Summit County pioneers: Jody Anderson and Phyllis Armstrong
Special to the Summit Daily News
Jody Anderson and Phyllis Armstrong learned firsthand that geography blended with time equals destiny. What began as a chance encounter as neighbors in sparsely populated Summit County turned into lifelong camaraderie and companionship that endured the countless tests life doled out.
Jody first met her husband Charles at the Fitzsimmons Army Hospital, where she was a nurse. He had been going to school and working at United Airlines. After years of living in Denver, they longed to take their three children and escape the city to start a little business somewhere where life was more carefree. Summit County became the logical choice with the Dillon Dam being built and Breckenridge Ski Area just getting its start.
“There was so much going on here in Summit County in 1961, it was incredible,” Jody said.
Taking a tip from a book club friend, Jody and her husband came skiing in Summit County over Easter weekend to check out a lodge that was for sale. Next thing they knew, they were packing up and moving to Frisco on June 6, 1961. Their new purchase, the Frisco Lodge, had been closed for nearly a year after the previous owners had gone out of business. As a result, Public Service informed the Andersons that they were stuck with the delinquent power bills of the previous owner.
“It was astronomical,” Jody recalled. “It was certainly an amount of money that we didn’t have.”
A shortage of housing in the county presented Jody and Charles all the business they could handle from the moment the lodge opened its doors. Many of their customers were workers from Sturgeon Electric, a big contractor on the dam project. They so desperately needed a place to sleep that the Andersons began renting out two shifts of beds at $5 a night. When the guys who worked graveyard would get up to go to work, men on the previous shift would come in and take their beds.
“They didn’t care. They were just happy to have a place to take a shower and get some rest,” Jody said.
Frequently, workers came in at night with a case of beer to share as they sat around talking before going out to dinner. One of their favorite places was often the Antlers, at the confluence of Blue River and Ten Mile Creek in Old Dillon, followed by a trip to the Dairy King. The A&B Cafe that used to be across the street from the Frisco Lodge was also a favorite stop. At the time, the Frisco Lodge was Frisco’s largest building. In 1965, Jody and Charles added on a motel to the backside of the original structure. In an effort to entertain the guests, Jody’s kids would sell rides for 25 or 50 cents on a pony named Boo Boo that they kept behind the lodge. The pony almost always bucked people off, but everyone thought that was pretty funny.
“Our kids all had to work because we couldn’t afford to hire help. Of course, there wasn’t anybody to hire anyway,” Jody explained. “It was poor times in the ’60s and ’70s.”
A growing town
Making progress and beginning to grow, Frisco boasted four restaurants and seven gas stations in the mid-1960s. One restaurant, The Blue Spruce, was leased by Phyllis and Dick Armstrong near the corner of Summit Boulevard and Main Street. A major oil company bought land on the corner near the restaurant, forcing them to move it 150 yards east.
Phyllis remembered the night before they opened the restaurant, when they varnished the floors and the woodwork but didn’t allow enough time for it to dry before the grand opening.
“People would stand up, and the chairs they were sitting in would stick to them,” she recalled.
As the restaurant was getting started, they would often venture down to the water’s edge as the reservoir was filling and lay rocks along the shoreline. The next day they would return to see how far the water had risen since the night before.
Like the Armstrongs, the Andersons were quickly establishing a presence in the community. After living in Summit County for only three months, Charles entered politics because nobody else really wanted to at that time. Before he knew it, he had been mayor of Frisco for nine years. Many years later, Jody would serve as chairperson of the planning commission and Phyllis spent time on the Frisco sewer board. As a proponent of responsible growth, Charles met a lot of resistance from many of the local residents who lived in Frisco but commuted to jobs in Climax. They didn’t want to see “progress” come to Frisco if it meant paying more taxes in the name of capital improvements. Nevertheless, he encouraged people to come to town and start a business.
Jody recalls a time when a man named Walter Byron, who owned a great deal of land around Frisco and Climax, would take certain people aside and tell them, “I own from the top of that mountain to the top of that mountain to the top of that mountain.” At one time, he owned the towns of Kokomo and Robinson before selling the land to Climax. Walter was always very secretive and would only sell land to select individuals, including the Armstrongs.
Forming a bond
While Phyllis and her husband were busy building a cabin across the river from the Frisco Lodge in 1963, their three children were off making friends with their new neighbors the Andersons. From that moment on, a tight bond formed between the two families, and the group became known as the “Anderstrongs,” since rarely would one be seen without the other. Unlike many children today that rely on television and electronic games for entertainment, nature served as the playground for the Anderstrong group.
“When we first moved here, the children were wonderfully free,” Jody recalled. “They were free to roam the hills.”
In 1962 there wasn’t a lot of development on the north side of Ten Mile Creek and Fourth Avenue ended where a bridge had not yet been built. The kids especially enjoyed playing around the creek, where they had secret swimming holes and would be outdoors from morning until night.
“On New Year’s Eve, our kids would all ski up North Ten Mile or up Peak 1 and spend the night,” Phyllis said. “They called it their initiation.”
When any of the parents needed to round up the throng of children, they would walk along the creek until they came upon a bunch of dogs, and there they would find them.
“We wandered all over, and the kids wandered all over. They were very self-sufficient,” Phyllis said.
She said it was not unusual for the kids to take off on their own and go camping when they were just 10 and 12 years old. The only house rule was that the children had to write a note telling both sets of parents in which direction they were going.
The children all learned to ski as a natural part of life in the mountains.
“Back in those days, we only paid 50 cents for the kids to ski, and that included lessons,” said Jody, remembering that the children were usually involved in some kind of mischief at Arapahoe Basin when they went to take their lessons.
Jody started a Nordic ski shop in 1967 with the help of Jim Balfonz, the coach of the high school ski team. Established in conjunction with the Frisco Lodge, the ski shop was formed to ensure that the local kids — including Jody’s daughter Cheryl and Marie Zdechlik’s daughter Kris, who were on the women’s U.S. Ski Team — had access to good ski equipment.
By this time, the Anderson and Armstrong parents had also become close friends and enjoyed many of the same activities together, including fishing, hiking and backcountry jeeping.
“We were very adventurous, and we got into lots and lots of difficult situations,” Jody admitted. “It’s amazing we all survived all those many years.”
One time when they had taken their Jeeps off-road, they got stuck on Georgia Pass.
“We had the two dogs, the six kids, one orange and one Hershey bar,” Phyllis laughed. When they could afford it, they would sometimes go on excursions to places like Glenwood Springs. Otherwise, they had fun playing games, including Bongo Boarding. They also went to movies Sunday nights that were shown in an old Army Quonset hut in Breckenridge. In the winter, it would be so cold that they would either take sleeping bags or quilts to keep warm.
A lasting friendship
Jody and Phyllis remained trusted friends for more than 40 years. Since arriving in Summit County, they each were not afraid to wear multiple hats when it came to vocation. Jody served as a family planning nurse practitioner from 1974 until 1982. She also founded the Frisco Gold Rush, Colorado’s first Nordic citizens race, which began as a fundraiser for children’s skiing. As a result, there is now a trail at the Frisco Nordic Center named “Jody’s Nugget.”
Phyllis was a music-lover. She was the vocal music teacher for Summit County schools for 25 years, teaching K-12 since 1965. In 1999, one of her former students was touring with Mickey Rooney in the stage production of “Wizard of Oz.” The auditorium at the Summit Middle School is named after her: The Phyllis Armstrong Auditorium. One year, she taught a bunch of school kids to sing the Norwegian National Anthem for Olav Pederson’s Ski for Light event that was held in conjunction with the Frisco Gold Rush. Over the years, Phyllis also played the piano in more than 287 weddings.
“We didn’t get rich very fast. In fact, we didn’t get rich at all. But we sure had fun,” Jody said.
Phyllis nodded, adding, “It just wasn’t in the plan, I guess. Looking back, I think our kids had the most fun when we were the poorest.”
This story previously published in the book “Summit Pioneers,” which was printed in 1999. The book was written by Alison (Grabau) Pomerantz with photos by Bob Winsett in partnership with Wilson-Lass Creative Communications. It was published to raise money for The Summit Foundation. Read more about the history of Summit County at SummitDaily.com/news/history.
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