3 South Routt icons quietly celebrate landmark birthdays
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — In the span of just over a week, three South Routt women are celebrating big birthdays, albeit in quiet quarantine.
On April 25, Betty Sweetland of Oak Creek turned 90. On April 28, Louise Iacovetto of Phippsburg turned 95. And on May 3, Verna Whaley, also of Phippsburg, will be 93 years old.
Sweetland and Iacovetto had small celebrations with the family members living nearby, which Whaley will also do Sunday. They aren’t the big parties they would otherwise have had, but friends and family made an effort to make the women’s days as special as possible.
All three women are widows, but have kids who live in South Routt. And they all know each other well.
Sweetland’s kids set up an elaborate 90-candle display outside her home, building PVC pipe candles with cellophane flames.
They attached cards to the candles, and several days after her birthday, Sweetland said she has received close to 90 cards.
“I thought 80 was getting up there,” she said.
Before they ate cake, more than 25 members of Sweetland’s family across the state and country joined a Zoom call for a “Happy Birthday” song.
“They worked really hard to make it a special day for me and did an excellent job,” she said.
The group included nearly all of her 15 great-grandchildren, ranging in age from 6 months to 17 years old.
Sweetland has lived on a ranch just north of Oak Creek for 57 years and in South Routt for 67 years. She worked as a bookkeeper for the United Mine Workers and the Oak Creek Fire Protection District and was involved in numerous clubs and organizations. Sweetland currently volunteers as the treasurer for the Historical Society of Oak Creek.
It was her husband’s dream to be a rancher, Sweetland said, and once they bought their 120 acres with a beautiful view of the Flat Tops, they knew they’d never leave.
“I can’t even think of any place I would rather be,” she said.
Down the road, Louise Iacovetto celebrated her birthday with her daughter, who visited from Grand Junction for lunch. After a nap, she went to her son’s house for dinner.
“At 95, your energy level is just not what it was 20 years ago,” she said.
Iacovetto also celebrated on a Facetime call with her grandson, who is almost 2.
“It was a good birthday,” she said.
Iacovetto was born in Oak Creek but spent her life in Phippsburg. Her grandparents came to town with the railroad around 1912.
She is amazed — and deeply appreciative — of all the cards, calls and emails she has received.
“I’m overwhelmed,” she said. “I started getting cards a dozen at a time. This many cards — I can’t believe, for crying out loud.”
Iacovetto has been living in the same house in Phippsburg since 1946.
“I moved in as a newlywed, and here I am,” she said.
Her husband, Ray, was named postmaster in 1949, and Iacovetto was hired as a clerk. She retired from the U.S. Postal Service in 1989, and the couple also had a working ranch, a family grocery business and ran a hardware store in the building shared with the current Phippsburg Post Office — a building she and her husband built in 1970.
Still very active, Iacovetto loves to play bridge and pinochle and enjoys going to her exercise class — all things she very much misses under lockdown.
“The first two weeks was a little tough,” Iacovetto said. “But I kind of adjusted. I don’t like it, but what are we going to do about it?”
She does still get out and walk at least twice a day.
Not far away, Verna Whaley isn’t exactly sure what her nearby family has planned for Sunday, but she is anticipating a quiet celebration with them, and possibly, a few visitors.
Whaley was born in Toponas in 1927. She worked on her family farm growing lettuce and spinach and drove with her sisters to Yampa for high school, where she met Iacovetto.
She taught school briefly, then got married and had two kids. She and her husband owned a ranch near Yampa, and moved to Phippsburg in the early 1970s.
Whaley said she’s been coping fairly well through the COVID-19 pandemic. She’s been doing some spring cleaning — both inside and outside.
“I keep busy — I call a neighbor once in a while — I’ve learned to cope,” Whaley said. “But I hope it’s over pretty soon.”
As to their secrets to longevity, the three women can’t point to any single thing — though they all mentioned the health benefits of ranch work.
Sweetland noted her genetics, which include a mother who lived almost to 100 and a grandmother who died just short of 90.
“I’m truly blessed with my health,” she said. Sweetland also attributes it to “clean living in a clean environment.”
Whaley and Iacovetto both pointed to childhoods spent eating freshly churned butter and cream fresh from the cow.
“All that good fat stuff,” Whaley said.
And, “hard work as a kid,” Iacovetto said, and “plenty of activity as you get older — don’t just sit in a rocking chair.”
She also gives credit to an exercise class for seniors run by friends, which she attends faithfully twice every week.
They couldn’t have normal birthday celebrations, but the women were far more grateful for what they can and did do rather than disappointed by what they couldn’t.
And they aren’t normal women — but a truly an impressive trio of wisdom, modesty, and a lives spent embodying the best of South Routt — working the land, raising families, relishing the fresh air and beautiful vistas, and appreciating the people who make up the close knit communities.
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