Marie Zdechlik was a Frisco local for more than half a century
Zdechlik remembered after her death on Oct. 14
FRISCO — When the Summit Daily spoke to Marie Zdechlik in January of last year, she was as spry as a 92-year-old could be, residing at her red-tiled roof home near the corner of Pitkin Street and Fifth Avenue in Frisco. Zdechlik had been a widow since 1991, when her husband, Bob Zdechlik, passed after battling multiple sclerosis.
She did all of the housework by herself — shoveling and blowing snow off her walkway, mowing her lawn in the summer, driving her own car around town for errands, and taking care of herself as well as she could at 92.
Marie Alice Renner Zdechlik always believed in self-reliance. She was born on Feb. 23, 1925, to parents Ignatius and Anna Renner. Growing up on a farm near Alexandria, Minnesota, during the Great Depression, her family didn’t have much but they knew to do the most with what they had. Zdechlik went on to the University of Minnesota, where she trained to be a nurse in the Nurse Corps.
Her skills came to great use in the years following World War II, when polio epidemics hit Minnesota and then later Denver. She learned how to use the iron lung to keep polio-afflicted patients who had lost the muscle control required to breathe alive. After polio hit Denver, she came out to the Front Range with the Red Cross and got to work saving lives in Colorado.
After her work in Denver was done, she went back to Minnesota, but returned to Colorado in 1947 to work as a nurse at Climax Mine. Zdechlik worked to mend wounded miners and skiers, and on occasion she was the only thing standing between them and death.
Her healing hands touched many lives up at Climax. Longtime friend Scott Pyles eulogized Zdechlik at her memorial service after her death on Oct. 14, recounting how she had helped so many during a time when there was little in the way of medical services in the area.
“As one of the head nurses at the Climax hospital, she cared for virtually all of us at one time or another, as a nurse in the hospital or as a ski patrol on the ski hill,” Pyles said. “Through many broken bones and other ailments, she was there.”
But even more than patching people up, Zdechlik’s steel-strong fortitude and ever-caring heart comforted Pyles’ family through some of the toughest moments of their lives.
“Marie sat with our grandmother, Zella, as she spent her last months in a losing fight with cancer,” Pyles wrote. “Marie was also there on occasion as our great grandmother, Gran Emmert, spent her last living years. While our mother Jackie was in hospice, Marie was there visiting and comforting her until her passing.”
While at Climax, she met Bob Zdechlik, a school teacher and ski instructor. They married and started building a home in the then-fledgling town of Frisco in 1954, built with materials salvaged from Climax Mine. They cut trees for lumber and even hand-dug their own well — the town did not have plumbing, let alone actual streets or other amenities.
“I recall riding my bicycle over to see them one summer day in the mid 1950s,” Pyles said. “Marie was about 15 feet or more deep in the ground loading mostly rocks and some dirt into buckets that Bob would hoist out of the well. Marie would then place the wood cribbing and fasten them together with spikes. She knew all about well digging as her father, a professional well digger in Minnesota, frequently enlisted his daughters to help.”
Zdechlik stopped working at the mine that same year, having had her first child in October. Marie and Bob went on to have six children: Kristine, Joel, Lisa, Jon, David and Matt.
Frisco Lodge owner Susan Anderson was very close with Zdechlik for much of her life growing up in Frisco. During the latter years Anderson took Zdechlik to her doctor’s appointments. She said Zdechlik was “a second mother, nurse, mentor, teacher and an advocate to many of the children and parents living in the town of Climax.”
Anderson also shared some of her childhood tales of Zdechlik’s grit and unwavering can-do attitude that made her larger than life in Frisco.
“A popular story regarding (her red-tiled roof) is about how Marie nailed her young son John’s overalls to the sub-roof so she could keep an eye on him and continue laying the tiles on the roof,” Anderson said.
Marie and Bob finished building their house in 1958, and settled into a quiet, purposeful life, raising their children, who played in the Frisco meadows. They lived mountain life the way it was back then — went to church, golfed and skied whenever they could, watching as Frisco rapidly changed into the resort town it is today.
Anderson recalled how Zdechlik went out of her way to ensure that the kids had something to do in the days when Frisco was truly a tiny mountain town, with little in the way of activities for the children.
“In the early 1960s, Marie decided we needed a softball field, so she collected all the kids and moms up and took us out in a field of sagebrush just south of the Zdechlik yard and the village built a field,” Anderson said. “Marie became the softball coach and kept us all busy and out of trouble.”
Margaret Smith, another friend who had known Zdechlik and her family since 1972, remembered Zdechlik as perpetually kind person always looking to help, and never turned down a game of golf with her friends — no matter the conditions.
“One time we went over to Vail to play golf,” Smith said. “It was the early fall, and it started snowing and getting cold. But we decided, we’re still playing. We kept playing until our fingers almost froze off. She loved her golf. She’d tell us a lot of times, if I fall down and have a heart attack, do not resuscitate, just step over my body and keep playing.”
Zdechlik lived in her family’s house for over 50 years, dutifully living a disciplined life with next to no health issues. She left a lasting impact on the many Summit County residents who knew her, a wise matriarch presiding with a wry wit and lively spirit.
“For so many of us, she was our last mother standing,” Anderson said. “She is loved and will be missed by all of us.”
When speaking last year for the first Longevity Project, Zdechlik said that she didn’t know how she managed to live as long and well as she did. But one thing she said that seemed integral to her longevity of life and strength of will was living without regret.
“I haven’t figured out what has caused people to have this attitude, ‘I’ve done everything in life,’” Zdechlik said. “No they haven’t. Absolutely, you can never do everything in life. Be happy and go do the things you want to do. If there’s something you really want to see, see it. Don’t have any remorse for things you should or shouldn’t have done.”
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