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 worry about where we’re going. There is too much government. The government was created to protect our borders. Now it is in every part of our lives.”
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.”
I first met Ellie Barnes when I was in the 3rd grade at Phillipe Shores Elementary School in Sarasota Florida in 1963. My 3rd grade teacher was Mrs. Pentony (as I recall). I think she may have had her for 3rd grade too. Not sure. Her brother Buzz was in my 3rd grade class. She was in the 4th grade, and her class room was down the hall from mine. In those days there was an open-air walkway from the “upper” grade classes (4th and 5th) down to where our 3rd grade clad was. When school was out every day at 3:00 pm, I would stand by the door of my classroom and wait and watch for her to come walking by. I remember she had a satchel or purse with a strap over her shoulder that she carried as she walked down the open air hallway. I would stand there and wait and watch for her to walk by. She was so beautiful. I seem to remember that she had long hair that flowed down around her shoulders. I was so shy. I don’t remember if I ever said hi to her. I may have once.
Some moments you never forget in life. She was that moment for me. Ellie, if by chance you you read this, it would be a pleasure to hear from you.
Thank you for your beautiful story. I appreciate you, and will try to reach out to Ellie on your behalf.