A Gilpin County resident who wanted to be here
By Jaclyn Schrock
Donna Cozart was a Gilpin County property owner since 1963, and a full-time resident since 1980.
Ms. Donna grew up near 1st and Pearl in Denver, the youngest of three children with an older brother Jack, and a sister Virginia. She tells of living across the street from the steps to go in to Wm. N. Byers Junior High School. The school folks wanted her to walk all the way to the corner for the crosswalk, rather than cutting across the street in the middle of the block when she went to that school and came home for lunch break.
With a small upstairs bedroom she shared her bed with her sister, “all ages in one room.” There was a half-finished basement where they washed the clothes. Their dad did the carpentry work to make their home. Their house had a lawn with maple trees by the sidewalk. There was a box elder tree in the back yard that “leafed out” earlier than the maples. She remembers some bluebells that grew, but mostly the marigolds were the” strong ones.” Their neighbors had no garden, just a little boy who was much younger than she in school. Occasionally they would walk to church on Logan Street.
With appreciation for her family she spoke of living simply with what provisions they could afford. Ms. Donna was born in 1923, and she was six years old when the stock market crashed, changing everyone’s lives. She raved about how her mother was a superb seamstress to make their clothes and kept the house neat, but she never learned to drive. Mom made dinners at home, and we had to be home for supper when Daddy came home.
Their dad worked as the chef for Garrity’s Restaurant to support his family. He didn’t have car fare very often, so he would walk to work. After being with Garrity over 10 years, Solomon’s Restaurant offered him a position with much more money, but he wouldn’t take it. He was a loyal employee and felt privileged that they kept him working there all those years. He would take a street car to work most days. He did purchase an automobile when the children were older. Only maybe once a year would they eat at the restaurant he worked at. Her father worked a full day, but was able to come home for supper with the family because he had prepared the food and kept it in steam tables for the dinner crowd. They would hire kitchen helpers off the street for the dinner crowd rather than professional chefs. Donna said one of those kitchen helpers was named John Winn, but he didn’t know the difference between “beans and bottle caps.”
Donna often said in the early days nothing really every happened. Most folks made their home their life. There was very little entertainment, though they did have a radio to listen to music and stories. Mom often made a roast for supper with peas, carrots, and potatoes. Sometimes they could have chicken or turkey as an alternative. They did not have milk or a newspaper delivered to their home. They could not afford to take trips, and they didn’t have any big celebrations or go to parties. They didn’t do much to celebrate Easter – just at Christmas they would have a few gifts. Once, they dressed up for Halloween with costumes their mom made. She remembers going to a party where a game was to drop clothes pins into a milk bottle. Just that once, Donna and Jean went to a neighbor’s house to trick or treat. When the man came to the door he said “hold the dog.” The girls ran in fear and never went out for Halloween again.
Oh the way her eyes lit up to tell about what a good man her dad was! Sometimes they would walk or take a street car on rails to go to town, and later when they had buses, their dad would leave them money to go to town. They didn’t ever go to Denver Dry Goods as it was too expensive. Instead they had shops they liked best that were clean and more affordable. Woolworths was the most frequent place to go. The sisters would sometimes go to Larimer to have something to do. When they went to town, they would stop in to see their dad at work.
Most Saturdays in the summer, after their older brother had moved out and married, their dad would leave two dimes on the corner of his dresser for them. They used the dime to get into a matinée at Aladdin Theater. There would be a movie like Buck Rodgers with an old Mickey Mouse cartoon or a short show, and usually a bland news story. When they would go to the theater where they had stage shows, they would pull down a screen and only have popcorn or candy bars to eat. Eventually those movies phased out, and now there are motion pictures on a screen and no stage, remembers Ms. Donna.
Donna started at the downtown YMCA to have training to be proper women. Donna talked about how fortunate she was to be able to participate in dance classes. Most people didn’t have money for those kinds of things, she said.
After learning to be more graceful and gracious with the YMCA dance program, she began training in aerial work. Sometimes they met in the grassy park to practice. She said because she was a smaller, petite girl, the strong Italian men would toss and catch her and the other girls. “I used to love ‘adagio’ to be a flyer with other small gals.” Although, she remembers there was one gal who was a bit chunkier who wanted to join them too, but they could not do that with her. She remembers how strong and stocky the fine, Italian men were to toss the girls to each other. It was dangerous, but none of the girls got hurt as they all learned to be careful. The men sure knew what they were doing! From adagio, she also moved into tumbling and trapeze with a platform at the top of the ceiling. She said they would swing across to the other swing and do tricks. Some of the performers would also do the high wire, but she did not do that. “I was not brave enough to go from the high dive into someone’s arms.”
The YMCA also had dances, even square dances, with a big turnout. “I just went for athletic fun. One night when we were doing a balancing acts show, a guy stripped down in the dressing room to get painted in gold paint. That was dangerous to paint your skin and expect another man to catch you.”
Donna joined a chorus line during WWII times, and her mother would sew her costumes. During the war, there were not many men around for dating, so she danced in a line at shows with six to eight other girls. One girl would teach the routines, and we had a “beat-up” orchestra with some horns and piano. The show was three or four routines, mostly performed at the Tabor Theater, sometimes in clubs, and once at the Elks Club – wherever we could get booked. Jack Blue was our booker. “Once we performed at the Algerian, just a hole in the wall above a beer joint, just entertaining. We also did a show at the Windsor Hotel. Nothing really happened, we just took the street car home afterwards. There was no money in the shows, just enough money for the bus, no gratis, so I got out of it.”
Donna also got into art work, painting and drawing, and even some oil painting just for amusement. She also enjoyed her first job at the sales counter of an Indian shop. “The culture of the people was quite pleasing. They were so gentle with the earth and true to their beliefs. Women would do bead work in the back, it seemed the work grew fast and they hardly moved. I just loved the Indians that came in to the shop. I liked working with them, I still know how to do bead work, too.”
Her sister, Virginia, worked on the second floor of the Denver Post. She had a telephone she had to share with other workers. If Donna came to visit her at work, she could only visit during lunch break. Virginia had too much work to do to allow visiting during office hours. The two girls lived together with their mother after their father died. Virginia never married nor had any children.
Donna said she met Robert Cozart at National Screen, when she worked to send out the posters for movies. They married, then her husband Bob didn’t think she should be in a chorus line as a married woman, so she stayed home as a noble woman in the 50’s. Donna didn’t know much about Bob’s family, but she knew to be a proper women, she was to take care of the home. They lived at Hudson and Cherry in Denver. Staying at home now, she focused on oil painting while married.
Bob did serve with the Coast Guard in the 1930s. Later he had worked with costumes for performances before working with the post office. He did have a car and loved to go to the mountains. Not many other folks had a car, and those that did “couldn’t fool around on dirt roads.” She said that they did have something like a jeep that was small, but also user friendly like a car. He found a little one room cabin with the stone fireplace, no electricity, and an outhouse across the meadow from what we now know as Roy’s Last Shot. “He put an offer in for it and got it! In the early 60’s, we loved to walk on the dirt roads, or up and down the hills. We might just stay up for the day, or the weekend in the summers. We did not come up in the winter. We liked to dig up old bottles and things we would find walking around. We would walk in the cow pasture and see the pretty country. We would wear our blue jeans and a shirt. I had leather shoes, but Bob had lace-up leather boots to hike in. There were not any other neighbors then on Gold Road, just the nice Mexican man that worked on the ranch. Virginia and I did not learn to drive, so they only came to the mountains when Bob brought them.
When their mother passed, Virginia was still working at the Denver Post, so they sold the house on Pearl, and Virginia moved into the house with Donna and Bob since they had no children. Virginia would house sit the house in town while Donna and Bob came up for longer stays in Gilpin County. They just wanted to be together in the beautiful mountains. They did not like going to Boulder or even Central City as they just came up the hill to get away from city life.
As Bob’s retirement time approached, they began to enlarge the cabin. They hunted until they found a beautiful blue porcelain wood burning stove. They added electricity, a well, and pump to make the kitchen complete. They added a small utility room as a basement next to the garage, with steps up to the main floor to include a pantry, wash room, a bathroom with a pink tub, two guest bedrooms, and a master bedroom with a stone fireplace they built from rocks they collected and placed themselves. Many trips up and down the mountain brought supplies, and work made changes to the old cabin and provided much enjoyment in their Gilpin County home. They sold their home in town in the 80’s to move with sister, Virginia to Gold Road in Gilpin County.
Donna says she didn’t like going back to Denver after moving up to the mountains. “It would be like a foreign country to go to Denver. It is where I was born – I like that old part, but I do not like to go there anymore. The Denver I remember is not there anymore. You are there, but it has so many places that have been taken away, it hurts to go there and miss the people and places that are gone. It is not what it was. I get scared, and it upsets me.”
Virginia, Donna and Bob lived together happily in their place as more and more property was purchased around them and more homes were built and other historic changes occurred along US Hwy 6 and Highway 119. There was not much to do when they went anywhere, but to see a doctor and do some shopping in Nederland. Bob passed away and then the girls had to drive and take care of themselves. Virginia passed away, and now Donna was alone, and often scared in the house. She stayed many years that way, and after nearly 40 years, in April of 2018, was moved to an assisted care center at the age of 93.
Ms. Donna could move around pretty well, although she could not see well, she could hear okay most the time. She had pets to keep her company. She did not use prescription drugs and was in fairly good health. She enjoyed her coffee in the mornings and regular meals with a sweet treat.
Donna Cozart is well remembered by those who helped care for her, as trying so hard not to say something that would be critical of others. It was important to her that she recognized the good will and benefits others brought to her life. That is not to say she could always be content with her frustrating situations, it was evident when she was frustrated by her limitations. When she had forgotten she had just eaten, thinking no one helped her have what she needed, her frustrations emerged. She would speak with manners and kind regards or apologize if she had let her frustrations escape her lips.
Ms. Donna, your brother Jack’s son who lives out of state, made a hard decision to move you so you now have constant care and company every day and night. You no longer need be afraid, being alone. We pray you are becoming more comfortable in the care center, still in the beautiful mountains!