, teacher.” So she enrolled in a liberal arts program and after graduating in 1957, she took a teaching job in Kirkland, Washington.

It was then that Farris’ activism began, though she says she didn’t mean to be an activist. “I found out one of the male teachers was making $5,000 a year and I was making $4,000. So I went to the school board and asked why, and they said because men had to support their families. But the man was single, so that argument didn’t hold up.” She got her equal pay. “If you have an issue and follow through on it, you can get things done,” said Farris.

Her advice to young women interested in public service is to be bold, informed and caring. “Make sure you know what you’re talking about, that you understand the other person’s perspective … and don’t give up too easily!”

Farris came to live in the Roaring Fork Valley in 1960. She’d fallen in love with the area when she worked at the Hotel Jerome one summer during college. Soon after moving here, she also fell in love with locally-born Doug Farris, who shared her passion for the land and for helping people.  They married and had three children, and are still happily together 55 years later, now living in the Crystal Valley just outside Carbondale.

Lately

Lately, Farris’ commitment to historic preservation has been focused on the 130-year-old Thompson House located in Carbondale, former homestead of Hattie Thompson after whom the prestigious annual award is named.

With support and advice of local philanthropist Jim Calaway, the Mt. Sopris Historical Society has been forging important collaborative relationships with the Town of Carbondale, the Garfield County Board of Commissioners, Federal Mineral Lease District, History Colorado, State Historical Fund and the U.S Department of Interior, to preserve the community’s unique western heritage and open the Historic Thompson House Museum to the public.

Farris says she’s looking forward to receiving the Hattie Thompson Award at Sunday’s celebration. “My friends are going to roast me, and it should be a lot of fun.” The scheduled speakers are Garfield County Commissioner John Martin, Redstone resident Bill Jochems, and college friend Robert Fulghum, author of “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” The public is invited and is also welcome to make brief remarks.  

Another aspect of the award celebration is the debut of a new local beer inspired by Hattie Thompson and brewed by the Roaring Fork Beer Company, called Pioneering Pale Ale.

The Hattie Thompson Award celebration is being hosted by MSHS, in collaboration with Brian Leasure of Destination Holdings, Emma Danciger of Tybar Ranch and Chase Engel of Roaring Fork Beer Company. It will take place at the River Valley Ranch Barn on Sunday, Nov. 20 from 3 to 5 p.m. The event is free, but donations to the Mt. Sopris Historical Society are appreciated.

Published in The Sopris Sun on November 17, 2016.