OK, it’s an official tradition. You may recall how last year Boulder Weekly decided to celebrate “turning 22 by celebrating you.” That’s to say we used our anniversary issue to profile people in Boulder County who — through their volunteerism, business practices, personal efforts or employment — make our communities a better place to live. Well, it was such a hit we’ve decided to make it an annual affair.
From this 23rd anniversary issue forward, until we change our minds (just kidding), BW will use its birthday to celebrate the people behind the scenes, the ones far from the limelight who are making the world a better place.
Call them what you will — good Samaritans, do-gooders, angels, kindafarians or just really nice people — the one thing we can all agree on is that we owe a debt of gratitude to all the people on the following pages. But just between you and me, not one of them would ever seek such recognition. Nope, these are the kind of folks who do what they do for the love of it and because they understand the importance of giving back. For them, accolades or financial gain are not really a part of the equation. The fact that some of them make their living from what they do is simply a bonus. Let’s just call it karmic payback.
No kidding, it was hard work just convincing most of these people to let us tell you about the good stuff they do. Did I mention that humility tends to go hand in hand with service to others? It does.
Doing an issue like this is always meaningful for all of us here at the Weekly, but especially so this year. That’s because it’s our job to get caught up in all that’s wrong with the world — and I don’t have to tell you that there’s plenty going wrong these days to keep us distracted. It’s pretty easy to lose sight of the many good things happening around us.
Watching the news of late makes me feel like I’ve mistakenly tuned in to some state-controlled news broadcast in the aftermath of a military coup: journalists jailed; tear gas and concussion grenades unleashed on protestors in the capitol city; federal workers gagged from talking in public or to the press; science and common sense banned from the government work place; draconian mandates passed with the stroke of a dictator’s pen.
Just this week, our associate publisher realized he had a panic button on his key fob. He decided to push it just five days into the Trump presidency. I’m not sure what took him so long. Let me save you some trouble. All he got was a lot of noise and then Trump approved the Keystone XL and DAPL pipelines, which is to say the button didn’t work. Apparently there is no simple solution to the mess we’re in so we’ll have to take a more serious approach to helping ourselves and our readers navigate this new and dangerous world. And we promise we’ll use our 24th year to do just that.
But not this week.
This week we’ll take a break from all the turmoil to celebrate our birthday and reflect on what it means to have been Boulder County’s “true independent voice” for nearly a quarter of a century. For one week we want to bask in the knowledge of the many good works that so many of you are doing every day. It’s important that we do this because we understand reaching out to our neighbors and offering a helping hand — whatever the need — has never been more important. We have to be our own social safety net now.
Let’s face it, we are all in this together. The time for identity politics has passed. We will either pull together to confront our current challenges or we will all share the same fate; namely the loss of our country as we know it and ultimately the loss of our planet.
That said, we hope our special 23rd anniversary issue inspires you, the same way the many people featured in this section have inspired us. I truly believe that nothing and no one can defeat us if we love, encourage and serve each other.
— Joel Dyer
Dana Deirchsweiler: Turning loss into love
by Caitlin Rockett
When Dana Derichsweiler and her brother Rocky were around 4 or 5 years old, they had their tonsils taken out together. Some 30 years later, Dana gave Rocky a kidney.
“When it happened, we’re in separate rooms … I remember them wheeling me down to see my brother the next day,” Dana says. “My family was there. Everyone left the room, and they wheeled me in there and we sat; he’s in bed and I’m in a wheelchair and we didn’t say a word.”
Dana, usually a fast talker, tells the story slowly.
“I have big tears in my eyes right now because that’s how we did,” she explains. “He didn’t have to say anything. Of course he was grateful — over and over and over he told me a million times. [But that day] he didn’t have to say anything because he knew I felt it.”
Rocky lived an active life for five more years thanks to his sister, cycling and hiking and just living life.
He had a favorite ride in Pueblo, where he lived. It was out at the reservoir, a place called Pedro’s Point. Rocky told Dana that every time he rode his bike out there, he stopped and silently thanked his sister for the gift of life.
Rocky was 49 when he passed — cancer struck the final blow — leaving behind a grown son and a grieving family.
“It was as much grief as I have ever experienced,” Dana says. “Anyone who has lost a sibling that they are close to… it was really something. I had to do something. That’s what ended up happening.”
What ended up happening was classically Dana, the kind of girl who never sits still for too long: Along with her wife, she founded the Kirk “Rocky” Derichsweiler Memorial Foundation (KRD) to support all the things Rocky cared about the most: organ donation, spreading the love of bikes and just plain old helping people.
In the five years since the foundation got rolling, KRD has provided substantial donations to charity program across Colorado. Their work dispels myths and fears about organ donation, and provides kids with bikes and helmets and outdoor experiences they might never have been able to access otherwise, all in honor of her brother’s life.
At the heart of the foundation is Dana’s business, the Walnut Cafe. Each spring since the foundation’s inception, a fundraiser has been held at each of the Walnut’s three locations, with all proceeds going to KRD.
Dana was blown away by the generosity of the community in the first year of KRD, even while she was experiencing the anxiety of fundraising for the first time.
“When people are fundraising and they ask for money, you’re like, ‘Here’s $25 or $50 or $100,’ and you write a check; I’ve done that my whole life,” Dana says. “But it was a different situation [when we started the foundation]. Now we’re asking, ‘Will you write a check? Will you entrust me with your hard-earned money to do good?’”
Boulder’s had no trouble entrusting Dana with their money: Just last year, Dana says KRD was able to give $20,000 to various organizations on Colorado Gives Day.
One of KRD’s biggest yearly donations goes to Community Cycles’ Kids Holiday Bike Giveaway; their donation has made the event possible for the past few years, allowing Community Cycles to give away 200-300 bikes to low-income children.
KRD also donates to Assisted Cycling Tours, a nonprofit organization in Arvada that uses bike trips to promote health and independence for people with disabilities.
Dana says Assisted Cycling Tours recently started a bike mechanic program that helps folks with disabilities learn marketable skills — something her brother, a bike builder himself, would have loved.
Further south in Pueblo, KRD supports Rocky’s Riders, a program through the Boys and Girls Club. Last year, KRD provided the organization with mountain bikes and a trailer to haul the bikes so kids can take day trips to trails.
One of KRD’s newest recipients is the Chris Klug Foundation, a national organization that promotes organ donation education, particularly for young people.
Dana does some educational talks of her own, and even created a sheet of “tips and tricks” to help kidney donors bounce back after surgery.
“There are a lot of things that I’ve learned that make it easier and recovery better,” she says. “I’ve talked to I bet a dozen people who have sponsored that surgery. I put my name out there and tell people they can call me if they want to talk about it. It’s so much easier to talk to people who have done it — someone who is gonna tell you the truth.
And yes, she says, the truth is it hurts. It’s painful.
“That being said, do I think it’s one of the greatest things you can do in your life? Yes,” she says. “You can’t imagine the connection you have then, having given someone the gift of life. It’s a connection that you’ll have forever… and it’s a gift you get that the donor gets. You give something but you in turn receive.”
Dana has made sure it’s easy for the community to give throughout the year by just stopping by one of the Walnut Cafe’s locations and ordering Duzer’s breakfast burrito, named after one of Boulder’s favorite adventurers, Ryan VanDuzer. Last year, sales of the Duzer burrito raised $5,000 for KRD.
This year Dana hopes to find a partner that can commit to matching dollar-for-dollar funds raised through Duzer burrito sales.
Rocky’s death left a void in Dana that nothing can fill, but she finds solace every day knowing he would have loved the work she does in his name.
“It’s easy for me in a heartbeat to tear up and think about how much I miss him,” she says. “But every time we get to do something in his honor, I think it helps heal just a little.”
Oakleigh Thorne: 88 years old and not slowing down
by Amanda Moutinho
On a snowy January day, Oakleigh Thorne sits in an empty classroom at Thorne Nature Experience, overlooking Sombrero Marsh and the Flatirons. While the classroom is empty now, in the spring it will be filled with second graders who will learn about the plants and animals that surround the building.
The program and the organization are all a product of Oak’s work from the past several decades promoting environmental awareness in Boulder. It’s all in a day’s work for Oak Thorne, and yes, that’s his real name. He was named after a distant cousin who lived in New York on the family farm, which the Thornes have owned since the 1700s. Nature has always been an important tenet in the Thorne family and Oak continues to spread that legacy.
Oak’s interest in environmental education started in his undergraduate days studying biology at Yale in the late ’40s. One summer, he worked with kids at an Audubon summer camp in Connecticut. When he went on to get his master’s degree in conservation at Yale, Oak was tasked to find a project for the summer. He stumbled into a fundraising mission to save a forest on Fire Island. He secured some grant money for the group, which eventually became a new nonprofit known as The Nature Conservancy. That’s right, Oak procured the first grant for the Conservancy that now fights for the environment across the globe.
A couple years later, Oak came to the University of Colorado Boulder to get his doctorate in biology. After working with The Nature Conservancy, Oak was inspired to start his own nonprofit, later opening Thorne Ecological Institute.
“I had no idea what we were gonna do except ecology, education and conservation — nice big [words] like that we put in our charter,” he says. “And here we are, 63 years later.”
The organization then served as a catalyst for establishing several other environmental groups including The Nature Conservancy’s Colorado chapter, the Sierra Club’s Colorado chapter, the Denver chapter of Audubon, the Keystone Science Center and Aspen Center of Environmental Studies.
Almost a decade ago, Thorne Ecological Institute rebranded to become what it is today, Thorne Nature Experience, focusing more on youth education. While that’s been a principle for some time — his summer camp is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year — it’s now the main focus of the organization, providing field trips and after- and in-school programming.
Oak has stepped down from running the nonprofit, and now focuses on fundraising and teaching. He leads classes on bird banding, which helps to track movements of individual birds, a practice Oak has been federally licensed to do since 1947.
“The kids learn how to take them out of the net and how to open the band and how to put the bands on. Talk about getting them away from the computer games!” he says. “Here they are, they’re out catching wild birds and banding them, and they love it. They come back year after year.”
Passing on a passion for nature is important to Oak, especially imparting its value on kids.
“They’re our future leaders,” he says. “Because of global climate change and the way the habitat is being destroyed, they need to understand about the importance of the environment in the broadest sense.”
Outside of his organization, Oak has been an integral part of preserving the City’s open space. He was on the first Parks and Recreation Advisory Board in the ’60s. He also served on CU’s Natural Area Committee, which identified natural areas around the city that were important to the university, and he helped to create People’s League for Action Now (PLAN) Boulder County. So thanks to Oak and his friends, Boulder boasts open green belts and areas like Enchanted Mesa and Settler’s Park, which Oak named himself.
His list of community contributions doesn’t stop there. He’s also heavily involved with CU, in the past volunteering his time as a mentor and currently as co-chair for the science and tech committee of the Conference on World Affairs, which he’s helped with for the past 15 years. But perhaps Oak’s biggest contribution to CU is a capella, notably starting the CU Buffoons over half a century ago.
Oak had been an active member of the Yale singing group the Whiffenpoofs. And when he was finishing up his doctorate at CU, they came to perform in Boulder.
“When I introduced them, I challenged the audience to start a group. This is in 1962 and Don Grusin and Roger Nelson came up to me after and asked, ‘Oak, will you help us start a group?’ And they asked for some vocal arrangements they could sing, and I said sure.
“Then they made me sing with them,” he says. “I was 34 years old, and I pretended to be an undergraduate for a year, and it was really fun!”
The group made a 10-inch LP at the end of the year, and the CU Buffoons was officially launched. Oak still acts as an informal mentor to the group.
“I’m going to their rehearsal Thursday night to help them with an arrangement of ‘Georgia on my Mind,’” Oak says, before listing off the names of the multiple other CU a cappella groups he assists as well.
For Oak, helping the community was something that was drilled into him in his early schooling and at Yale. But over the years, he says, “I find… it’s much more fun to give then it is to receive.”
And at 88 years old, he’s not slowing down, whether in volunteering or in work.
“When people ask if I’m retired, I punch them in the nose,” he says with a laugh. “No! I love what I’m doing. Why would I retire?”
Patty: Living in their shoes
by Angela K. Evans
Patty buzzes around the brand new OUR Center building in Longmont talking to everyone she sees. She directs people to the nurse if they’re sick, makes others laugh and always inquires about where their pets are. Having volunteered at the center off and on for a decade, consistently for the last four years, it seems she knows everyone.
Once the questions start, Patty is eager to refocus the conversation off of herself, quick to talk about all the other volunteers who she says do much more than her, or have been helping out for longer.
Founded in 1986, the Outreach United Resource (OUR) Center is a community-based nonprofit offering food, clothes and other services to help Longmont residences challenged by the high cost of living achieve self-sufficiency. Patty spends 10 hours a week in the Community Market, walking patrons through the different sections of food: produce, canned meals, meat and dairy. She helps them pick out the proper type and amount and perhaps more importantly, she listens to them.
“People will tell you practically their life story in the five minutes you’ve got them, giving them food,” she says. “Because they want somebody to talk to who cares and I do, I care, otherwise I wouldn’t be here helping people.”
Patty first visited the OUR Center at its old, smaller location across the street in 1997 as a recipient of the program’s services, after her husband injured his back on a construction site. The couple would get some groceries at the market and stay for lunch, which is where she first met her friend Jim.
“He had just wound up homeless. He used to build houses and somebody stole all his tools. He didn’t have any money to buy new tools so there went his business, there went his truck, his mobile home,” she says. “Jim is the main reason I got to know a lot of homeless people. … Jim showed me a true need, there are people that are homeless that really need help.”
At the time, Patty and her husband were already handing out free pet food in the community. “Longmont knows me as pet food Patty,” she says. “We get it donated and then we give it to people who are indigent who have pets.”
But after hearing Jim’s story, she realized she could do more. She thought, “The OUR Center is helping me with all these free goodies so I can come help back.”
So in addition to handing out free pet food, which she does to this day, she started volunteering when she could, while also cleaning houses full time. After semi-retiring four years ago, the overly energetic Patty knew she couldn’t just stay home all the time. “I can’t just sit on my butt and drive my husband crazy,” she recalls.
These days she commits at least 10 hours a week to volunteering at the center. And she’s happy to volunteer more if they need her. She came in on her day off to talk with Boulder Weekly, and stayed after to see if there was anything she could do to help out with the Community Cafe’s free lunch service.
Sadly, Jim passed away on Father’s Day, last year. After the 2013 flood, he had lived on and off with Patty and her husband, helping with the gardening and snow removal, joining them for meals. Although Patty obviously misses her friend, becoming emotional when talking about him, he still inspires her in the volunteer work she does and will continue to do so, she says.
“People just don’t realize. They see someone standing on the corner and think, ‘That poor sucker.’ That poor sucker, my butt,” she says. “You live in their shoes. I saw it through Jim, I saw it through his eyes.”
OUR Center policy is to keep last names private, which is why BW has only used Patty’s first name.
Billy Williams: Business with purpose
by Joel Dyer
When it comes to making a positive difference in our communities, there are myriad ways to go about it. We can write a check to individuals or organizations; volunteer; find a job that allows us to help others in some way; or, as in the case of entrepreneur Billy Williams, we can create a business model that takes all of this and more into consideration.
Williams is the owner of Boulder’s Urban Mattress store at 2830 Arapahoe Ave. He’s the company’s original founder and says he created his own line of mattresses after growing frustrated with what he saw as a lack of quality products he could source through existing manufacturers.
You could say he saw a problem and evolved his business model to fix it. And it’s that sort of pragmatism and creativity that is allowing his business to address other problems of the social nature as well.
Williams franchised Urban Mattress, which now has 13 locations. All of the stores are expected to give back to their communities and he’s currently working on a plan that would allow them to address larger societal issues together, but that’s still in the planning stages.
His Boulder store, on the other hand, is already engaged in the effort to “do the right thing.”
It starts with the people Williams hires. “We bring on only quality people, customer-service-oriented people and we pay them a livable wage,” he says. “We pay more because it’s the right thing to do. Even our delivery drivers are making between $15 and $17 an hour.”
A commitment to paying livable wages is no small thing in Boulder where the housing crunch has seen rents skyrocket. But some of those Williams hires are as focused on giving back to the community as he is. He specifically singled out Ken Miller, whom Williams describes as Urban Mattress’s “community liaison.” Ken “drives around in our Urban Mattress Jeep connecting members of the community with services they might need,” he says.
This relationship has helped to foster Urban Mattress’s involvement with Boulder’s Emergency Family Assistance Association (EFAA) among other organizations. “We mostly provide product to [EFAA]. Some people can’t afford a decent mattress and when you consider we spend one-third of our life in bed it’s a big deal.”
Another project where Williams and Urban Mattress stepped up to the plate was in the creation of the book Until They Have Faces: Stories of Recovery, Resilience and Redemption, which the company helped sponsor.
The book tells the real life stories of 42 members of Boulder’s homeless community as well as shed light on the people and agencies in Boulder County that specifically work with this population in need. Each of the 42 profiles were created by a different writer while all the photographs in the book were taken by David Page.
The goal of book was to put a face on the homeless so we can begin to see them for the people they are as opposed to merely a statistic, and it also serves as a fundraising tool. Until They Have Faces sells for $35 and all proceeds directly support Boulder Outreach for Homeless Overflow and Bridge House.
Williams and Urban Mattress are a perfect example of the important role the business community can play when it comes to making Boulder County a better place to live for all of us.
John Ellis: Paying it forward so Boulder County agriculture
will have a future
by John Lehndorff
If you find yourself thinking fond thoughts right now of warm Saturday mornings at the Boulder County Farmers Market (BCFM), you might want to pen a thank-you note to Farmer John.
“Farmer” isn’t John Ellis’ first name but it might as well be. That’s how everybody has known him for decades.
John has been working, sometimes quietly and occasionally pretty loudly, to keep local agriculture alive in Boulder County since he started farming while still a student at Fairview High School, then located near Baseline Reservoir. Over the decades he has helped launch the BCFM, supported sustainability efforts, served on countless committees and worked to make sure there is a next generation of Boulder farmers.
“Farmer John has a reputation for always being willing to lend a hand or a piece of equipment from his sizable collection. He genuinely cares about his fellow farmers,” says Brian Coppom, executive director of the BCFM.
As far as John is concerned, agriculture has always been built on paying it forward. “That has gone on since the very beginning of farming. Older farmers had always helped the younger ones. We had a neighbor when I was growing up, Bob Clynck. From when I was 8 until I was 16, I followed him around constantly and learned what it took to be a farmer,” Ellis says.
Asked to share some of the advice he got, Ellis says: “I couldn’t repeat most of it except ‘Always check the oil.’” The old farmer’s “tips” were mainly variations on “Don’t be stupid!” he says.
John comes from a family that had farmed in Ohio and he has farmed his whole life in Boulder County. He’s as close to a native son as possible, but like many locals he first arrived as a tourist. “My family came out from Ohio on vacation near Nederland. My dad was a machinist and applied for work at the Rocky Flats plant. We moved here when I was 7,” he says.
When his parents bought the farm on the southwest corner of 75th Street and Valmont Road in the 1960s, it was the last acreage still being worked by a team of draft horses. It had something else: irrigation. The family grew sweet corn, pumpkins and blue spruce trees at their Evergreen Acres Farm, which is now Cure Organic Farm.
The first thing John remembers growing were strawberries and sweet corn, which got sold at the family farm stand. “Boulder has never been as agricultural as Longmont. The interest here grew after the farmers’ market started,” he says.
The Boulder County Farmers Market now seems like an essential part of what makes Boulder special. Virtually every travel story written about the city now mentions the market as one of the nation’s best along with the foodie culture it has helped to support, but it took a while to convince locals that the idea had merit. Although, farmers did start selling some vegetables and fruits on the Boulder County Courthouse Lawn during the early 1980s a few years after the Pearl Street Mall was installed.
“About a dozen of us farmers met with the city to talk about setting up a summer market. We involved the University of Colorado in choosing the best site and they ended up choosing the 13th Street site where we have been ever since,” Ellis says.
The importance of the market, beyond supporting local agriculture, became apparent immediately. “It added a sense of community for the students and the people moving here who believed in local food. It was perfect timing. We had Alfalfa’s Market for local produce but there wasn’t any place to come together,” John says.
The BCFM that opened in 1987 was quite small compared to the current sprawling complex. “We had stands at the farm but those are different. We were learning as fast as our customers in Boulder were,” he says.
The first thing they learned was that only one thing mattered: locally grown food.
“We went and looked at a lot of farmers’ markets. Farm to customer was the whole point. What drew people was local food and not just another flea market. Making it all local-grown produce was our best decision. In the early years there was a vendor set up who pulled out a crate of lemons. I told him: ‘You can’t sell those here.’ He looked real surprised,” John says.
It also took some time for shoppers to understand why fresh-picked farm produce was worth it. “Sometimes you have to beat people in the head with the celery so they understand why it’s better to get the same item grown just down the street,” he says.
Among the folks selling produce along with Farmer John is Cure Organic Farm. He was renting his old family farm at 75th Street and Valmont Road to another grower when he ran into Anne Cure. “Anne was a really good vegetable grower. I told her: ‘You need to farm this place.’ She had no knowledge of machinery when she started up so I helped her with that. Now she grows 100 or more kinds of produce,” he says.
Cure Organic Farm provides produce to Boulder Valley School District cafeterias, grows vegetable and herb starts for the schools’ Growing Gardens program, and it hosts farm camps for kids.
While the weather has always had its ups and downs including the devastating 2013 floods, the climate is a greater concern, he says. “The climate in Boulder County has changed in the last 40 years. The seasons have shifted. New weeds and diseases are moving in that weren’t here before and new insects predominate. Is it because of climate change or GMOs? I worry about the next generation of farmers and of humanity,” John says.
John talks about irrigation ditches as being as essential as sunshine for farming in parched Boulder County, and he has served on the boards of various local ditches. The low-paying gig involves dealing with disputes between ditch users and the owners of property through which the water flows and a knowledge of Colorado’s famously complex and centuries-old water law system.
At the age of 68, John would be a geezer in any other profession, but he is far from the eldest farmer in the valley. He has a 76-acre farm near Niwot where he grows hay, wheat, pumpkins and other vegetables. He also owns a 6-acre peach orchard in Palisade. He sells his produce and freshly ground wheat flour at the markets in Boulder and Longmont. Two notable restaurants, The Kitchen and Arcana, use his wheat on their menus.
“I’m starting to realize I’m not so young any more so I want to see things happen soon,” John says. He says he would like to see composting grow on a much bigger scale in Boulder County, and an expansion of programs to provide vouchers for fresh produce for at-risk women, children and seniors.
He talks to farmers and bakers about growing grain at the Grain School at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. Calling it “the more left-leaning farmers’ organization,” John is also involved in the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union. “There is a bunch of new farmers in their 20s, 30s and 40s who have a lot of enthusiasm for farming,” he says.
“The future farmers in Boulder County will be small family farmers selling locally, not commodity farmers. They’ll grow a variety of crops instead of a monoculture. I can’t imagine sugar beets being a viable crop in Boulder County. You’ll see more green houses with more produce sold directly to restaurants and schools,” John says.
This year, Farmer John is once again running for the board of directors of the Boulder County Farmers Market. “This is really in my heart. I want the best for this community despite how much I complain about everything,” he says with a chuckle.
Hannah Leigh Myers: Volunteer progressive radio journalist
by Sarah Haas
It’s barely 8 o’clock in the morning and from the still of the winter air comes a warm voice, sure and trustworthy.
“Good morning, you’re listening to KGNU community radio, Boulder, Denver and Fort Collins. This is your Friday Morning Magazine and I’m your host, Hannah Leigh Myers.”
She looks at home here, inside the station, as if she’s always had a place among the aged radio broadcasting equipment. From behind the mic she plays pre-recorded news features and promos, reads scripts she wrote in the wee hours of the morning and coordinates live guests in the studio.
But, like any good radio host, the steady calm of her voice gives no hint of all the action behind the scenes.
As soon as she’s done here, Myers will head off to a greenhouse in Louisville where she works tending to and growing orchids. She’s also a dedicated wife and homemaker and, in whatever free time she has left, is spent pitching radio stories to other outlets as a freelance journalist. She loves her life and you can tell a big part of her heart is wrapped up in her volunteer work at KGNU.
When she talks about her responsibilities with the station she sounds like it’s her primary job: driven by its mission to inform her community and completely committed to the ethics of integrity and honesty at its core.
“Community radio adds something that a community deserves — free. To be able to turn on a dial and have someone on the other end telling them what’s happening this week that will be affecting them — that is a right and I am committed to ensuring it is there. It is my duty. It just so happens to also be my privilege.”
But when she turns to talk about what she loves most about radio production, her voice takes on a softer, more poetic tone.
“You’d be surprised how much you can discern in a voice, when you take away the distraction of visual elements, the truth becomes more apparent,” Myers says. “For me there’s just something beautiful about unadulterated sound, like in the crackle you hear in the throat right before a person begins to cry or the wordlessness of ambient sounds.”
Since graduating from the University of Colorado Boulder with her bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2012, Myers has donated over 2,500 hours to KGNU. At first she just came in on Thursday mornings to write headlines and soon moved on to produce news features covering arts, news, social justice and environmental issues. Now, she also regularly hosts the station’s Friday morning news program as well as various panels and call-in shows.
KGNU relies on volunteers like Myers to broadcast as an independent, non commercial radio station in Boulder and, more recently, all the way up and down the Front Range.
Established in 1978, KGNU has spent 24 hours a day for the last 39 years delivering independent news and music as a community resource, shining a spotlight on the people, groups and issues that are often ignored or underreported.
Maeve Conran, news director at KGNU says it’s hard to get accross the amount of work it takes to put community stories on the air, crediting generations of volunteers for making it possible.
Looking forward though, Conran admits she’s worried about the future of local journalism. Local news has never been so depleted and, amid the turbulent political climate, it has never been more sorely needed.
Across the country, community radio stations and local newsrooms are shrinking and shuttering as audiences, budgets and staff shrink. Today there are half as many journalists working in local dailies as there were in 1990, according to Nieman Lab. This means there are less reporters covering increasingly nuanced stories in polarized communities, less local stories to fill in the picture of national and global affairs.
“Young journalists like [Myers] give me hope for the future in this time when the very essence of journalism is under unprecedented attack,” Conran says. “[The KGNU news department] could not do what we do without volunteers like [Myers]. That’s not hyperbole, that’s fact. As we enter into 2017 and a new political landscape, we need her now more than ever.”
“Everybody in community radio knows that the format is struggling,” Myers says. “But everybody that’s at KGNU or who tunes in to listen has the sense that this is really valuable, not just because it’s providing important local news, but because it’s deeply committed to the well being of the people who live here.”
Myers says that there is a tendency to write off progressive platforms like KGNU and she herself has been called a “social justice warrior” as a pejorative term, as if to point to bias in her reporting.
“I think most people at KGNU would agree that if caring and standing up for people that are struggling to do so on their own, or aren’t able to do so on their own, makes you a ‘social justice warrior,’ then so be it,” Myers says. “I will beat that drum everyday if I need to. I think there is a deep sense of empathy at KGNU, and I am proud to be a part of it.”
Karen Moreno: First generation college grad helps Longmont kids
by Rob Jackson
Twenty-eight-year-old Karen Moreno arrived in the United States from Mexico in the late 1980s as a 1-month-old baby. After following agriculture work from Texas to Wyoming, her parents decided it would be best for their young family to settle down, and they chose Longmont to raise Karen and her three younger siblings. Karen attained citizenship at the age of 7, navigated public schools, witnessed an extended family member join a local gang, and overcame difficult odds to become the first from her family to attend college, graduating from the University of Colorado Boulder in 2011. After working for several youth programs around the Front Range, she returned to Longmont in 2015 to work with high-risk youth as youth program specialist for the City of Longmont.
Karen’s accumulated life experiences are proving their value as she is now able to serve as a tremendous resource and mentor for younger generations. Between all the programs she helps run, she’s like a second mom to a whole school’s worth of kids; they just so happen to be hundreds of high-risk youth from schools all around Longmont. Karen mentors third and fifth graders at their schools, she runs leadership groups in high schools and helps students apply for post-secondary education and fill out their Free Application for Federal Student Aid forms. She also builds lasting relationships with kids in the after school programs at the Longmont Youth Center and the recently launched Countryside Village after school program. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Another part of her job entails working with the Gang Response and Intervention Program (GRIP), an inter-agency and community collaboration to combat gang activity. Ten years ago, Longmont had approximately 486 gang members. Today that number has been reduced to about 86, thanks in large part to the GRIP program. Similarly, the 14 gangs that once roamed Longmont’s streets has shrunk to two. The last major incident of gang violence in Longmont occurred in 2014. Such is the impact of community collaboration led by passionate, energetic and capable people who can very much relate to the youth they work with.
GRIP Community Coordinator Louie Lopez speaks glowingly of Karen: “She represents the next generation of leaders for youth in the Longmont community and is really doing outstanding work.” Now that gang activity has been quieted to a large degree over the past decade, Karen says that helping kids through mental health issues has become the largest area of need.
Karen loves her job because she is able to impact a tremendous number of kids in her hometown and help them to understand their worth, potential and how to pursue positive life choices and goals. “For many kids, their whole lives they’ve been told that they are troublemakers and that they are bad,” she says. “And they are not. They are just misunderstood.”
She describes how programs like the leadership groups at Columbine High School can make a major difference in the lives of at-risk youth. “It does create an impact where they become stronger and they feel like they have a voice. Because I feel like people have been telling them that they don’t.”
She says that even her youngest high-risk Latino students hear things like “go back to Mexico” at school, but concedes that she too heard things like that when she was growing up. And she feels that many school counselors were neither helpful nor understanding as she was going through the process of researching and preparing for life after secondary school, so she understands very well the challenging situations that today’s kids are dealing with.
Karen says she’s excited about the future and points to the first ever Latino Youth Leadership Conference for Longmont that is now in the works as an example of the good things to come. But her biggest pet project is to create a mentorship program wherein community members can engage as volunteers at a city-wide level to mentor high-risk youth. She says that community interest from willing volunteers is immense and a pilot program is in the planning stages. She hopes that within a couple of years Longmont will have a full volunteer mentorship program.
“The earlier you start mentoring kids the more opportunities they see are open to them,” she says.
For Karen, much of her work is about building connections so kids can still come to her as a resource later on in their lives. She still communicates with youth from her prior jobs and says she never wants to leave the kids she has worked with hanging in the balance. Although she has no problem with the field, she is concerned that many local school counselors push higher risk kids into trades like cosmetology rather than encouraging them to consider and pursue all of the other options out there, including higher education. Karen is working to change that. And she’s a shining example of what can happen when the youth of Longmont tackle their dreams head on.
Jeff Richey and Sandy Calvin: Facilitating the forever home
by Michael J. Casey
When it comes to dogs, Sandy Calvin is quick to remind, “Adopt not shop.” That seems like simple advice, but it’s not one people always heed. Nor is spay and neutering your pets. Calvin praises Boulder as “the bubble of spay and neuter,” but other cities don’t have their act together and that is where Calvin and her husband and business partner, Jeff Richey, come in.
For the past 12 years, Calvin and Richey have owned and operated Farfel’s Farm, a pet boutique located on Pearl Street in Boulder’s historic West End. Farfel’s Farm, named after their adorable bearded collie, is the perfect place for animal lovers to come and purchase tasty treats, harnesses, even Trump-themed chew toys, but it is the work they do outside of the shop that brings them notice: their animal rescue operation, Farfel’s Rescue.
“We’ve been rescuing animals for years,” Richey says. “About five years ago we started working with a customer who lived in Oklahoma and we started rescuing dogs on a much bigger scale. We now rescue primarily through three places: Houston, Texas … Dodge City, Kansas, and Roswell, New Mexico. We have really good relationships with all three.”
The focus of the stray problem resides in Houston, and Richey estimates Houston’s stray dog population at a million — an investigation by local news station KHOU placed the number at 1.2 million stray animals in 2014 — and says that on a bad day, a shelter will pull in 200 dogs.
“We get well over half the dogs from there, and it’s a partnership from a rescue down there called Rescued Pets Movement,” Richey says. “They work with the Houston Rockets owner, Leslie Alexander, and he’s a good billionaire and he helps pay for some of this.”
In 2008, Forbes singled out Alexander, a former bond trader from New Jersey, as the best NBA owner. His wealth has helped considerably in assisting Rescued Pets Movement and Farfel’s with rescuing and placing these animals in forever homes. As Calvin reminds, “It takes a village.”
“We, along with 14 other Colorado rescues, have taken 150 dogs from Houston every week,” Richey says, pointing out that because of this rescue operation they’ve helped reduce the dog euthanasia rate significantly. Five years ago it was 70 percent, today it is down to 30 percent. That is due in large part to how good Calvin and Richey are with their part of the equation.
“We put these dogs on three national or international websites: Petfinder, Adopt A Pet and Rescue Me,” Richey explains.
And while the dogs are in transit from Houston, Calvin works hard to place these dogs in foster homes where they can be cared for properly. Richey points out that matching dogs to foster homes is Calvin’s strong suit.
“She’s kind of the Match.com of the dog world,” Richey kids.
But Calvin has the numbers to back it up.
“Ninety percent of our dogs are placed before they ever arrive in Colorado,” Calvin says.
But placing the dogs isn’t the last step.
“We do a couple things that most rescues don’t,” Richey says. “We give people a two-week trial period, we call it a ‘Foster to Adopt’ period.”
During this period, Calvin and Richey ask for the adoption fee up front but then cover the cost of food, vet care, a harness, an instruction book, treats and a chew toy, all of which help establish the dog in its new home during this crucial time.
“If things don’t work out for any reason during that two weeks, we rehome the dog and we give them [their adoption fee] back,” Richey says. “We try to make it risk-free.”
But making animal rescue risk-free isn’t exactly an easy endeavor, especially when Richey and Calvin are rescuing 400 dogs a year.
“I always tell people we’re really lucky to be in Colorado because it may be the only state where there are more people who want to rescue than there are rescue dogs,” Richey says. “For our 400 adopted dogs, we probably get 4,000 applications. … I call it a high-quality problem.”
To learn more about Richey and Calvin’s rescue operation, please visit farfelsrescue.com or stop by the store at 906 Pearl Street. They don’t have any of the dogs in-house, but Richey and Calvin are almost always there and ready to answer any question.
Lonnie Hernandez: Conversations with shoplifters and the value of restorative justice
by Rob Jackson
Lonnie Hernandez, a 33-year-old lifelong resident of Boulder County, is often called the “eye in the sky” at Kohl’s Department Store in Longmont. As Supervisor of Loss Prevention, it’s Lonnie’s job to monitor myriad camera feeds and catch shoplifters attempting to steal items from the store. For his first 10 years doing this work at several different Boulder County shopping chains, Lonnie was tough on crime. This meant giving tickets and sending shoplifters through the grind of our criminal justice system, sometimes with stiff and lasting consequences that made it difficult for them to obtain jobs moving forward.
In the past couple of years however, Lonnie has rethought his approach. These days he is referring a steadily increasing number of shoplifters to the restorative justice program at the Longmont Community Justice Partnership (LCJP), which he once dismissed as a mere “slap on the wrist.”
LCJP is a partnership between the nonprofit organization, Longmont Police Department and local stores. The partnership holds monthly “circles” where trained facilitators, retail store representatives like Lonnie, law enforcement representatives, and shoplifters meet to discuss the impacts of the offenders’ actions and work to rehabilitate them rather than punish them outright. Outside of his regular full-time work schedule, Lonnie now volunteers actively in helping to set shoplifters on the right track toward being productive citizens.
It’s a big turn around for a guy who touts the value of retail stores in a community that doesn’t offer many options for clothing and certain brands in particular; who is concerned for the future of these remaining stores in an ever-changing retail climate; and who considers epidemic levels of shoplifting to be an existential threat to both the stores and his own continued employment. It begs the question: What caused Lonnie’s change of heart and approach to shoplifters?
The 75 letters hanging on his control room wall in a tucked away corner of Kohl’s tell the tale. The letters were written to Lonnie by Kohl’s shoplifters of all ages who have gone through the LCJP restorative justice program over the past couple of years. There are heartfelt apologies and reflections. There are promises to never do such a thing again. There are sincere words of gratitude to Lonnie for being understanding and helping them with the difficult task of changing their lives for the better.
But the first experiences that Lonnie attributes to “melting my ice heart” were when he was invited by Kathleen McGoey, executive director of LCJP, to sit in on a couple of circles. “I actually faced my shoplifters for the first time and saw that they weren’t just lying or trying to get out of a ticket. They were actually dealing with major regret and remorse and trying to make things right not just for me but for themselves and for their family.”
Now, as soon as he sees shoplifters exiting the store with stolen merchandise, Lonnie walks out front and tells them, “Listen, there are options for you, but it all starts with you.” He empowers shoplifters to make the decision for themselves and most realize that rather than run they should go back inside with Lonnie and have a conversation, where he tells them about their options, which include restorative justice.
Lonnie asserts that he can’t count how many times over the past two years he’s seen shoplifters that he’s caught and who have been reintegrated back into society through restorative justice. “It feels reasonable and comfortable to talk to each other because we’ve gone through this process together and we know that the other one is OK now,” he says.
Lonnie is so beholden to the LCJP restorative justice circles and their positive results that he has now been trained as a facilitator and sometimes runs the circles, stepping away from his role as a retail representative in them. For his service, Lonnie was named 2016 LCJP Volunteer of the Year. That is quite a turnaround from the days of folding his arms, viewing every shoplifter as a criminal, and sending people toward a theft record that could haunt them for the rest of their lives. All over one bad decision.
Mark Biggers: Being retired is a full-time job
by Amanda Moutinho
After years of work, newly minted retirees usually pack their schedules with the fun stuff: painting classes, vacations and a few extra hours of sleep. When Louisville resident Mark Biggers retired eight years ago after 35 years as a civil engineer, his wife Pat told him he’d have to be a little more productive.
“The first Sunday before my first day of official retirement, she made it clear that she still expected me to leave at 7 in the morning and didn’t expect me to be back until 6 in the evening,” Biggers says. “So I just got on to the internet and looked for places that were nearby.”
The next day Biggers was up early and knocking on Community Food Share’s door, and he hasn’t turned back since.
Over the past few years, Biggers has spent roughly 40 hours a week donating his time to a variety of organizations. He’s worked with St. Benedict’s Health and Healing Ministry, Boulder Outreach for Homeless Overflow and Casa de la Esperanza; and he’s consistently donated his hours to Boulder Shelter for the Homeless, Emergency Family Assistance Association and Habitat for Humanity.
“So between all those things, I’ve been able to cobble together to something that keeps me busy and out of trouble,” he says with a laugh.
During his time as a civil engineer, Biggers says he didn’t volunteer too much, just a few hours here and there for Habitat for Humanity and his church’s soup kitchen. His passion to serve the community stems from his parents, who were both volunteers and would occasionally take him along to help.
Overall, Biggers mostly works with the homeless population of Boulder County, helping with issues around food insecurity and resource donations. While he says he didn’t necessarily grow up in the low-income bracket, his family of five was on the poorer side of things.
“You had one pair of shoes, one pair of trousers, birthday presents are always clothes, never toys, because we couldn’t afford toys,” Biggers says. “So you learned to appreciate things.”
Biggers also credits his benevolence to his profession.
“Virtually all the work civil engineers do is public work,” he says. “So you’re getting paid by the public to design or build a road or a dam or a water plant. There’s a lot of engagement with the community and to be a good citizen and be good stewards of the public funds.”
Plus, through his career, he worked in many low-income areas across the world, from Indonesia and the Philippines, to Native American reservations and downtown Miami. His job gave him financial stability and retired life gave him time.
“When you’re feeling comfortable, I think you have an obligation to help out however you can,” he says.
And Biggers goes above and beyond. In addition to countless volunteer hours, he also buys whatever food is lacking in the shelter’s pantry.
“Canned peas don’t taste the same as fresh or even frozen peas,” Biggers says. “And there’s seasonal things, during the winter they don’t get a lot of produce. So I’ll go out and bring extra groceries in.”
He also serves as kitchen lead for breakfast every Thursday and dinner on Mondays at the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless. He’ll chat with the food director about what to serve, finding out what ingredients the shelter has and which he needs to bring in himself.
This attitude again goes back to Biggers’ early family life.
“You were always expected to do your best, whether washing the dishes or doing chores,” he says. “My parents weren’t overly strict. They didn’t bench me when I didn’t get A’s, but they expected doing our best. If your best was a B that was good. But they were always asking if we did our best or if we worked hard.”
In the end, Biggers says he feels like he helps to make a difference. And he gets inspired every time he sees the reciprocity of volunteering.
“And actually quite a few of them will come back and make contributions to their brethren who are homeless,” he says. “That’s heartening.”
But for Biggers, it’s about doing as much as he can.
“None of us know how much time we got left to be around,” he says. “I don’t expect to live forever, but you like to do as much good as you can, for as long as you can, for as many people as you can.”
And he does cite one more benefit, with a laugh: “And my wife is very excited that I’m out of the house too.”
Cedar Barstow: The happy house
by Angela K. Evans
Up in North Boulder, there’s a large house with a large front patio and a bright yellow door, seemingly smiling at all who pass by or venture up the front stoop to say hello.
“It’s a house that has grown up with me,” says Cedar Barstow, the home’s owner since 1985. Since then, 66 other people have called the happy house home, as it’s been a residence co-op, since the day Cedar bought it with her then husband and another friend, who was preparing to become a single parent.
Drawing from her experience as part of a professional commune in Sommerville, Massachusetts in the 1970s, Cedar set up the house in Boulder with a plan: weekly meetings to discuss house business and build community; systems for food sharing and cleaning duties; and an overall bent towards engaging with each other in way that doesn’t require people to change, but rather accommodate people’s differences.
“I loved living in this way,” she says about the Sommerville commune. “It was exciting, I got to know all kinds of different people; people I wouldn’t have met otherwise. We helped each other grow and learn and learned how to work stuff out.”
Even after Cedar got divorced and the other owner moved out, she raised capital through friends to buy out her former partners and continue running the co-op, housing up to five people at a time. Then in 1994, the police showed up to her house.
“To be the honest, I learned somewhere along here that there was this law but that the City didn’t follow up unless there was a complaint,” she says. “I’ve always wanted to be a good neighbor, but the policeman came to the door and asked how many people were living there.”
When she answered five, he gave her a court summons, citing Boulder’s occupancy regulations which limited the number of unrelated adults living together to three. The judge slapped a $500 fine on her with a year of probation and told her two people had to move out.
By raising the rent a bit, she was able to still cover the cost of the house with only two other people living with her, but she didn’t have the money to pay the fine. Instead, she did 100 hours of community service at $5 an hour.
“Each time I went to volunteer to do something, they’d say 100 hours, what did you do? I don’t know if we can leave you with our children,” she remembers. But then she found the Solstice Institute, a nonprofit that, among other things, was working to get an ordinance passed to allow cooperative living in Boulder. “It was this interesting moment where I was working off this punishment in a way that would rectify the injustice of what I was being punished for,” she says.
And she’s been working on some version of Boulder’s recently passed co-op ordinance ever since — for the last 22 years — while continuing to run the co-op out of her house, albeit with only ever two other people at a time. Now at the age of 72, there are four people living in the house as she was remarried in 2010.
In addition to working on passing co-op regulations, Cedar threw herself even deeper into community building in her neighborhood. She became an EcoPass coordinator, walking door to door to talk about transportation. She started progressive dinners in the neighborhood, which eventually turned into an annual block party. She takes care of neighbor’s houses while they’re away, and lets her neighbor’s friends and family stay in her guest room when they’re visiting.
And she’s continued to run the house like a co-op, focusing on building a family of people who have lived there over the years. She’s had people recovering from divorces and other traumas, difficult living situations and single parents. She’s even had people from Africa seeking asylum stay as her guests for a few weeks at a time.
“It happens that we all arrive at our homes with issues and some are more challenging than others,” she says. “But once we take somebody in, they’re in. They’re in.”
But more than that, her home has housed people Cedar and the other residents want to do life with, people they want to see in the morning when they get up or catch a spontaneous movie with. Out of the 66 former residents, there have been only four that Cedar has asked to leave. And some or those have even come back to live with her after a period away.
“I can tell you each one and what bedroom they were in,” she says. “They are all my family.”
And she’s kept the family connected, throwing parties both for the 20th and 30th anniversary of the co-op. When the first garage and first floor filled with water during the 2013 flood, she had 54 people come to help rebuild — a godsend given she didn’t have renter’s insurance.
“I can’t tell you enough how grateful I was to my community that I had developed for so many years,” she says.
And she’s continued to advocate for cooperative housing in Boulder, working with groups like Our Home, a nonprofit working to establish shared senior living situations to help older people age in their own homes without feeling isolated, and the Boulder Community Housing Association, the main organizers behind the recently passed co-op ordinance.
“They were such an inspiration to me, what do we need to do, who do we need to talk to,” Cedar says.
And through the collaborations, more than a year of community meetings and public hearings, and some compromises, the Boulder City Council officially adopted the ordinance on Jan. 17.
The victory for Cedar was thrilling, seeing her life’s vision finally become legal. And yet, her happy house will not be one of the first 10 approved co-ops under the new ordinance.
“I’m not going to go for that this year,” she says. “I’m going to give other groups a chance.”
Regardless, she will continue to support co-ops as they pop up around the city, and invite people into her home and life, leaving a sense of family with all those who respond.
Glenn Francis: The justice in fixing bikes
by Christi Turner
Since its inception in July 2015, the nonprofit Bicycle Power hasn’t skipped a single weekly repair clinic at the First Presbyterian Church Resource Center at 16th and Walnut.
“Consistency is very important, particularly for this population,” says Glenn Francis, the organization’s founder. The population he’s referring to doesn’t tend to carry cell phones or check their email for schedule updates. He’s talking about people experiencing homelessness in Boulder. So every Wednesday without fail, Francis and his small group of Bicycle Power volunteers set out their equipment — bicycle stands, pumps, patch kits, tools and spare parts, mostly all donated — and provide free bike repairs for those who inevitably come by.
Sometimes just a handful of people show up to fix their bicycles, which are often in dismal states of repair. In the busy summer months, it can swell to dozens per day. It’s mostly men, ranging in age from 18 to many decades older. Some show up just for the company and community, or to help others repair their bicycles. Francis and his grassroots group of volunteers keep a rough count of who attends Bicycle Power clinics, but they avoid formal processing.
“There’s no barricade to any of our services. There’s no lining up to any windows or anything like that,” he says. The homeless community, he feels, has enough barriers to navigate just in order to survive. He sees no need to add bureaucracy to what is, in essence, a very simple mission: provide people experiencing homelessness a place to repair, maintain and for some, even acquire their own means of two-wheeled transportation. For many of the people Francis meets, their bicycle is the most precious thing they own and their only means of getting around other than walking.
“In and of itself transportation and bicycling are certainly not going to solve any homelessness, but I feel like it’s a pretty critical, if miniscule, part of the whole problem,” he says.
Francis is just the person to help address this problem in Boulder. He’s chosen a carless life here for the past 17 years, and along the way he’s come to understand how bikes work and how to fix them. For years he was his friends’ go-to person to help fix their bicycles. When he began working at Boulder Shelter for the Homeless, he realized his skill with bikes was something he could extend to more people who needed it.
“It became apparent to me, very quickly, that transportation was a significant challenge for people who were experiencing homelessness, and even low-income people,” he says. And with the shelter so far from downtown, some people who had work until after the bus stopped running would return to the shelter in the middle of the night, having walked the entire way.
“We live in a wealthy society that privileges car ownership, and it’s kind of expected that you’ll have your own personal car,” he says. “There’s no other effective method of getting people around everywhere. Everyone’s expected to do it on their own.”
No longer with the shelter, these days when Francis isn’t running Bicycle Power he’s managing the Transitions program at Community Cycles — a Boulder nonprofit with a membership of more than 2,500 that recycles and refurbishes donated bikes and educates people on bicycle safety and maintenance. Transitions is another way that Francis shares the power of bicycling — and the ability to repair a bike — with less advantaged communities. With six-week courses and other support, Transitions teaches developmentally disabled and at-risk youth and young adults the fundamentals of bicycle mechanics, and then works to place them in paid jobs in the bicycle industry.
“The students get a bike when they complete the program,” Francis says. “The hope is they can provide, if nothing else, basic maintenance and know what’s wrong with their own bike if something happens.”
Back at Bicycle Power, it can sometimes be a challenge to do even basic maintenance.
“There’s a high emphasis on ingenuity, improvisation, working with the parts we have and seeing if we can modify them, or disassemble them and take small parts off that part,” he says. Thankfully, and perhaps not surprisingly, many of those his organization serves are very mechanically skilled, he says, and often have kept their bikes running through ingenuity and improvisation themselves.
Now in 2017, Community Cycles is providing financial support to Bicycle Power and Francis’ two roles have somewhat dovetailed. He hopes to see his small nonprofit organization grow to be as robust as Community Cycles, as he works to grow Bicycle Power’s small inventory of parts, tools and donated bikes, and expand his volunteer and donor community. Eventually, he hopes to offer repair services to people experiencing homelessness up to five or seven days a week.
“There’s a really strong social justice component to supporting bicycling and allowing bicycling to happen for everybody,” he says. “I strongly believe this works toward the overall social justice project of emancipation.”
Jonathan Montgomery: Documenting poetry
by Sarah Haas
Jonathan Montgomery is a small, average-height man, with long, loose curls of sandy blond hair. He wears wire-rimmed glasses and a nice, navy suit jacket and pressed slacks. The clothes look great, but he doesn’t quite fit the part, the wild inside him busting through the seams — a little extra bounce in his curls, a small woolen bird stuffed into his jacket pocket, his restless hands jittering on his small writing desk.
Montgomery is a poet, and as such is sort of a hero in his own right. “Life is hard for creative, sensitive people,” he says. “You have this thing where you are like Clark Kent in the rest of the world, but you get to be Superman through your poems and your poetry.”
Since attending Naropa for his master’s degree in poetry in 2005, Montgomery has made a point to live a “Beat life,” working behind the wheel first as a pizza delivery guy and then as a taxicab driver, always on the move, gaining insight into the people and places that together make up the society he writes about. He says there was something about sitting there, useful but invisible to those around you, which felt like poetry, so he turned it into just that.
Montgomery has spent many nights bringing his poetry out of his mind and onto the page and then off of the page into people’s lives. For him, poetry isn’t meant to be caged within pages of a book — it’s meant to be read aloud, performed and shared.
He embraces a theory he calls “me too poetics” — the idea that the poet’s too-close and visceral connection with life is shared through writing, revealing the personal to illuminate the universal. In that tradition, many of the best poets write and many of those poets have called Boulder home.
“Poetry matters in Boulder because its roots [here] are so deep and true,” says local poet Joseph Braun. “Anne Waldman, Allen Ginsberg and Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche (along with many others) deliberately installed a learning institution that is emblematic of Boulder’s situation in America: as a middle ground where East and West become one, where we can practice and articulate a global consciousness.”
It was this history and lineage that brought Montgomery to Boulder, but it was its strength that made him stay.
“We have a poetry scene that is doing what any other poetry scene in history has done,” Montgomery says. “There is no difference between us and the Beats, there is no difference between us and the Dadaists, there is no difference between us and romantic poets in the 1800s. The only difference is that nobody knows about us.”
So he got to work. Inspired by primitively produced punk zines that came about in the 1970s, Montgomery took it upon himself to get the word out about local poets. In 2013, he likewise made a primitive website, boulderpoetrytribe.com, to synthesize, document and support the community.
“The website is not trying to create a scene; it’s reflecting what’s already here,” Montgomery says. “Poets are really fragile. It’s easy to think this work doesn’t matter. This site is proof that it did matter, for this moment.”
But type the url in your web browser and you might be underwhelmed by what you find. The site is barebones with a sporadically updated calendar of local events and an irregularly kept series of articles about Boulder poets, mostly authored by Montgomery himself. It has just 47 members. But to judge the site by its stats would be like judging Lebron James by his poetry.
Lebron and Montgomery both hail from the town of Akron, Ohio, and Montgomery has spent a lot of time thinking about how he compares to the pro-basketball star. He even wrote a poem about it called “Lebron > Poetry,” i.e., greater than him, a poet. But is he really? Or are they just different, called to work according to different talents, performing on different stages, cursed with different challenges yet somehow victorious in a kindred way?
Lebron James, arguably the best basketball player in the world, is living a hero’s journey. Raised poor, he rose to fame through hard work and talent, no win easy or taken for granted. He was villainized for leaving his hometown for Miami, but after winning a championship, welcomed back home in Cleveland as a hero. Promptly, he showered the city with riches, bringing it a championship of its very own.
The story of any working artist, including Montgomery’s, isn’t any different. It’s just they don’t look like the Superman we have come to expect.
“A hero isn’t just somebody who I admire because they can do things I can’t,” Montgomery says. “A hero is somebody who goes through the shit and is winning in the end.”