Breckenridge tour guide June Walters helps history come alive
June Walters exhibits a spirit of giving that may spring from parents who both survived monumental peril to fall in love.
The more than two-decade Summit County resident may be familiar to some from her work with the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance. Dressed in Victorian-era garb, Walters conducts historic walking tours around the town.
“It’s exciting to give a value to Breckenridge’s history to outsiders,” she said.
An appreciation for history is nearly a given for Walters.
“My mom is an atomic war survivor,” she said.
Her mother was a young child living in Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, when the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on the city. Three days later the U.S. leveled Nagasaki with a plutonium bomb. To date these are the only instances of warfare utilizing nuclear weapons, with deaths estimated at more than 120,000 people.
Walters said by sheer coincidence the bombing took place the only day of the week her mother was at school. This placed her about 17 miles from ground zero, luckily just far enough to live through the atomic bomb assault.
That same year her father made it out alive from the Battle of Okinawa, one of the bloodiest campaigns in WWII. During the 82-day battle, although estimates vary, at least 150,000 people perished. Enlisted as an Army field medic, Walters said her father witnessed unimaginable death and suffering.
After Japan surrendered to end WWII, Walters father returned home to attend college on the GI Bill. After taking Japanese language studies, he returned to Japan as a Methodist missionary. This is where the couple, still alive and married, made an unlikely acquaintance that transcended war-torn cultures. Unfortunately not everyone was as enlightened.
“They fired him for marrying out of his race,” she shared.
Exhibiting a true zeal for living, although Walters claims to be retired, she also admits to having three gigs at the moment.
For the last few years Walters has worked for the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance, giving historic walking tours for people from all parts of the globe.
“The history is quirky,” she opined.
Historical accounts describe Breckenridge as “vile” Walters said, with crude language and unkempt appearances the norm. Also, she noted the propensity for claim jumping did little to cut the tension.
“People think it was always this pristine mountain environment,” she said. “People from other countries are astonished to learn our polluted history.”
In a time before environmental consciousness, with assorted mining operations scaring and polluting the land, Walters said the historical picture is far different than what we see today. In fact, high mortality rates, especially for infants, were likely byproducts of a time period without regulations. She shook her head while noting that Blue River was a dry bank during the early mining days.
“I think the river went into hiding,” she laughed.
Perhaps the river just wound into town for some entertainment, as Walters explained that in 1880 Breck had 18 saloons, three dance halls and two red light districts.
Since 2008, Walters has worked with Summit County-based Advocates for Victims of Assault. She became aware of their work after her husband, Stace Tackaberry, began volunteering with the group. While they are both proud to be associated with the Summit Advocates, as a survivor of sexual assault herself, Walters said the mission is especially poignant.
According to its website, Advocates for Victims of Assault provides 24-hour in-person crisis response in cases involving traumatic situations. In 2012 the group assisted in 211 domestic violence calls, 24 sexual assaults and 16 trauma or death calls. While the couple had previously been Advocates board members, Walters recently took a more hands-on approach.
“I retired from the board in September to give my time as a responder,” she explained. “That is where the greatest need is.”
During their tenure on the board Walters said the Advocates were able to purchase a shelter and office space, further enhancing its outreach work.
“We like to do good work and give back to the community,” she said.
To complete the trifecta, Walters also does freelance work for the National Caption Institute describing the action and scene on screen for the sightless. This is done during lulls in the dialogue so timing is tight.
“You need to be succinct and figure out what is important to a blind person,” she said.
Walters said it feels rewarding to help normalize the entertainment experience for a sightless person. She noted that recent FCC regulations requiring caption for all video content has increased the workload for the Virginia-based nonprofit.
With a family steeped in historical moments, and a love of the past, Walters hopes younger generations can absorb something besides the present.
“Can we ever learn from our history?” she asked.
With a nearly two decade background in the financial services field working with TransAmerica, during her time in Summit County, Walters has also used her skillset towards local economic development. In the past she worked with the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments to develop loans for startups and young expanding businesses. She has a clear understanding of the challenges and admits other employment options need to be created to meet the area’s cost of living.
“It’s really hard here for young people,” she lamented.
Attracting something besides tourism industry employment is also challenging, limiting the number of jobs paying more than a meager salary.
“Economic development is definitely a challenge here,” she said. “The real estate is just too expensive to have manufacturing plants.”
She sees more potential in engineering or tech industry jobs, but even those avenues are not without hurdles.
“A lot of it can be done remotely from a hub,” she noted.
While tele-commuting makes working from remote locations viable, other regions still present challenges.
“Start up businesses are not going to be able to pay Silicon Valley salaries,” she said. “You have to find a way to attract people who are in a job they enjoy that they can do here.”
With many younger people struggling to survive on low incomes in high-rent area, Walters said it makes it harder to elicit volunteers for local community groups.
“Time is the most valuable asset,” she said. “The problem here is donor fatigue because everybody is looking for volunteers and funding.”
Despite the daunting task of deciding which of the seemingly ever-increasing number of good causes to help out, she encourages anyone, especially younger people, to figure out how they can give back and who they can help.
“When you work for a nonprofit, you give, you get or you get out,” she joked. “Find a way to use your talents to give back something that actually touches peoples’ lives when they need it most.”
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