Bargell: Perfection not required in leaving a legacy (column)
Mountain Mom Musings
White event tents speckled the high school’s parking lot a few weeks ago when we dropped the kids off for a summer practice. Entering the lot, we took guesses at what event was planning to pit stop at Summit High. This time of year, it could be anything from an art festival to an adventure race. Each weekend, Summit swells with visitors, and we make way for all manner of runners and cyclists in colorful jerseys eager to sweat for a cause. The appearance of the tents prompted an on-line search that quickly revealed the Courage Classic was headed our way. Now in its 26th year, the ride benefits Children’s Hospital Colorado.
In 1908, twelve years before they were even granted the right to vote, nearly thirty-five Colorado women signed a Certificate of Incorporation for “The Children’s Hospital Association.” A (mere) one hundred and seven years later their, opening act brings nearly 2,000 “fearless” bicycle riders to Summit County. The progress seems nearly surreal, but there’s no arguing the Courage Classic raises millions for the Denver-based pediatric hospital.
That the mammoth facility in Denver was the brain-child of a few local women who saw a need and acted on a common vision came as a small surprise. A brief history appears on the Hospital’s official website, explaining the facility’s evolution from a few summer hospital tents in 1897 that offered services to babies into a 30-bed facility that opened in downtown Denver in 1910. It was the ladies who signed the paperwork who seemed really intriguing.
So, I started digging, eager to unearth inspirational stories about saintly women who were the first directors of an institution that brings hope and offers care to hundreds of thousands of kids annually. Quickly, I learned finding out about women from the turn of the century isn’t quite like googling a high school buddy. For starters, nearly all of them signed using their husbands’ surname, so, for many of the original directors, my search lead directly to the stories of the men they married. The original incorporators, however, were fully-identified, and the information far more personal.
My first “hit” was the treasurer of the organization who it seems absconded with a portion of the hospital funds and was later jailed for three years. The hospital’s original physician made a name for herself as a rare female doctor who also helped found several girls’ schools, as well as the Denver’s Women’s Club. Less inspiring was her role as a leading eugenics advocate. After searching only a few names, I was not finding what I expected, so I stopped looking. After all, what kind of column can you write about that?
The women weighed on my mind, and the inquiry gnawed at my consciousness. Reluctantly, I picked up my search where I left off until it dawned on me that there was plenty to learn from their stories. Instead of disparaging the silver spoon some were born with, it seemed appropriate to appreciate the wives of monied miners who volunteered their time to care for ailing children. An overlooked name turned out to be the first female physician to graduate from a Colorado school and went on to inspire countless others to follow her path. Their backgrounds, education, motivation and beliefs were diverse, and under today’s standards would come under intense fire. Their husbands, too, were equally captivating, not quite pioneers and not yet city-folk.
A century of perspective sheds a different light on individuals who could easily be judged as flawed, not exactly filling the saintly shoes as initially imagined. Still, those turn-of-the-century women left a legacy — unexpected, with imperfections and all — that annually makes its way through Summit each summer and, in the process, helps out thousands of kids. The ride is a reminder that greatness can be achieved despite differences. Turned out, it was just the inspiration I was looking for.
Cindy Bargell is an attorney and a mom who lives outside of Summit County with her husband and two daughters. She welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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