Looking back on her long and successful business life in Lake City extending from the mid-1950s until the early 2000s, Therese McGovern Ryan’s eyes would light up.
“I enjoyed every minute of it, I have absolutely no regrets.”
The Chicago native and former avowed “city girl” glimpsed Lake City at a unique time as it gradually awoke from its long post-mining economy depression and the development of a robust tourism-based economy.”
With her late husband, James H. Ryan, Jr., who died July 4, 2008, Therese began a succession of businesses, the best known of which was the Elkhorn, a lively restaurant-bar-hotel combination in what is now the Community Banks building in downtown Lake City.
Although she and Jim never had children of their own, they had numerous nephews and nieces who were enthralled with the small town mountain experience. The Ryans also informally adopted numerous local children who they fondly looked after into their adult years.
Therese was among the Hinsdale School Board Directors who began the practice of school trips to Denver and neighboring states in the mid-1960s. She was a member of the school board in 1967 when the decision was made to cease high school classes in Lake City and instead bus older students to classes in Gunnison.
The welfare of local children in the early 1960s was also predominate as Therese encouraged the start of downhill ski classes. Her love of skiing and local children then evolved into the non-profit Lake City Winter Sports & Recreation Assoc. which utilized a corps of volunteer labor and donations to start Lake City’s Winter Wonderland Ski Area — today’s Lake City Ski Area — in 1966.
A resident of California since 2013, Therese occasionally hummed lyrics to the western ballad “Rusty Ole Hallow, Skinny Ole Clouds” which was a favorite when Chris Waldrum played the honky-tonk piano in the Elkhorn in the 1960s.
When Lake City was mentioned, her eyes invariably brightened, “everything Jim and I ever made, we owe it all to Lake City.”
Nearing her 92nd birthday and affectionately known to residents and staff as “Mother Therese,” Therese Ryan died at Endless Care Facility, San Jacinto, California, on May 4, 2017.
A graveside memorial service is planned starting 1 p.m. on Saturday, June 17, as Therese’s ashes join those of her husband in the family plot at IOOF Cemetery north of Lake City.
The last of her generation in the McGovern family, Therese Ryan’s survivors are her numerous nieces and nephews, and their families, including Bill and Marsha Carey, now of Hemet, California, who moved to Lake City to care for their aunt and then accompanied her back to California.
At last count, there are 35 nieces and nephews, and in excess of 60 great nieces and nephews.
Other immediate survivors are her two sisters-in-law — the sisters of her late husband, Jim — Ruth Biglin and former Lake City resident Shirley Kasky, both of whom reside in Denver.
Born in Chicago on September 12, 1925, Margaret Therese McGovern was the daughter of a Chicago attorney, Francis McGovern, and his wife, Marguerite (Crowley) McGovern.
The elder McGoverns were the parents of seven
children, of whom Therese was the last surviving. Her immediate family included three brothers, Joseph McGovern (1919-1981), John F. McGovern (1923-2014), and William M. McGovern (1924-2008), and a sister, Rita McGovern Carey (1928-2008), as well as a brother and sister who died as babies.
Therese’s father, Francis McGovern, transitioned away from work as an attorney due to health problems and instead ran an ice cream parlor and small cafe on Chicago’s South Side where Therese and her siblings worked as children. Showing an early business acumen, Therese was ordering ice cream and keeping track of the cafe’s food inventory before age 10.
One of the regular customers at the McGovern ice cream parlor was a Chicago foot patrolman, Jim Ryan, who served as a Military Policeman in World War II. Ever observant, Therese recalled that she looked up from washing dishes to notice that the patrolman “liked to hang around, he must have liked ice cream.”
Therese and the young patrolman married at the family’s parish church, St. Killian’s Catholic Church, on October 15, 1949. Despite appearances of robust health, both Therese and Jim were challenged by occasional ill health throughout their lives. Much of their honeymoon was spent in a hospital where the couple was treated for serious back and neck injuries as the result of an auto wreck.
Following marriage, they continued work in Chicago, for a time operating a local tavern known as “Characters” while Therese interminantly worked in secretarial positions and Jim completed 13 years as Chicago patrolman.
For summer vacation in 1954, they flipped a coin as whether to head east or west and, on the luck of that coin, ended up at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs. Jim then proceeded to track down his old military buddy, Lloyd Mickey Pavich, who following service had returned to his family’s home in Lake City.
The Ryans arrived in Lake City on June 30, 1954. Jim was ecstatic despite a somewhat harrowing three-hour drive over rough dirt roads and the prospect of running out of gas. They arrived in town on gas fumes after neglecting to gas up in Gunnison, erroneously believing that small settlements listed on the map — Iola, Powderhorn, Gateview — would have gas stations.
Therese’s first impressions of Lake City were somewhat less enthusiastic, Jim later noting his wife “could hardly get packed soon enough when we were planning to head back east.” He added that within a few years of being indoctrinated to Lake City, however, “Therese is in just as much of a hurry to get back.”
“It was a case of whither went he, so went me,” Therese recalled.
Back in Chicago after their inaugural trip, “Lake City was all Jim could talk about, it was so wonderful and so unique… it’s a wonder we ever got back to Chicago.”
Therese finally relented and agreed to lease a small Lake City cafe and bar known as the Lone Star which had been started several years prior by Roy Pray. The bar/cafe combo was located in the Silver Street brick building now occupied by Lynn McNitt’s Sage & Timber gift shop.
The Ryans conducted the Lone Star summers in 1955 and 1956. Slimbo Bloxham was hired as cook and Jim’s sister and brother-in-law, Shirley and Frank Kasky, who happened to be vacationing in Lake City from Chicago, were enlisted as waitress and dishwasher. Refrigeration made possible by reliable electric power allowed the Ryans to offer ice cream to their customers. A surprise hit of the 1955 season, according to Therese, was rainbow ice cream which sold so fast “we couldn’t keep it in stock.”
Therese manned operations at the Lone Star from morning through 5 p.m. in the afternoon, when Jim took over operations at the bar which continued packed until 2 a.m. closing. Ryan routinely booted unruly bar patrons outside and among Therese’s opening duties each morning was to wash blood off the cement sidewalk outside the Lone Star.
Lake City’s post-World War II economy was escalating as a result of tourists from Colorado’s Eastern Slope, primarily Pueblo, and Kansas and Oklahoma, who arrived the third weekend in May for the opening of fishing season, followed by a second and larger influx in mid-June after Texas schools closed. Business continued non-stop through hunting season in October.
Lake City’s population was optimistically pegged by Therese at “about 50, including cats and dogs,” and present day Highway 149 to Gunnison was described as a dirt-surface “goat trail” which averaged three hours — and one blown tire — one-way to Gunnison. The bulk of Lake City’s out-of-state visitors came from the south via unpaved Spring Creek and Slumgullion passes.
Year-round residents of Lake City were uniformly friendly and willing to help out, according to Therese. “That’s one thing about this town,” she said in a 2004 interview for Hinsdale County Museum, “they may be fighting out in the middle of the street but one hour later they’d be helping one another dig a ditch or something. That’s how it was.”
Beginning in 1956, Jim and Therese Ryan expanded their local business holdings when they paid First National Bank of Gunnison $3,278 to purchase the derelict stone bank building at the southwest corner of Silver and Third Street. The building had previously been a bar and gambling den run by Wesley West.
The roof leaked “like a sieve,” according to Therese, “and there wasn’t a whole window in the place.” After acquiring the building, Jim began renovation work starting in August, 1956, and continuing through opening of the Elkhorn Lodge in May, 1957.
Jim’s initial work on the bank building was to repair a partially collapsed back wall, as well as a new roof, kitchen addition, and water well.
Therese recalled that the building’s old water well was 15’ deep and located just 17’ from the septic pit.
She wryly noted that the diarrhea medicine Kaopectate — as well as shampoo — were “big sellers” during their early years in Lake City.
At completion, the Elkhorn consisted of a corner restaurant which was attached to the bar and, upstairs, five hotel rooms each boasting a private shower or bath. Jim and Therese also remodeled an upstairs apartment for their own use after several summers of shared space with the Pavich family in the Hough Block.
At its opening in 1957, it was noted the Elkhorn consisted of “knotty pine paneling on the walls, new flooring and modern plumbing and lighting throughout the building.”
“The visitor enters from the street into either doorway, one leading into a spacious dining room, offset by a newly decorated and convenient gas kitchen. He may also enter the cocktail lounge from the dining area or the street. The lounge is finished also in pine and its walls display trophies of the hunt… skins, heads and hides. Piano playing in the old West fashion by Chris Waldrum is the entertainment feature of the lounge.”
From their start in Lake City, the Ryans employed Chris Waldrum and Claude Hunt who were alternately called in to play the honky tonk piano depending on which of the musicians who was not inebriated at the time. Both were talented, self-taught musicians, Waldrum’s repertoire described as “playing from the heart,” while Lake City native Claude Hunt had the innate ability to listen to any style of music and instantly replicate it on piano.
Waldrum’s specialties were the “Tennessee Waltz” and playing “Wabash Cannonball” with his toes. He was also especially adept, and knew by heart, a majority of the Girl Scout and Boy Scout anthems, as well as Sunday School tunes. Long-time Lake City visitor Barbara Richard Wartes recalled an early 1960s visit to the Elkhorn bar in which her young son timidly tugged on Waldrum’s shirtsleeve and asked whether he happened to know “Jesus Loves Me.”
Without pause, Waldrum launched into an animated version of the revered church song with his rapt audience sitting cross-legged on the floor around him.
Other musicians employed by the Ryans, and alternating with the across-the-street Log Cabin Inn, were Mike and Leona Smith, accordion and banjo musician Frankie Yachovich, John Jordan on piano, guitarist Slim Bloxham, and, of course, the Fobare Brothers and Martin Davis.
Entertainment — and not liquor — was the mainstay of the bar, according to Therese, in part because their clientele were Lake City oldtimers who had reserved booth space to order a Coke while listening to the music. Also regulars at the bar were “50-Mile Baptists” who Therese said “forgot their church affiliation after being more than 50 miles from home.”
In retrospect, according to Therese, “the Elkhorn restaurant was work but that bar, oh, that was so much fun, I loved every minute of it!”
Their first six years in Lake City, through 1961, the Ryans spent summers in Lake City and “beat a path back to Chicago each winter” in order to maintain winter jobs providing funds for their Lake City ventures. Therese held down secretarial positions with a Chicago railroad, and Jim worked odd jobs, including oil delivery truck driver.
Each May would find them back in Lake City for the start of the summer season which entailed 17-hour days, seven days a week. “Jim,” according to Therese, “didn’t want our customers to know there was another place to eat or drink.”
Beginning in 1961 they called Lake City home on a year-round basis but continued to close the Elkhorn and go out to work elsewhere in the winters. One winter found the Ryans managing Goad’s Fine Food Restaurant in Gunnison, the winter of 1961 they took piano player Claude Hunt with them to manage and entertain crowds at Breckenridge Inn at Breckenridge, Colorado, and the winter of 1965-66 the Ryans leased the Way Station restaurant and bar at Crested Butte.
Jim and Therese owned the Elkhorn for a total of 17 years until its sale in 1975. As new owner, John Parker returned the building to its original use as a bank with the opening of First National Bank of Lake City in 1983. Its use as a bank continues to present with Community Banks of Colorado.
In addition to their non-stop work at the Elkhorn, the Ryans were active community members. Jim was a multi-term Hinsdale County Commissioner, member of the volunteer fire dept., and first water & sanitation board, while Therese branched out into real estate and advocated for local children as a member of Hinsdale County School Board. Therese was a member of the Hinsdale Board of Education in the mid-1960s when the school began to sponsor annual school trips to Denver and out-of-state communities such as Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Salt Lake City, Utah.
Therese accompanied the inaugural school trip to Denver, later recounting “most of the kids had never been in elevators or escalators, so we went up and down all the elevators and escalators.”
Even greater ramifications occurred in March, 1967, when Therese and other directors of Hinsdale County School District voted to discontinue high school classes in Lake City and commence busing students to school in Gunnison. The decision to bus, which continued until recent years with the reintroduction of high school classes at Lake City Community School, was the result of a continuing erosion in the number of students at the local school. By the start of busing, in September, 1967, the number of high school students in Grades 9 through 12 had dropped to just nine children.
Also child-related, Therese worked with the local school to commence downhill ski lessons on snow-covered hills on the Ball Flats and on hills immediately above what is now the Country Store grocery. Based on that experience of repeatedly trudging up the hills and swooshing downward, combined with her experience from winter work at ski areas in Crested Butte and Breckenridge, she and other volunteers formed the non-profit Lake City Winter Sports & Recreation Association.
With Therese as president and Lucille Brown as secretary, the winter sports association received donations through the sale of stock. They came to an agreement with the Bureau of Land Management for use of public lands near the top of Crooke’s Hill where a warming hut was built and ski area — today’s Lake City Ski Hill — which was developed by local excavators donating their time.
Rather than having school children hike to the top of the new ski hill, it was Therese’s idea to contact officials at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area and relocate a retired 1950s-era poma ski lift to Lake City. The novel poma ski lift, now over a half-century old, remains in use today and is operated as an adjunct of Town of Lake City’s recreation department.
According to Henry Woods, Therese was a continual advocate for youth-related activities in the Lake City area. “One of her greatest passions,” according to Woods, “was Lake City Ski Hill.” When the ski hill was low on operational funds, Woods says he could “always count on Therese to assist.”
Therese Ryan was founder of one of Lake City’s earliest home-based real estate firms, Lake City Realty, which she began in the late 1960s and continued until 2003 when she allowed her real estate license to expire. She specialized in vacant acreage and homes, and was among the first to specifically market historic homes to individuals who had an interest in restoring the vintage residences.
Barry Thompson’s ‘Tis the Season’ Christmas shop on Gunnison Avenue was the building first occupied by Therese’s Lake City Realty office.
She worked closely with Frank Watters as he developed the old VC-Bar Ranch, now Lake Fork Ranch, starting in the 1960s. She and Jim served as managers of both the VC-Bar Restaurant on the lower Lake Fork and the expansive Broad-Axe Restaurant & Bar on the north edge of Lake City in the early 1970s.
After selling the Elkhorn, the Ryans remodeled and made their home at the old Carman house, now owned by Tom and Myreta Davis, on lower Silver Street from 1975 to 1977. In addition to the remodeled historic house, Therese landscaped the yard with a variety of decorative native grasses.
In the late 1970s and continuing through the late 1980s, the Ryans lived north of Lake City on a ranch bordering Devil’s Creek which they acquired from Lake Fork pioneer Frank Ferraro in 1957. As a strategic entryway into the Powderhorn Wilderness, the Ryan Ranch was acquired on behalf of the Bureau of Land Management in 1989.
The Ryans’ final Lake Fork Valley home was located 8-1/2 miles north of Lake City near the Hinsdale-Gunnison county line in a large house built by Irene Thompson Carver. Known as Ryan’s Roost, Therese expanded the house into a three-bedroom bed and breakfast which she conducted for four years in the early 1990s.
In their final years in the house, Therese devoted around the clock care to her husband, Jim, as his health deteriorated. Jim died at the home on July 4, 2008.
An avid reader with an expansive interest in the state and surrounding region, Therese subscribed to numerous newspapers and periodicals. She often clipped the most interesting articles and then dispensed those clippings as an informal reading service to individuals she thought would find them of interest. Among those taking advantage of the reading service was Lake City SILVER WORLD which received a weekly batch of clippings on topics of interest to the newspaper.
Therese’s other local interests included St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church. Prior to the years when the church was open on a year-round basis, Therese was among a small group of local women who swept away cobwebs and cleaned the church prior to the start of summer services. She was also a long-time advocate for Hinsdale County Museum and throughout the years donated notable historic artifacts to the museum, including most recently an extremely rare cast iron slag cart from the 1870s which had originally been used at the Crooke Smelter.
In 1974, Therese served on the original steering committee which formed Lake City Area Medical Center, other committee members including Bob and Becky Weeks, Tom Ortenburger, Jessie Wheeler, Terry and Val Burnell, Bob and Lydia Maurer, Carol Bishop, Lou Criley, Celia Swank, Rod Roberts, Ada Mae Smith, and Connie Riley. The center was initiated after Pioneer Jubilee Women’s Club voted to allow use of their Silver Street building for the clinic, after which Therese and other steering committee members went to work soliciting funds, acquiring furnishings, and eliciting aid from carpenters such as Bill Cagle to assist in building alterations.
Therese continued to live in her lower Lake Fork home, aided by her nephew, Bill Carey, and his wife, Marsha, until the decision was made to relocate Therese to southern California in September, 2013. The former Ryan’s Roost and Ryan home is now owned by Baker Oil & Gas of Perkins, Oklahoma.
Therese remained with the Careys and a care giver in the Temecula wine country until she sustained a broken hip and ankle, after which she entered an assisted living facility in Hemet, California. With the onset of cognitive impairment diagnosed as Alzheimer’s Disease, she entered Endless Care Facility at San Jacinto, California, which is a small facility catering especially to the needs of Alzheimer’s patients.
According to Marsha Carey, “Therese had daily massages, memory therapy, hugs and kisses, and — best of all — she was called ‘Mother Therese’.”
“We called or visited every day and were relieved that she seemed happy and at peace. She received many calls from her Colorado family. When she could no longer talk, she still received those phone calls and the phone was held near her ear. She had been in hospice for about a year ensuring a painless, stress free and peaceful life, right up until her last day on this earth.”