Paonia will be a poorer place without the Rowells

By Ed Marston


Dear Editor:

The Sentinel article (April 17, 2017) on the North Fork Valley's efforts to create new economies in the wake of the decline in coal mining was first rate. It gave a sense of how much pain people experience when the economy shifts beneath them. We may be willing to voluntarily change jobs or careers or move far from home. But we hate being forced to do so.

I was especially struck by the reaction of Scott Morley to his firing after 38 years and his rehiring. He was happy to be employed again, but he was also sad about all his fellow coal miners who didn't have their jobs back. His quotes were humane and moving.

But perhaps the hardest to read was the interview with former Paonia mayor and fire chief Ron Rowell, who feels as if we new people have stolen his town from him, by changing its way of life into something he dislikes. In fact, he likes his native home so little he has sold his laundromat business -- to a newcomer -- and intends to move away, he told the Sentinel.

When Betsy and I and our children moved here 41 years ago this coming July 6, we were very definitely outsiders, like Ron feels now. Some people welcomed us, some people waited to see if we'd stick (betting that we would not), and some people were and remain hostile.

Our two children moved away long ago in search of opportunity this valley does not offer. They moved back to New York -- a city we fled in search of opportunity a large megalopolis does not offer. The generations confound each other.

Over time, I came to understand why our very presence irritated or even angered people who had settled here before us. I remember former school superintendent Malcolm Drake chewing me out: "You came here, Ed, because you liked this place and now all you want to do is change everything."

Well, not everything, but a lot of things, I have to admit in hindsight. I also have to admit I was a huge pain in a lot of ways.

At the same time, I brought a business here, High Country News, that now employs about 30 people at good wages. And I helped bring Solar Energy International here, which has about 15 employees and brings in hundreds of free-spending students for six months of the year -- the sunny months.

They are both nonprofits, which Ron Rowell says are free riders that suck up services without giving back. I think nonprofits are the heart and soul of any community. Put aside High Country News and Solar Energy International. Paonia's Grand Avenue at one end has the nonprofit American Legion and two blocks away the nonprofit Masons. Down Third Street are a bunch of other nonprofits: the numerous churches Paonia is known for. Another nonprofit, the Paradise, is among the very few single-screen theaters in the state. It can only exist because as a nonprofit it is eligible to receive charitable contributions and it does not pay property taxes.

Ron, I would bet, didn't mean the churches and Legion and Masons when he criticized nonprofits as takers rather than givers. He was thinking of the nonprofits he doesn't like. Not the nonprofits he likes.

We are all like Ron. We have our inconsistencies and blind spots and when we look back on our lives -- as I am doing regularly now -- we see all the things we should have and could have done better. Or at least the things we should have done more quietly and politely.

So, in that spirit, before it is too late, I write this letter to ask that Ron and Deb change their minds and stay in Paonia. Their moving away will make Paonia poorer in many ways. They will take with them a chunk of history and experience. They know the North Fork Valley in a way few know it.

And if they move to a Grand Junction or Montrose, they may find it as strange as Betsy and Wendy and David and I found Paonia when we moved here.

They may even find that they miss at least a few of us weird newcomers.

Ed Marston
Paonia