Ellie Bontrager is a lovely person and great conversationalist. I arrived at her house with a flat tire; one of those pesky Prairie burrs had lodged in my front tire. She sat on the patio where the horizontal sun still warmed. We chatted while I repaired my bike. Then our conversation moved indoors, continued until bedtime, and resumed in the morning.
Ellie has been offering her two basement bedrooms to couchsurfers, warmshower cyclists, and AirBNB guests for over ten years. “People are surprised I invite strangers into my home. You take a risk every time, but that risk is so small, and the advantages are so great.” She showed me a photo of her husband and two young men – a photo from the 1980’s before the Internet formalized things like couchsurfing. The two Israelis from a kibbutz stayed with them in Colorado Springs for three months over thirty years ago. Recently, Ellis hosted a young man from Israel who tracked down one of those long ago guests. Ellie rekindled their friendship. Invite someone to share your house and the world becomes a smaller, warmer place.
Ellie and her husband raised their six children in Limon. Warren was a security guard in the local prison, then the maintenance director and finally the woodshop instructor. The woodshop program was dismantled during a round of cost cutting. After serving for 20+ years Warren retired with his pension. He recently became an RTD (Rapid Transit Denver) bus driver. He lives in Denver six days a week and returns to Limon on his ‘weekend’ – whatever day he has off.
With all six children grown, Ellis took a part-time job as Post Mistress in Agate, a dwindling town twenty miles north whose only remaining services are a school with about 25 students and a tiny post office. “There are forty mailboxes for local residents. I work noon to four six days a weeks. Everything is manual; there are no computers. I like getting to know the locals. Some days I am busy. Some days I have no customers at all.”
How will we live tomorrow?
I don’t usually explore the relationship between people’s life story and their response to my question, but I was intrigued how a family whose life work has always been in the public sector had such a dark view of our government. Since Ellie is such an open person, I inquired about the seeming disconnection.
“I can’t explain it. 35% of Americans work for the government, including me and me husband. It’s too much; the government’s reach is too deep. But we don’t know how to pull it back.”