Editorial – The Pagosa Springs SUN http://www.pagosasun.com The most trusted source for news and information about Pagosa Springs, Colorado. Tue, 24 Nov 2020 23:13:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.4.4 http://www.pagosasun.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/cropped-sun-logo-512x512-1-32x32.jpg Editorial – The Pagosa Springs SUN http://www.pagosasun.com 32 32 What are you thankful for? http://www.pagosasun.com/what-are-you-thankful-for-2/ Wed, 25 Nov 2020 22:00:41 +0000 http://www.pagosasun.com/?p=213392 By Terri Lynn Oldham House

While it may not seem like it during the middle of a pandemic, there is still a lot to be thankful for in Pagosa Country.

We asked SUN readers and Facebook friends what they were thankful for this Thanksgiving and the responses were overwhelming. The following is a sampling of what they had to share, unedited and in their own words:

“I am thankful to be alive and have a husband, children, and friends who love and care for me.” — Jackie Ramsey Cox

“Definitely that I’m still healthy, happy, and have been able to stay above ground.” — Jeanna Duran 

“Facebook It has allowed me to stay in contact with my community and even make more friends in Pagosa Springs.” — Pamela Larson

“I am thankful for being alive at this time on earth. At witnessing so many people waking up to our past history, and wanting to make the changes to be inclusive to all.” — Kathleen Wells Steventon

“I am thankful for all the happy years Pete & I spent in Pagosa Springs! I still miss it and hope to return soon :) That glorious clean mountain air is good for my soul and I’m grateful for all the friends I made when we lived there.” — Helen Richardson

“I’m thankful for the capacity to be thankful.” — Ben Bailey 

“For our health and jobs, May they both continue to thrive in these uncertain times!” — Danyelle Vincent Leentjes

“The courage, resiliency, commitment, and dedication of the PSMC EMS team.” — Connie Cook

“I am thankful for the life Diamond Dave and I have lived in Pagosa Springs.” — Kathryn Pokorney

“We lost our beloved Pickle. Our dog. We also lost our truck and a camper that two of our adopted kids were living in. They lost everything. But I’m thankful that our house didn’t burn too.” — Jennifer Dawn Torrey-Segura

“I am thankful for this wonderful town I am privileged to live in.” — Dee Halligan

“I am thankful for the ability to embrace solitude, appreciate my family, friends and nature and use my creativity to get me through challenging times.” — Linda Lutomski

“Thankful that during these days when everyone is stuck where they are, I happen to be stuck in paradise, surrounded by miles and miles of wilderness, that brings calm to my soul. I’m one lucky guy.” — Vincent Fortunato

“I am thankful for being able to start school in January. I’ll be going to school for my EMT Certification. I am 40 years old and was accepted into the program. I want you all to know that it is not to late to follow your dreams.” — Misty Carrasco

“I’m thankful for my salvation in and through the Lord Jesus Christ! My sins are gone and I’ve been made free! I know I’ll spend eternity with Him because He saved my soul when I believed on His Name!” — Katy Weber Decker

“Random Acts of Kindness.” — Erin Frazee

“I’m thankful for N95 masks.” — Kristeen Harris

“I am thankful for the leadership Pagosa has taken to take care of their people. Thankful for healing, health, and family.” — Anita Vigil

“I’m thankful for every thing.” — Jackie Miller

“I am so thankful for the staff of Archuleta School District, who trusted me to come in as a new leader. This staff jumped in and helped develop plans to return to school, keep kids and staff safe and ensure learning happens. I am thankful for all they do to make a difference in this community!” — Kym LeBlanc-Esparza

“I am Thankful for my family, my friends and for everyone that went up and beyond for others this year! 2020 has been very rough for all of Us but, WE are here! There’s so much love and empathy happening, it reminds us that we still have another day and we still have another chance! Stay well, stay safe and care for each other, tomorrow is not certain.” — Marielys Fuertes 

“I’m Thankful for Family, Shelter, Food, Health, Work and Love. Amen” — Isabel Webster

“Thankful that people in Pagosa don’t behave like lunatics in the big cities…we are peaceful.” — Suzanne McCarty

“I’m thankful that Pagosa, a huge comfort of Beauty and comfort and security is my home during these troubled times.” — Ray Revelle

 “I am thankful that i still have things to take for granted’, such as my loving wife, my health, my job, food on the table, neighbors who are always there to help. I have taken a fresh look at life and i have been taking for granted just how lucky i am.” — Carolyn Schwulst

“Thankful for all the hard working teachers and school staff we have trying there best so we can still get the best in education!” — Lorah Beth Jacobson

“I’m so thankful for my family and friends, and our health and for the Lord always watching over us.” — Alicia A Johnson

“Praising God for the miracle of this life, for the beauty within people and nature, and that we live in a free and prosperous country.” — Kara Assid 

“I am thankful for my family and friends. I am thankful to the lord for giving me the chance to wake up each and every day healthy. I’m thankful to the lord for all the ups and downs, for all the stressful situations I’ve been in, because he’s planning something greater for me. Without all the ups and downs, I wouldn’t be where I’m at today.” — Juan Renteria

Holidays are totally different during a pandemic. Even the lighting of the Visitor Center and the arrival of Santa the day after Thanksgiving have had to be canceled this year. 

For most of us, this is our first Thanksgiving during a pandemic. Unfortunately, some of us have lost someone we love to the virus. Many of our residents and friends have COVID-19 or are recovering. 

The year 2020 brought many challenges to overcome but, through it all, we remain thankful.

Where will we end up on the dial? http://www.pagosasun.com/where-will-we-end-up-on-the-dial/ Thu, 19 Nov 2020 17:00:15 +0000 http://www.pagosasun.com/?p=213108 By Terri Lynn Oldham House

On Tuesday, San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH) announced that it, along with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), would be moving neighboring La Plata County to COVID-19 Dial Level Red: Severe Risk beginning Friday, Nov. 20.

A SJBPH press release explained, “According to the state COVID-19 Dial, Level Red: Severe Risk restrictions are warranted when any of three metrics are met. La Plata County currently meets one of the three: 350 or more new cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 residents in the last 14 days. For La Plata County, this works out to 197 cases or more in 14 days. La Plata County passed this threshold on November 8 and has had 426 cases in the last 14 days.”

La Plata County isn’t the only county seeing a large increase in COVID-19 cases.

As of press time on Wednesday there had been 49 new cases of COVID-19 in Archuleta County since Nov. 1, bringing our total to 118 cases; for La Plata County, that number was an astounding 460 new cases.

We received an email update from Archuleta School District Superintendent Dr. Kym LeBlanc-Esparza on Tuesday in which she outlined some data points:

• “Right now 1 in 110 residents in Colorado has COVID.

• “San Juan Basin Health is currently seeing about 75 cases a day, with approximately 10 contacts each. This means for their contract tracers to be 100% effective, they would have to contact 750 people per day. This means they are less and less likely to be able to do full contact tracing in a short time frame.

• “[Pagosa Springs Medical Center] is used to 20-30 people coming in for COVID testing each day. On Monday, they had over 100 people show up, with symptoms, to be tested.”

The school district’s leadership team has a huge responsibility to determine the best path forward in providing an education during the pandemic. 

With the Archuleta County case count at 116 on Tuesday, LeBlanc-Esparza wrote, “Our county with the collaboration of SJBPH has to decide whether to move us to the red category on the dial – but I want to be sure to communicate clearly that with 2 more cases between now and Friday, we meet the metric for the new red. If that is what our data tells us, we will look at the guidelines to help determine how we do school. If the decision is made not to officially move us on the dial, so as not to impose these restrictions on local business and industry, I respect that choice. However, it doesn’t change the fact that our data is in RED and we should consider this guidance when deciding how to educate our kids.”

SJBPH’s press release explains it is anticipated that between one-third and one-half of counties in Colorado will move to Level Red: Severe Risk this week. As of this writing, we really don’t know where Archuleta County will land on the dial by the end of the week. 

The challenge doesn’t just come in educating our children. 

Also on Tuesday, the Archuleta County commissioners were joined by several citizens expressing great concern over the potential of Archuleta County shutting back down like we were in March. 

Commissioner Steve Wadley explained to the group that a decision  to move to Level Red would be up to SJBPH and the governor to make.

In the past week, we have seen some of our valued local businesses closing their doors due to COVID-19 exposure.

At Level Red, La Plata County will be under new restrictions that Archuleta County could face if we also move to that level. According to SJBPH, those changes include:

• “In-person social gatherings with people outside your household, in any setting, are prohibited, even with social distancing.

• “Restaurants may only offer takeout, curb-side, delivery, and outdoor (open-air) service. Outdoor on-premise service may be used by one household per table.

• “Last call is moved to 8:00 p.m. to reduce the chances of late-night social spread of the virus.

• “Office-based businesses must reduce their in-person workforce to 10%.

• “Gyms and fitness centers must reduce their indoor capacity to 10% or no more than ten people per room, whichever is smaller, by reservation only.

• “Indoor events and entertainment venues will be closed. Outdoor event venues may remain open with additional restrictions.”

These changes would definitely bring great challenges to businesses in Archuleta County. We cannot imagine operating our newspaper with only 10 percent of our staff. It would be next to impossible to do.

We understand that there are many people who believe a shutdown is necessary, while others believe that a shutdown will severely harm local businesses that have already suffered so much this year.

The balance between public health and safety and economic survival in this pandemic seems almost impossible to achieve.

It’s easy to sit on the sidelines and complain when local leaders make decisions that we don’t agree with. As much as people don’t like those decisions, we believe that local control should prevail over decisions made by people sitting in Denver who do not know firsthand the situation in Pagosa Springs.

We expect to hear more from the decision makers over the next few days regarding just where our county will end up on the dial. We will update you on The SUN’s website, PagosaSUN.com, as information becomes available. You can also sign up for email alerts on our website.

SJBPH’s release included the following statement by Michael Murphy, interim CEO of Mercy Regional Medical Center: “It is important that we, in partnership with San Juan Basin Public Health and our communities, increase our efforts to slow and stop the spread of the coronavirus, and support efforts to maintain a healthy community. In addition, we need to continue to focus on wearing masks when around others, maintaining safe social distancing, and properly washing our hands. These time-tested, very basic personal interventions are still the best defense against an epidemic until a safe and effective vaccine can be administered.”

Closer to home, Pagosa Springs Medical Center (PSMC) CEO Dr. Rhonda Webb wrote the following, “With this degree of community spread, we are at risk of overwhelming our ability, at PSMC, to have enough staff for our EMS/Ambulance first responders, and to staff our ED and Hospital over the coming weeks.

“I cannot speak for others, but I know our other First Responders are also concerned about their limited resources being overwhelmed. 

“We are working with the County, Town, and Public Health and together we can do this. We are asking for the people in our area to do anything they feel they can, to help us reduce our viral load.”

Please stay safe and do your part to stop the spread.

Let’s turn this pandemic around http://www.pagosasun.com/lets-turn-this-pandemic-around/ Wed, 11 Nov 2020 23:31:16 +0000 http://www.pagosasun.com/?p=212899 By Terri Lynn Oldham House

We turned our clocks back about two weeks ago. 

Now we are forced to turn those COVID-19 dials back, too. 

With the number of COVID-19 cases exceeding the thresholds allowed, we are moving from Safer at Home Level Blue: Cautious to a Level Yellow: Concern. As of this writing, we’ve had 15 new cases since Nov. 1.

Our neighbors in La Plata County have seen an increase of 225 cases since that same date. So, they are moving to Safer at Home Level Orange: High Risk. 

What does this all really mean? It means we are all one step closer to staying home again like we were in the spring. 

A press release from San Juan Basin Public Health on Tuesday states: “To reduce transmission at workplaces and social gatherings and avoid the need for a Stay-at-Home Order that severely impacts our schools and economy, SJBPH and CDPHE are moving La Plata County into Level Orange: High Risk on the state’s COVID-19 dial, which reduces the legal operating capacity for most businesses from 50% to 25% and moves last call for alcohol sales to 10:00 PM. The full list of changes associated with moving levels on the dial can be found at the CDPHE website. This change in public health restrictions will go into effect at 12:01 AM on Friday, November 13.”

It is time for Archuleta County to take every step we can to reduce our risk and avoid Level Orange. Our businesses have suffered enough and we have to turn this pandemic around. 

A story in Tuesday’s New York Times explains that COVID-19 hospitalizations in the United States hit an all-time high: “The number of people hospitalized with the coronavirus, tallied by the Covid Tracking Project, has more than doubled since September, and now, at 61,964, exceeds the peak reached early in the pandemic, when 59,940 hospitalized patients were reported on April 15.”

A Colorado Hospital Association press release issued Tuesday reads, “Hospitalizations due to COVID-19 are reaching a new all-time high each day in Colorado’s hospitals and health systems, as Colorado’s third wave increases at a shockingly rapid rate. While hospitals still have capacity to care for patients, now is the time that the state must change its current trajectory in order to protect the health care system and its workers. Colorado’s providers have learned a lot about COVID-19 over the past nine months and can provide care for COVID-19 patients effectively and efficiently. Ultimately, saving Coloradans’ lives depends on having the bed space and staff to care for all patients who present for care – those with COVID-19 and those with other health care needs.”

That same press release included a statement from Carmelo Hernandez, MD, chief medical officer, San Luis Valley Health: “Cases are on the rise in the San Luis Valley, and it appears we are experiencing another COVID-19 surge. We all know what we need to do to keep the virus in check. We have done this before, and we can do this again. Wear your mask. Wash your hands. Avoid large gatherings, especially indoors, stay 6 feet from others. Let’s keep our community as safe as possible as we enter the influenza season and colder months.”

In the Jicarilla Nation to the south of us, a two-week lockdown begins on Monday as cases there continue to rise. 

According to San Juan Basin Public Health, the following precautions will be essential to containing the spread of COVID-19 through the winter holiday season:

• Stay at home as much as possible, and instruct employees to work from home if possible.

• Practice physical distancing (at least 6 feet away from another person).

• Avoid social gatherings with more than one household, especially indoors.

• Wear face coverings when in public; the statewide mask order is still in effect in indoor public spaces.

• Practice good hygiene (washing hands, covering coughs and sneezes, etc.).

• Get tested if you have symptoms or believe you’ve been exposed through a known contact or community interaction.

• Don’t go to work, school or social activities if you are sick or have a known or suspected exposure.

We know what to do to turn this around. Let’s do it. 

Honoring our veterans http://www.pagosasun.com/honoring-our-veterans-2/ Thu, 05 Nov 2020 22:00:17 +0000 http://www.pagosasun.com/?p=212515 By Terri Lynn Oldham House

Thankfully, the election is over. 

We may not know all of the results at this time, but hopefully the hateful politics are over.

Now it is time to turn our thoughts to honoring our veterans who fought for our freedom to cast our vote. 

You’ll find a special section in this week’s paper that recognizes those heroes who fought for us to have the continued right to vote for the leaders of this great country. It’s become an annual tradition to print this section for Veterans Day. This year, we have an additional 51 faces included in the list of honorees.

Since the year 2000, Pagosa Springs Middle School’s (PSMS) eighth-grade class has been hosting a breakfast as another way to honor and thank our veterans for their service to our country. 

Students, parents and teachers prepare and serve breakfast to all the veterans who attend. But it’s more than just breakfast that is served. They dish out love, thankfulness and admiration for those who served our country. Everyone who attends the event walks away with a nourished heart and soul.

With COVID-19, there were concerns about just how to hold such an event safely. PSMS eighth-grade U.S. history teacher Steven Long wrote in an email to The SUN that, “myself, Mr. White and the entire school district are committed to making sure this tradition lives on.”

The staff and students are making necessary adjustments to support safety precautions in the pandemic. 

When he was alive, my dad always looked forward to the annual Veterans Day breakfast. 

I would use the excuse of taking photos for the newspaper so that I could watch from the sidelines as Dad shared his scrapbook of Navy memories with youngsters who were eager to hear his stories. I loved to watch his eyes sparkle with happiness as he reminisced with other veterans. 

The following unedited letters were printed in the Nov. 16, 2017, Pagosa Springs SUN. These letters can best explain the experience our veterans have by attending the breakfast:

Dear Editor:

“We got da’ bestus” Our 8th graders — “The best in the country”

Our students we have in the 8th grade are to be exemplified and this is due to what is taught at home and polished up by our educators we have here, we are so lucky and fortunate to have these folks. I have been to every one of these since Tom Richards invited me to the first one, and these young adults just continue to impress me with their very adult like questioning concerning veterans. They hit on everything from A to Z, and in between. It is a pleasure to carry on a conversation with these young adults and without being too redundant, it still starts at home and polished up with our educators suffice. These young adults that sat at our table and was replaced with vets, we all had the same admiration for them and again, it was our pleasure alone with a good breakfast served to the veterans.

In my 25 years in the Navy, 14 years was as a photo journalist and that was really interesting to a lot of these youngsters and the questions continued. Some of these young people were propounding questions to me and at that time, I thought maybe they should be having breakfast and I asking the questions. (Just kidding.) I told them that I had a better job than most flag officers (admirals), they made more money, but I had a better job than theirs … they laughed for the most part, they are very special people, what else can I say?

My comment to all who said to me, “Thanks for your service,” I replied with all sincerity, “Thanks for your support,” without that there wouldn’t be much for us.

Thanks again for the bang-up breakfast and the legion flag story, along with the choir singers, perfect.

Bob Sprague,

petty officer second class (retired)

Dear Editor:

Mr. White, the students of the Pagosa Springs 8th grade, the supporting staff and the many volunteers assisting them, did it again. In a matter of a few hours last Friday, children ages 13 to 15 demonstrated the meaning of values, patriotism, and respect by honoring the veterans who have served or are serving in the United States military. My wife and I were very moved as they moved from table to table greeting each and every person who entered. Their appearance throughout the event presented a professional, courteous, and mature image. I was so moved by everything that, unexpectedly, tears appeared in my eyes when a young man sat down at our table and began asking pertinent questions regarding military life. I became choked up and initially had difficulty talking with him.

I believe Ronald Reagan put into words what many of us “old timers” may feel during his farewell address to the nation on January 11, 1989. Here is an excerpt from that speech.

“Those of us who are over 35 or so years of age grew up in a different America. We were taught, very directly, what it means to be an American, and we absorbed almost in the air a love of country and an appreciation of its institutions. If you didn’t get these things from your family you got them from the neighborhood, from the father down the street who fought in Korea or the family who lost someone at Anzio. Or you could get a sense of patriotism from school. And if all else failed, you could get a sense of patriotism from the popular culture.”

The age group that President Reagan referred to during his speech has moved to the range of 65 or so. Our ability to teach things such as duty, honor, and country is greatly reduced. It is now up to the parents and teachers of the children of today to help teach these important values. The current, almost toxic, cultural and political atmosphere of our country, combined with the method in which much of the media chooses to communicate many events plaguing our nation and the world, make this more difficult. However, the eighth graders of Pagosa Springs, their parents, and teachers have proved that they are up to the task.

Finally, I leave the parents and the children of Pagosa Springs with one last excerpt from President Reagan’s farewell speech: 

“… lesson No. 1 about America : All great change in America begins at the dinner table. So tomorrow night in the kitchen I hope the talking begins. And children, if your parents haven’t been teaching you what it means to be an American — let ‘em know and nail ‘em on it. That would be a very American thing to do.

On behalf of all those who are serving or who have served their country, we thank Mr. White, the students of the Pagosa Springs 8th grade and all those who assisted them for their fine effort. It will stay with us for a long time.

Russ and Jacqui Widener

Thank you to our eighth-graders for honoring and protecting the legacies of our treasured veterans. 

Thank you to those of you who will contribute to the event this year.

Thank you to our veterans for protecting our precious freedoms. 

Life after the election http://www.pagosasun.com/life-after-the-election/ Thu, 29 Oct 2020 21:00:55 +0000 http://www.pagosasun.com/?p=212251 By Terri Lynn Oldham House

This week, we received numerous letters, some in support of candidates, others blasting some candidates, many supporting ballot issues and some opposing ballot issues. You won’t read those letters in today’s paper. 

It’s our tradition to not print political letters the week before the election. However, we received an email Monday the made us break that tradition. 

Pagosa Springs High School science teacher Heather Miller’s email explained that her science class analyzed the pros and cons of Proposition 114 as a final project for an ecology unit. Part of that project was writing Letters to the Editor. She submitted three of those letters for publication. It was the goal of her students to inform the public. We didn’t want the hard work and efforts of these students to go unnoticed, so you will see them printed in a special section of the letters this week labeled “Letters from Students.” We applaud these students for their research and forming their opinions and sharing them publicly. 

This year’s election, combined with the added stress created by the pandemic, is no doubt one of the most negative and divisive that we’ve ever experienced. 

We were grateful to hear a message from Archuleta School District Superintendent Dr. Kym LeBlanc-Esparza at last week’s Rotary Club meeting. She shared the “Reflection” portion of her Friday memo to her staff.

“This week, I am sharing the Colorado Association of School Board’s Fair Campaign Practices Act — Do’s and Don’ts. Given we are coming up on Nov. 3 very quickly, it is a good reminder for us all on what we should and should not do, given our roles. 

“I started thinking about this earlier in the week as ballots began to be delivered in our mailboxes. This year’s election feels very ‘electric’ throughout our nation, regardless of any political affiliation, so I wanted to be sure we all were reflective of our accountability to FCPA,” LeBlanc-Esparza read. 

“Next week, I will also be meeting with counselors to talk about the bigger picture implication of the week of Nov. 3. I had to think back to 2016 and the week of Nov. 3 to realize that we, as educators, can do a lot to prepare for that week in a positive way. 

“Much like 2016, there will be people who are elated with the outcome of the election and there will be those that are very unhappy with the outcome. 

“I remember that I sorely underestimated the way that people would react in 2016, both those who were happy about the outcome and those that were disappointed. In the days following the election, we dealt with a lot of emotion in students, staff and families. Students cannot help but feel the emotion that the adults in their lives exude throughout this election season. 

“Regardless of who wins this year’s election, I would ask us all to do everything in our power over the next few weeks to reinforce a message of respect and kindness for each other. 

“We have the ability to model for our students what it means to respect each other, what it means to be kind, regardless of the outcome of an election. 

“In the end, as we go forward from that week, we all continue to work together, to take care of one another and to respect each other as fellow citizens. 

“Children look to us for reassurance and guidance that their world is a safe place. We give them that on a regular basis as educators. 

“I believe that given the constant attention that television and social media is giving this year’s elections, coupled with the challenges that 2020 has thrown at us, I think our kids will take their lead from us regarding how we treat each other and how we look to make a positive difference in our school and local community. 

“I know we have an amazing staff who show up every day, expecting to make a difference with kids. I appreciate everything you do in ways big and small. I know you all will make that same difference during the month of November as we help students move forward beyond elections.”

These words of wisdom from our superintendent of schools are important for us all to hear. 

Whatever the outcome of this election, we are setting an example with our actions. Let’s make it a peaceful and positive experience. Whether your side wins or loses, we all need to come together and move forward together for the betterment of our community. 

Terri Lynn Oldham House

‘Treasure the time that we have’ http://www.pagosasun.com/treasure-the-time-that-we-have/ Thu, 15 Oct 2020 21:00:05 +0000 http://www.pagosasun.com/?p=211749 By Terri Lynn Oldham House

One year ago Sunday, Oct. 11, Pagosa Country was shaken both literally and figuratively; for miles, people heard the explosion and felt their homes rock.

Within seconds, Electra Churchill dialed 911 for help. She was trapped in the structure that exploded and burst into flames in the Timber Ridge Ranch subdivision that Friday. She heroically called dispatchers to send help to rescue her and the love of her life, Fred Phillips, who had also been in the structure before the blast.

There are times when a dispatcher takes a 911 call that they have the solemn honor and great burden of listening to the last words of the dying as a part of their job description. And so it was that night.

That dispatcher also has the tremendous responsibility of directing the other first responders. We listened as pages went out quickly for emergency personnel and there were a lot of heroes who came to the rescue.

People near the explosion rushed to the scene and pulled Fred from the fire. Although he suffered great trauma and severe burns, he was able to inform that Electra was still in the structure. 

Pagosa Fire Protection District firefighters, Upper Pine River Fire Protection District firefighters, Pagosa Springs Medical Center EMS personnel, Archuleta County sheriff’s deputies and Pagosa Springs Police Department (PSPD) officers began arriving and rescue efforts were underway within minutes of Electra’s and others’ 911 calls.

Heroic efforts were made to fight the flames and to find Electra in the collapsed structure and debris. However, as the tragedy unfolded, it became clear that the call Electra made for help was most likely some of her final words. 

Heroic words.

Fred was transported to Pagosa Springs Medical Center, where emergency room doctors and staff continued lifesaving efforts.

He was later transferred into the hands of the Classic Air Medical team and was flown to a Denver-area hospital in critical condition.

The loss of Electra was excruciatingly devastating to our first responders and our community.

For our emergency personnel, there were only a few days following the traumatic explosion when another page went out for a man who was hit by a vehicle while riding his bicycle.

Once again, most of the above-mentioned agencies rushed to help. Marcel Barel, of Pagosa Springs, was transported to Colorado Springs Memorial Central Hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries that night. 

When dispatchers, firefighters, law enforcement and other emergency personnel are on the job, their workday hinges on matters of life and death. These heroic men and women put their own safety at risk to protect ours. They leave the house every day not knowing if they will return.

Working in emergency services can be a heavy burden to bear; outcomes, such as the loss of Electra and Marcel, have a huge emotional impact on those who worked the incidents, from the initial 911 calls to Archuleta County Combined Dispatch to Coroner Brandon Bishop making the call to the family of Electra to inform them of her unfathomable passing and to our coroner advocates who assisted in the aftermath. 

A year later, our community is still healing from the trauma.

In a card of thanks in this week’s paper, Marcel Barel’s family extends their heartfelt thanks “to everyone in the community who were so very helpful, supportive and thoughtful in this difficult time. To the 911 caller, first responders, PSPD officers Hancey and Spangler, PFPD firefighters and EMTs, CSP Trooper/Investigator Parsons, CDOT, Rhonda Webb and all the medical personnel, social workers and advocates at PSMC, and the flight crew, we thank you all for your kindness. We are forever grateful.”

On Sunday evening, one year to the day of her death, many local first responders and friends of Electra and Fred gathered in her honor at a memorial garden created at the site of last year’s tragic explosion.

It was a time of healing.

“One year ago today was the worst day of my life, and a lot of these people here were with me that day, and not only were they with me, but they helped me survive. If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be here today, talking to you,” said Fred at the gathering. “And so, I’ve had one year to think about why I’m here today and Electra’s not.

“There are a lot of reasons I am here … but one of those reasons is to be able to tell Electra’s story. 

“Electra was a tough girl. … As many of you know, she had the presence of mind in the belly of this beast to pick up her phone and call 911. If it were not for her calling that rapidly, I, myself, might not have made it out of here.” He continued, “A few things about Electra, we know she was strong, but she was the kindest person. She loved nature, she loved animals and we know she loved birds and she liked people.

“I’ll tell you this. She loved Pagosa Springs more than anything. She absolutely loved this place, but the thing that I remember most about her is her love for life.”

Fred went on to describe Electra’s happiness and joy in living a full life.

“I think that maybe that God gave Electra a promotion, moved her up the ladder, moved her up to the home office. To spread joy, not just to you, but to many because she was joy personified,” he said. “So, the only thing that is missing here tonight is Electra.”

Fred then knelt down at the waterfall,  “I’m going to take the liberty to let Electra participate with us.” 

With that, he sprinkled Electra’s ashes in the cascading waterfall that was built as part of the memorial garden in her honor. 

“So, if all of you with me would raise your hand and say, ‘Welcome home, Electra.’”

The group followed Fred’s lead.

“At last for all of those who cannot sing, who died with their music still inside of them,” Fred continued. “Let’s treasure the time that we have and resolve to use it well, holding each moment precious, a time to apprehend some truth, experience some beauty, relieve some suffering, conquer some evil, a chance to love and be loved and have a meaningful life forever.” 

Election information and coverage http://www.pagosasun.com/election-information-and-coverage/ Thu, 08 Oct 2020 21:00:26 +0000 http://www.pagosasun.com/?p=211405 By Terri Lynn Oldham House

Lately, we have been thankful for the fast-forward feature on our television remote control. Skipping over the endless, repetitive and highly negative political ads is a true blessing. 

Information is important, but the mudslinging has gotten to be a bit much this year.

You might call this edition of The Pagosa Springs SUN our local election coverage issue. 

You will find pages of advertising from candidates and parties, and you will find multiple pages of the Archuleta County Commissioner Election Tracker where candidates have answered questions focusing on important issues facing our community.

We believe that who leads our county for the next four years is a huge decision and will no doubt have major impact for years to come. 

There are three candidates running for the open District 1 seat and two candidates running for the District 2 position.

Ballots will start being mailed out tomorrow to active voters registered in Archuleta County.

Are you registered to vote? You can make sure at www.GoVoteColorado.gov.

According to Archuleta County Clerk and Recorder Kristy Archuleta, there has been an increase in voters registering in the county, with 600 added since the presidential primary in June.

 You can register up to and on Election Day, but Oct. 26 is the last day a ballot can be mailed to you, so time is of the essence.

This week also features the General Election Notice published by the Archuleta County clerk and recorder. The ballot is a hefty one in size and voting content. 

For your ballot to count, it must be returned to and in the hands of the Archuleta County clerk and recorderno later than 7 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 3. It can’t just be postmarked by that day. 

We’ve heard that many people want to vote in person.

Due to the pandemic, we are being asked by the county clerk to return our ballot via mail or a drop box to help make the election safe. 

Of course, if you still like to cast your ballot at the polls, you still have options and you will be asked to wear a face covering. 

Beginning Monday, Oct. 19, the election’s office located at 449 San Juan St. (behind the courthouse), will serve as the official Voter Service and Polling Center (VSPC).  The VSPC hours will be 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Friday through Nov. 2, 8 a.m.-noon on Saturdays Oct. 24 and Oct. 31 and 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Nov. 3. 

Need a replacement ballot? Have questions? You can call the Archuleta County Clerk and Recorder’s Office at 264-8331.

An article on page one of this week’s paper offers more information on the election. 

Next week, The SUN will print the 2020 statewide ballot issues. There are 11 of them up for consideration.

You should have received your 2020 State Ballot Information Booklet, also known as the Blue Book, in the mail. This year’s book may be the thickest one you’ve ever received. If you didn’t receive one in the mail, you can get a digital version online at leg.colorado.gov/bluebook.

The Blue Book provides analysis and a description of the measure with major arguments for and against. 

You will also find a section on judicial performance evaluations of the Colorado Supreme Court justices, the Colorado Court of Appeals judges, and district and county court judges who are on the ballot.

We hope the tools provided in The SUN will help you make these important decisions.

Guest Editorial: 2020 has shown us why America needs journalists http://www.pagosasun.com/guest-editorial-2020-has-shown-us-why-america-needs-journalists/ Thu, 01 Oct 2020 21:00:15 +0000 http://www.pagosasun.com/?p=211088 There is one week set aside each year to salute newspapers for the important role they have played in our nation, a role that goes back to the beginning of these United States. 

This year, however, waiting until Oct. 4-10 and National Newspaper Week has been difficult, because the coronavirus pandemic and a variety of major news events across our land have tested newspapers, and our communities, in ways we might never have fathomed.

Taking stock of the contributions by newspapers, large and small, serves as an important reminder of why our Founding Fathers wrote freedom of the press into the Constitution’s Bill of Rights — and why the theme for this year’s National Newspaper Week, “America Needs Journalists,” is so appropriate.

We have seen our lives and our communities change in dramatic ways because of coronavirus. 

In the early weeks, businesses closed their doors and government offices were darkened in response to directives that all but the most essential workers should remain at home to guard against spreading the disease. 

Newspapers scrambled to protect their employees, too. But newspapers still needed to be produced to serve their readers and communities and to fulfill that vital information function the Founding Fathers envisioned. 

Journalists quickly educated themselves on the coronavirus and shared that knowledge with readers. They kept their communities informed — telling readers where tests were available, reporting on local test results, sharing the heartbreaking news of deaths and alerting people about employment changes at local businesses.

Journalists turned to their kitchen tables, spare bedrooms and basement offices to take the place of the newsrooms where they had gathered with colleagues a few weeks earlier. While the locations changed, the core mission of newspapers did not.

Newspapers have long served as “watchdogs” over government. The pandemic magnified the significance of this role because the virus closed most government offices, and meetings of school boards, city councils and county officials moved onto Zoom.

Reporters have always tried to be vigilant over the way state and local governments use tax money and make decisions. But in 2020, journalists also have worked to keep up with the dynamic nature of the coronavirus testing data. They have tried to make sense of the metrics government leaders have relied upon in making decisions on mask wearing, social distancing and back-to-school directives.

The most potent tool of newspapers continues to be the spotlight. They shine it on problems that need to be addressed and on solutions that ought to be considered. They shine it on stories that are heartwarming and uplifting. At other times, they shine it on topics that might raise the blood pressure of readers.

There has been a long tradition of newspapers advocating for the public’s access to government meetings and records so citizens know what their government is doing, or not doing. This is hugely important now and long term, because government should conduct its business — really, it’s the public’s business — in open, not in secret, so citizens have the opportunity to share their views on forthcoming decisions.

The important work of newspapers stretches far beyond government buildings, however. Newspapers are there to introduce readers to interesting people. They tell their communities about events that are coming up. They provide the stuff that finds its way into families’ scrapbooks and onto the doors of refrigerators — news items about awards received, honors bestowed, touchdowns scored, prizewinning pigs shown at local fairs, and on and on. 

And in times of great distress — during killer hurricanes and tornadoes, horrendous floods and wildfires — newspapers step up in ways that truly can make the difference between life and death. Newspapers have done that this year, once again being the go-to source for vital details the public needs — the lists of places where people can charge their cellphones, laptops and medical equipment, the locations of shelters and meal distribution sites, and places where people can get drinking water or provide a helping hand to those in need.

The immense challenges we all have dealt with this year clearly underscore the fact that America needs journalists.

Randy Evans

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council. He was a newspaper reporter and editor in Iowa for 42 years. 

Letters to the Editor http://www.pagosasun.com/letters-to-the-editor/ Thu, 24 Sep 2020 21:00:54 +0000 http://www.pagosasun.com/?p=210738 By Terri Lynn Oldham House

The SUN welcomes letters from readers.

However, we were disappointed to receive a Letter to the Editor this week that contained numerous falsehoods pertaining to a local candidate running for county commissioner. 

The full version of this story is available in the print edition and e-edition of the Pagosa Springs SUN. Subscribe today by calling (970)264-2100 or click here.

Taking on the challenge http://www.pagosasun.com/taking-on-the-challenge/ Thu, 17 Sep 2020 11:00:06 +0000 http://www.pagosasun.com/?p=210442 By Terri Lynn Oldham House

Pagosa Springs Elementary School Principal Justin Cowan seems to be on a mission. 

He started a 22-day push-up challenge to raise awareness for “Veteran suicide prevention and mental health support.”

Cowan posted on his Facebook page: “On average 22 Veterans a day commit suicide, and this challenge is a small way to raise awareness for this issue. 22 push-ups for 22 days to raise awareness for veterans suicide prevention and mental health resources.

“MILITARY AND VETERANS CRISIS HOTLINE. 1-800-273-8255. Press 1. TEXT 838255 24/7.”

Each time he posts about it on Facebook, he posts a video of him doing his 22 push-ups. Sometimes you can hear the theme song to “The Andy Griffith Show” playing in the background. That happens to be one of his favorite television shows.

Cowan is a lot like the Energizer Bunny, when he hit day 22 of his push-up challenge, he just kept on going. On Tuesday of this week, he was on day 40 of creating awareness and working toward saving the lives of veterans.

Cowan isn’t just a school principal. Last month, he was promoted to the rank of major in the Colorado Army National Guard. That is where he serves as chaplain, helping to lift up others and sometimes he even finds himself doing interventions pertaining to suicide.

Some of his videos come with a message. One of them was about taking life one step at a time and taking things that overwhelm you one step at a time. He reminds us that there is help out there as he brings awareness to his important goal of suicide prevention in veterans.

In Cowan’s first video back in May, he encouraged reaching out for help and shared some of his own challenges and frustrations that he was dealing with at the time.

We commend Cowan for putting the importance of preventing suicide at the forefront in his daily life. 

September is National Suicide Prevention month, and the “Let’s Talk Colorado” campaign encourages talking about mental illness. 

In 2009, 13 confirmed suicides in Archuleta County placed the county high above state and national averages. 

From 2004 to 2015, there were a reported 34 suicides in Archuleta County, with La Plata County reporting 98 deaths by suicide. 

In 2015, suicide was the fourth leading cause of death in Archuleta County.

That same year, Colorado’s suicide rate was 19.4 per 100,000 residents, making it the seventh highest in the country. For the southwest Colorado region, the rate is higher than the state’s average.

According to Archuleta County Coroner Brandon Bishop, there were nine suicides in Archuleta County from 2016 until this same time last year. 

Unfortunately, Bishop reports those numbers increasing to four suicides from January to date for 2020.

SUN reporter Randi Pierce’s 2009 article on Archuleta County’s suicide crisis received statewide recognition for Public Service from the Colorado Press Association in 2010. That article included the following warning signs to watch for: 

• A significant change in eating habits — either decreased or increased appetite.

• Significant weight gain or loss.

• Withdrawing from family and friends.

• Increased substance abuse, including drugs and alcohol.

• Statements about hurting themselves or committing suicide.

• A sense of hopelessness or that what one is doing is not enough.

• Sleeplessness.

• In men especially, an increase in irritability, anger, frustration.

• Behavior that deviates from the norm.

• Loss of future orientation.

• An element of loss.

• The loss of a typical daily routine, which can follow events like retirement.

• Increased anxiety or stress.

Statistics show that at least 90 percent of all people who died by suicide were suffering from a mental illness at the time, most often depression.

The Let’s Talk Colorado website states that “COVID-19 is affecting all of us, causing uncertainty, fear and changes to our lives we never imagined. Now more than ever we need to take care of ourselves and look out for each other.”

You can find helpful information, tips and resources to stay healthy and support friends, neighbors, loved ones, our community and even ourselves at www.letstalkco.org.

A few of those tips include:

• “Stop the silence. If someone discloses that they have a mental illness, they are opening up to you in a big way. Ask questions, show concern, but keep the awkward silence at bay.

• “Be nice. It sounds simple enough, but try to say the right things with openness, warmth, caring and sincerity.

• “Listen. The fact that you are there can make a world of difference, so in your conversation, try to err more on the side of listening.

• “Keep in contact. Offer availability by phone, text, email, or a time to meet up. Just be there.

• “Don’t ignore it. Don’t be afraid to ask about the well-being of another if you think they might be hurting. Trust your senses.

• “Offer help. Everyone is different. They may want very specific help or no help at all. Either way, you can always ask and be open to the answer.

• “Keep the conversation moving. It’s OK to talk about other things to keep silent lulls out of conversation; as long as they know you’re completely open to revisiting the topic later.”

If warning signs are present, individuals are encouraged to reach out to family, friends and professionals. Loved ones are encouraged to ask the hard questions — asking if the person is thinking of hurting themselves or committing suicide.

Locally, Axis Health System offers a 24-hour crisis support line. If you are experiencing a mental health emergency, call 247-5245.

Western Colorado Crisis Services are also available 24/7 at (844) 493-TALK (8255) or text TALK to 38255.

If we all took on the challenge of preventing suicide like Cowan has done by reaching out and talking about mental health and how to deal with our problems, we might just save someone’s life.

You don’t have to be adept at push-ups to make a difference.