Stories and memories from Casey’s Pond highlight national Older Americans Month

Teresa Ristow

Casey’s Pond resident Elaine Gay, middle, chats with Sheila Foster Haddix, left, while hanging out with fellow residents Jim Sackett, standing, and Helyne McMullen, right.
John F. Russell

— From her cozy room on the second floor of Casey’s Pond senior living center, 97-year-old Elaine Gay is remembering the decades of life she’s experienced in the Yampa Valley.

She remembers living on the Gay family ranch overlooking Pleasant Valley south of Steamboat Springs, where her husband Bob’s family grew grain and vegetables and raised livestock.

Gay would cook dinner for ranch hands during haying season, and, afterward, they would take turns trying to ride a donkey named Mickey, though everyone had trouble staying on, and the donkey would chase them when they fell off, she said.

“The guys would go out after supper and try to buck old Mick,” she said. “They had to run like the dickens to get away from him.”

Gay also has memories of the early days of Steamboat Springs, when boys would cut ice from what is now Casey’s Pond, store it between layers of hay in an old barn and then sell it to local businesses.

She also fondly remembers one of Steamboat’s earliest doctors, Frederick E. Willett, who performed home deliveries for at least a couple of Gay’s three children at the Pleasant Valley home.

Gay’s stories are some of the countless memories stored in the minds of millions of older Americans across the country and celebrated each May as part of Older Americans Month.

Established in 1963, the month has historically been a way to acknowledge the meaningful contributions older generations make to the country.

“We should be thankful and honor and respect the people before us and what they did for the community,” said Kelly Ornberg, membership and marketing director at Casey’s Pond. “They come from generations of no airplanes and no telephones, and here they are, advancing and living their lives.”

Ornberg said that, throughout the past 55 years, the average lifespan has been extended from 63 to 79 years old.

Older Americans Month is a way to recognize the stories and contributions seniors have made to communities such as the Yampa Valley, Ornberg said.

“At Casey’s Pond we have 116 people with stories like these, and they’ve all contributed in one way or another to their community,” she said.

President Barack Obama in April issued an Older Americans Month proclamation, recognizing the contributions of older Americans and stating the group has earned the care and respect of others.

“For the next 15 years, thousands of Americans will reach retirement age every day, and by 2030, there will be more than twice as many older Americans as there were at the beginning of this century,” Obama said. “This growing population is a tremendous national asset. By changing the way we think and talk about aging — by focusing on the opportunities of aging rather than the limitations — we can work to maximize the potential of this generation and ensure they continue to thrive as they age.”

Ornberg said there are numerous volunteer opportunities at Casey’s Pond to visit with, read to or play games with senior residents.

“Knowing them will help honor these people,” she said.

To reach Teresa Ristow, call 970-871-4206, email or follow her on Twitter @TeresaRistow

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