A small town takes notice
Holyoke's 2,200 residents may be isolated, but they're not
out of touch with the world
By James B. Meadow, Rocky Mountain News
October 21, 2002
As Election Day draws closer, there's no shortage of reports on what
voters along the Front Range are thinking. But what about
Coloradans far from Denver? To learn the concerns of small-town
Coloradans, the Rocky Mountain News visited a few outlying towns.
Today we look at Holyoke.
HOLYOKE - The wind dances down Interocean Avenue - even
though there isn't an ocean within 1,500 miles of here - past the
only stoplight in Phillips County.
Past the modest inventory of shops and restaurants, many of
them bearing homecoming signs urging the high school's Dragons
to stomp arch-rival Akron. Past the silos and elevators that hold
the harvests of a region whose pulse is measured in corn, wheat,
beans and sugar beets.
The wind moves around the 2,200 souls who like living here very
much, who like the simple, fundamental ethos of their Eastern
Plains town, a town where people only give you the last four
digits of their phone number because, after all, everybody has the
Then the wind moves off and scatters in different directions, much
like the young people who grow up in Holyoke but then leave,
looking for better jobs and more adventure.
"There's hardly anything for kids to come back to once they've
gone off to school," says Jody Fiscus, 50, who owns the Oak Tree,
a quaint and well-stocked gift shop. She has seen four of her kids
move away. "If their family doesn't own a farm or they aren't
looking for a teaching job, there's nothing else that pays enough."
Not everybody moves away. Chip Scheunemann's family, who
founded the town's only clothing store, settled here 103 years
ago, long enough to have a street named after them.
But if, as Scheunemann, 53, concedes, "We're a little bit isolated
out there," that doesn't mean Holyoke doesn't know what's going
on in the world beyond its modest borders.
"You want to know what's on my mind? I'll tell you," says H.D.
Glover, "past 80" and one of the retirees who make up some 35
percent of the town's population. "I don't believe in all this stuff
leading us into war. I was in World War II, served in the South
Pacific, and I've had all the war I want. I don't think we should be
starting another war."
Standing behind the desk at the Golden Plains Motel, clerk Diane
Thompson, 60, is thinking of more local issues, like this whole
business of a state budget deficit.
"I was almost amused by the fact that there isn't any more
surplus in Colorado, no more rebates," she says. "Here we had all
this surplus, and all the people of Colorado got back money. Well,
we didn't expect it, we didn't need it, so why didn't they set it
aside and save it for bad times?"
The economy is also on Thompson's mind, prompting her to
observe, "I'm sure not wildly enthusiastic about them putting any
of Social Security in the stock market, the way the stock market is
Not that everyone agrees.
"In spite of what's happened in the stock market, the return
would probably be better if we were able to invest some of the
money in it," insists Ruth Dusenbury, 73, who, along with her
husband, owns Speer Cushion Co., the town's only manufacturer.
Amendment 31 opinions vary
Dusenbury, who makes no bones about her free-enterprise,
conservative philosophy, is equally outspoken on the subject of
Amendment 31, which would significantly reduce the amount of
time non-English-speaking students would spend in bilingual
"If people are coming to our country, they need to make a
supreme effort to become Americans," she says. "We think English
immersion is the answer."
Not so, say others.
"Would you want to go to a foreign country and learn the
language in one year?" asks accountant Joan Roskop, 55. "It's not
fair; one year isn't enough time. We do need to teach them
English, but not in a year."
Amendment 31 doesn't have just some vague relevance to
Holyoke. It is estimated that anywhere from 20 to 25 percent of
the students in the town's schools are Hispanic, children of an
ever-growing number of Spanish-speaking workers who have
been drawn to Holyoke, frequently by the jobs offered at the hog
farms that sit near the city.
"We had to change the signs on our door and in the rooms to be
in Spanish, too," says Thompson. "And we sell a lot of phone
cards to Mexico," she adds.
If opinions on Amendment 31 vary, there is far more consensus on
the issue of health care.
"It's out of control," says Laura Krogmeier, 40, who owns Inklings,
a sunny, expansive bookstore where stuffed animals serve as
seat cushions and National Public Radio plays in the background.
According to Krogmeier, when her family's health-care provider left
the area, "We didn't have a lot of choices in finding another
"Insurance is pricing itself to the point where I'm not sure we can
continue to offer our employees a plan," laments Roskop.
Meanwhile, the cost of medication is escalating up and up, says
Carol Schmidt who is "somewhere between 60 and 65" and owns
Schmidt's, which serves good coffee in the morning and even
better sandwiches and pizza in the afternoon and evening.
"I honestly don't know how any of us will be able to pay for
prescription drugs soon," she says. This summer, Schmidt's
husband suffered a heart attack and required surgery. When he
came home from the hospital, the couple stopped off to buy the
medication he had been prescribed.
"It came to $500 for one month!" says Schmidt. "That's more than
his Social Security check. That's outrageous. You get into some
pill-pushing doctor, and they can just break you."
Passion for local issues
Although there's no shortage of opinion on state and national
issues, Zion Lutheran Church minister Gary Rahe, 55, says,
"There's probably more passion around here for local issues."
In a community where, as Krogmeier says, "Farming is life for us,"
water looms large. Although the Ogalalla aquifer enabled irrigated
farming to do fine this year, the drought took its toll on crops that
depend on rainfall.
"Wheat was down 50 percent or more, and dry-land corn is pretty
much a total loss," says farmer Mike Bennett, 40.
But even if there was enough water this year, there's always next
year, and locals are worried. Worried about their crops. Worried
that their water is at peril.
"I'm hearing Front Range people saying, 'Cut the farmers' water;
they're using too much,' " says a nervous Fiscus. "The Front
Range isn't connected to the earth like we are; everything here
functions around what is grown; we wouldn't be anything without
Not all issues are so fluid.
Take the potential expansion of U.S. 385. Although it settles
benignly into its guise as Interocean Avenue while it cuts through
town, U.S. 385 is a north-south conduit bearing an
ever-increasing amount of truck traffic. There has been talk of
widening it - even of making it into another interstate - a
possibility that has backers and doubters.
"Gee whiz, the state is putting all kinds of money into highways
along the Front Range, so why not put some here?" asks
Scheunemann, 53, whose store sits right on Interocean. "You go
up to Denver, and everywhere you see new roads. You come
here, and we're the same as we were in 1940."
"I don't think it would be of any benefit to the community," insists
Fiscus, whose business is also on U.S. 385. "But they need to
divert that truck traffic somewhere else. The road's just not big
enough to handle it."
Part of some people's reluctance to augmenting U.S. 385 seems
tied to the belief that, as John Lindenberger, editor of the Holyoke
Enterprise, says, "This town has a great fear of change."
"Out here, we've got a lot of retirement people, and, boy, they
don't want any change," says Scheunemann. "They don't
necessarily want economic development. Me? I would love to see
Some people, though, would like to see a few more candidates in
this year's local elections. With the exception of one county
commissioner race, everyone else - the clerk and recorder, the
assessor, the treasurer, the sheriff, the surveyor and the coroner
- is running unopposed. All these candidates are Republican,
which figures to be the case in a county where GOP registration is
almost three times higher than Democratic.
Still, a lot of Holyoke voters say don't be misled by that.
"I honestly try to look at who's the best candidate," says Rahe.
"I'm a registered Republican, but I'm probably closer to being an
Which is not to say everyone is reflexively bipartisan.
"I am absolutely a Republican," says Dusenbury. "Out of all the
elections I've participated in, I voted for three Democrats - as
county commissioners. And two of them were big mistakes."
Countering Dusenbury's votes will be Dale Colglazier, 84, a retired
farmer. No latecomer to the progressive cause, Colglazier says, "I
guess I'm about as liberal as anybody could be here." Then,
chuckling, he says, "I'm the chief rabble-rouser in northern
Colorado, and I don't mind being that at all. Anybody that belongs
to Common Cause and the ACLU has got to be out of place here."
Colglazier is so committed to the liberal cause that he has
reached into his own pocket to fund newspaper ads for Tom
Strickland's U.S. Senate bid.
Speaking of ads in the Strickland- Wayne Allard race, "The mute
button on my TV has been used a lot when those two come on,"
And when Rahe says, "Those guys are both getting pretty
muddy," Krogmeier interjects, "And it seems like they're packing
rocks in that mud."
She pauses for a minute, then, in a peevish voice, adds, "I hate
those ads so much I may not vote for either of them. I just might
leave that line blank."
Making a difference
But Krogmeier won't fail to vote for other candidates and issues, a
trait shared by her neighbors: In the 2000 election, a whopping
80.4 percent of all registered voters cast ballots.
One Holyoke group that could stand to augment its political
presence is Hispanics. While Hispanics comprise 20 percent of the
town's population, few doubt they are underrepresented at the
Many may assume the attitude of Cesar Dominguez, 25, who,
although a native-born U.S. citizen and registered voter, isn't sure
if he'll vote because, "I don't think it would make much difference
if a Hispanic voted; not here."
This politically passive attitude drives Jose Leon, a Spanish and
English-as-second-language teacher at Holyoke High School, a
little bit nuts.
"I tell other Hispanics in town, 'You can make a difference, but you
have to be participants. If you don't register, if you don't vote, no
one will listen to you.'"
Leon, a member of the Holyoke City Council, knows about the
importance of voting. "I won by one vote when I ran. One," he
says, smiling. "That's what I tell people - in the American system,
one vote can make a difference."
The margin of victory for Gov. Bill Owens, Allard and Marilyn
Musgrave, a Republican running for the U.S. House of
Representatives in the 4th District, will probably be more robust
than a single digit.
"I think Gov. Owens' leadership has been good," says Rahe. "He's
got some visions in regard to the issues of growth and education
that I like."
On the Allard front, farmer Kenneth Schlachter, 55, says, "I feel
Allard is a more down-to-earth fellow. He's kind of got that rural
thing about him. He knows about us farmers. He's got that
For her part, Musgrave "really seems to care about the concerns
of people out here. She has a sincere interest; she comes out and
visits," says Krogmeier.
"I like her Christian stance," says Roskop.
And some people just like the lure of incumbency. "It's pretty easy
to vote for the incumbent," says Mike Bennett, "when you don't
know much about the other guy."
A comfortable landscape
Of course, when there is no incumbent, the decision on who to
vote for can be based on something that has little to do with
political party or ideology. Take the county commissioner race
between Republican Susan Roll and Democrat Elwin Poe.
Around the table at Schmidt's during a morning coffee powwow,
Blake says, smiling, "I have no choice in that race. Elwin is one of
the elders in my church."
Across from him, homemaker Pat Warren, 62, puts down her cup
and says, "Elwin is my son's father-in-law. I'll vote for him."
Joan Roskop says, "He's my brother-in-law's cousin."
And as for Ida Mae Skipworth, 79, well, "My sister married Elwin's
While this kind of intimacy between voters and candidates is alien
to many in larger cities, here it's part of a landscape that people
are comfortable with. Just like they're comfortable with much
about their community, although most would like it better if one of
Holyoke's four restaurants would stay open for business on
Other than that, "I think the public is pretty well satisfied with the
way things are in this little town," says Ted Clark, 82, a retired
"This is a wonderful community to live in; it's safe and clean. I
know many of my customers by their first names," says Fiscus.
"You know you count in a small town," says Krogmeier.
And sometimes you count beyond the town's borders.
"I feel the people here can make a difference in politics," says
Dusenbury. "If Gov. Owens hadn't had the support of rural
counties like us, he might not have been put in office. Same thing
with Allard. Thank goodness for rural counties, I say. We helped
put people like Owens and Allard in office. I can tell you it sure
Still, few people here expect that anybody in the Front Range will
take notice of them.
"When the voting's all over, we don't see that these elections will
really impact those of us in rural areas that much," says Rahe. "I
mean, what's it gonna really change around here? It won't make
But no one's backing down.
"I'm gonna vote how I want to, and that's the way it's gonna be,"
says Blake. "It doesn't matter how Denver votes or who for."
He takes a sip from his cup of coffee and adds with a smile, "But
it's like I told my wife the other day. I'll sure be glad when all this
is over for another year."
meadowj@RockyMountainNews.com or (303) 892-2606