Summit Old Timer
Dillon resident Sena Valaer is a true blue Summit County native. She was born in Breckenridge in 1919 to Oscar Otterson and Ambure Christensen. Her parents met in Montezuma, where Oscar was working in a mill and Ambure was working in a boarding house. Both her parents’ families are of Scandinavian descent – Oscar’s family came from Norway and Ambure’s family came from Denmark.Ambure was also born in Breckenridge, where her father had two mine claims – the Sunnyside and the Matchless. “Granddad wasn’t doing too good (with the mine claims),” said Sena from her Dillon home last Saturday. “So, in 1903, he homesteaded a ranch down on Slate Creek – the Christensen ranch. Ambure had seven siblings, five brothers and two sisters.Oscar’s parents originally came to Denver, then north to Larimie, Wyo., and finally settled in Green River, Wyo., where they, too, homesteaded a ranch. Sena remembered them having “a few milk cows, chickens and stuff like that. But mostly sheep.”
With the exception of spending one year of grade school in Green River and another brief period in Fox Park, Wyo., where her pa was cutting timber, Sena has spent her whole life in Summit County. She went to grade school at the schoolhouse at Slate Creek, then went to high school in Breckenridge, where she graduated in 1938.She had an older brother named Herman and an older sister named Ovedia and a younger sister named Elizabeth. Sena met her husband, John Valaer, at a dance in Frisco and the two married in 1939. John’s family came from Switzerland. His father came to Breckenridge during the mining boom. In 1905, he went back to Switzerland and got married, then brought his bride back to Colorado, telling her if she didn’t like it they could go back home.When he came back to Summit County, he gave up on mining and started ranching on what is known today as the Smith Ranch, where he eventually built a dairy.
Sena and John stayed on the ranch until 1945, when they sold it to Cully Culbreath, then moved to the old town of Dillon.Sena worked at the Dillon Hotel for awhile and John bought the Mint pool hall. He eventually leased it out and went to work for the county, plowing snow and building roads.”He had a dump truck,” said Sena. “Back then they were building the road over Loveland Pass and he was working up there with his truck. So was my brother. It was just a wagon trail back then and it gave a lot of people work.”The Valaers later bought a liquor store from Ray Hill, who was a mason, “and the masons didn’t like the fact his business was selling liquor.””The old town of Dillon was a good location. Nobody had a lot, but everybody was friendly. We had square dances and a cadrill team,” said Sena, looking at photos of the cadrill team in an album. “I was busy all the time. I was working at the Dillon Inn before I went into the liquor store business. We cashed checks for a lot of the guys working on the tunnel. There were no banks in town or in the county. The only banks were in Leadville and Kremmling.”When Denver Water bought most of the town of Dillon and decided to create Dillon Reservoir, the Valaers had to move their home from the old town and relocate it to the new town. That was in 1961 and Sena has stayed in her home at that location ever since.
John passed away in 1971 from a congenital heart disease.Sena spent almost two decades working at the Little Brown Drug in Dillon as a counter clerk. “I did pretty much everything, I guess you could say.” In 1983, she stopped working at the Little Brown Drug and retired to her home on Tenderfoot.She is thinking about selling out this summer and moving to Denver, but hasn’t made any plans as yet. One thing for certain, Summit County will lose a piece of its soul if she does leave.
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