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20th Century & Beyond

Elvin R. Caldwell: City Council President, Activist, Community Leader

When: 1919 – 2004

Where: Denver, Colorado

Why Important: First African-American City Council Member West of the Mississippi, Civil Rights advocate, policy-maker, and life-long community leader and organizer.

Biography

Elvin R. Caldwell was born in Denver on April 11, 1919 and grew up in the historic Five Points neighborhood, which was a predominantly black neighborhood at that time. Though Caldwell’s family and many of the families in his neighborhood were prosperous, they faced racial discrimination, inequality, and exclusion from white Denver society. Caldwell’s parents, Wilba and Inez, fought against this discrimination, setting an example for Elvin that would inspire him and shape the rest of his life as an advocate for equality. Caldwell graduated from Eastside High School in 1937 and received a track scholarship to the University of Colorado and later, the University of Denver.

In 1941, Caldwell married Frank “Frankie” Harriette Webb, a teacher, and the couple had four children: Elvin Jr., John, Kenneth, and Frances. During World War II, Caldwell served as a chief statistician and assistant superintendent for production at the Remington Arms Company. After the war ended, many of Denver’s black residents lost their jobs to returning white servicemen, while many returning black servicemen faced discrimination back home in the country they had fought for. Caldwell firmly believed that all Americans were equal and deserved full rights, so he took his fight to the Colorado State Government.

In 1950, at age 31, Caldwell was elected to the Colorado House of Representatives where he served until 1955 when he was elected to the Denver City Council, making him the first African American to serve on a city council seat west of the Mississippi. Caldwell served on the Denver City Council for 28 years, with five years spent as president of the council. During this time Caldwell was deeply involved with the Denver Urban Renewal Authority (DURA), which was created to eliminate slum housing with assistance from Federal Grants. He also fought against discriminatory lending practices by banks, which refused to offer home loans in predominantly black neighborhoods. Until the 1970’s, nonwhites were barred from serving as judges or being promoted within the police force and could only serve in the one African American fire Station. Caldwell persistently contested these practices and under his leadership, Colorado implemented its first Fair Employment Practices Act. In 1980, Denver Mayor William H. McNichols Jr. named Caldwell Manager of Safety, making him the first black member of a Denver Mayoral Cabinet.

In addition to his years of political service, Caldwell was actively involved in many community organizations. He served as a board member for the Glenarm Branch of the YMCA, the Boy Scouts of America, and PAL of Denver. He also served on the board of directors for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Opportunities Industrialization Center, The Denver Improvement Association, the Five Points Businessmen’s Association, and the Colorado Municipal League. To honor his service and dedication to equality in Colorado, in 1990, the Denver City Council created the Elvin R. Caldwell Community Service Plaza. In April of 2003, the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library opened its doors bearing his name, just 1 year before his death in April 2004. Elvin R. Caldwell was a tireless champion of the Civil Rights Movement, a steadfast advocate for equality and a deeply passionate community leader who dedicated his life to making Colorado and the United States a better place for all people.

This bio is brought to you by the Colorado State Library with thanks to the Colorado Encyclopedia

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Helen Bonfils: Denver Post Co Owner & Philanthropist

When: 1889-1972

Old Denver Post building
Credit: Denver Public Library

Where: Peekskill, N.Y.

Why Important: Co-owner of the Denver Post, Philanthropist, Established the Denver Center of the Performing Arts

Biography

Helen Bonfils was born on November 26, 1889 in Peekskill, New York. Her father, Frederick Bonfils, bought the struggling Denver Post newspaper with H.H. Tammen in 1895 and moved his family to Denver, Colorado. Mr. Bonfils turned the Denver Post into a very successful newspaper, allowing Helen and her sister May to grow up wealthy. Helen’s mother, Belle, was a devout Catholic and passed along her beliefs to her daughters.

At an early age, Helen began accompanying her mother and grandmother to the theater. This created a lifelong love of acting and the performing arts. She participated in many University of Denver productions. While the performing arts were definitely Helen’s passion, when her father passed away in 1933, she and her sister May inherited the Denver Post, and Helen took control of the operations of the newspaper.1 While there were male editors hired during her lifetime, it was widely known that Helen was the one in charge behind the scenes.2

Opening night of play at Elitch’s in June, 1951 (yes, that is Grace Kelly third from left on couch)
Credit: Denver Public Library

Due to Helen’s passion for the performing arts, she wanted to establish quality theater shows in Denver. She first began by staging operas in Cheesman Park around 1933. Three years later, she married Broadway director George Sommes and together they produced many Broadway plays, including ones that Helen would act in under the pseudonym “Gertrude Barton.”3 She even won a Tony for her role in “Sleuth.” By 1953, Helen decided that Denver needed its own community theater to showcase Broadway plays,4 and built the Bonfils Memorial Theater on East Colfax and Elizabeth. This was only the beginning, as she had even bigger plans for a much larger professional venue. With her partner, Donald Seawell, they began the process of planning for the construction of the new theater. Unfortunately, Helen’s health deteriorated and she died on June 6, 1972, not realizing her dream of a professional performing arts center in Denver. The Denver Center of the Performing Arts (DCPA) was completed in 1978 and is the only non-profit performing arts center in the country.

Credit: Denver Public Library

During Helen’s lifetime, she was an avid philanthropist and established the Helen Bonfils Foundation in 1953.  It was designed specifically for the support of the performing arts in Colorado, as it does today through the financing of the DCPA. She also created the Belle Bonfils Blood Bank (named after her mother) during World War II to aid wounded troops.5 This also still exists today. Helen also helped finance the completion of The Holy Ghost Catholic Church in Denver. Without the generosity of Helen Bonfils, we would not have the Denver Center of the Performing Arts, nor the Belle Blood Bank here in Denver. Her legacy is priceless.

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Jack Dempsey: Prize-fighter, Actor and Author

When: 1895-1983

Where: Manassa, CO

Why Important: Professional Boxer

Biography

William Harrison “Jack” Dempsey was born on June 24, 1895 in Manassa, CO. He grew up poor. Jack’s father had trouble finding work and Jack helped out by working when he just a young boy. He left home when he was sixteen. To make money, Jack would go into a bar and challenge someone to a fight.  He almost always won!

Jack started boxing professionally around 1914. He had two nicknames, “Kid Blackie” and the “Manassa Mauler.”6 Even though he started making money as a boxer, it wasn’t enough and he still had to work so he found worked in the shipyards. By 1918, Dempsey was boxing all the time. In that year, he had seventeen fights! He only lost one and was known to knockout his opponents, often in the first round.2

Jack Dempsey knocking out Jess Willard in 1919.

On July 4, 1919, the World Heavyweight Championship was held in Toledo, OH. Jack fought Jess Willard and won.3 He held on to the title of World Heavyweight Champion for the next seven years, then lost the title to Gene Tunney after 10 rounds.4 Jack’s fights became very popular. When he fought Georges Carpentier in 1921 in New Jersey, it made one million dollars and 91,000 people came to see the fight.

Due to Jack’s popularity, he became quite famous even with people who did not like boxing. He appeared in Hollywood movies and traveled the country going to fairs and exhibitions.5 This made Jack very wealthy.

On September 22, 1927, Jack and George Tunney had a rematch in Chicago. The fight brought in two million dollars and millions listened on the radio.6 Unfortunately, Jack lost this fight and Tunney was named World Heavyweight Champion.7 Jack decided it was time to retire from boxing.8

After boxing, Jack opened a restaurant in New York, got married and divorced three times (with his fourth marriage he found success), acted as a boxer in the movie The Prizefighter and the Lady,9 and wrote three books. On May 31, 1983, Jack died from a heart attack in New York City.

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John Denver: Singer and Songwriter

John_Denver_1973When: 1943-1997

Where: Aspen, Colorado

Why Important: Award winning musician, singer and activist.

Biography

John Denver was born on December 31, 1943 in Roswell, New Mexico. His real name was Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr. Around the age of twenty, he changed his name to “John Denver” after his favorite state’s (Colorado) capitol. John’s father was in the Air Force requiring his family to move a lot, but during the summers he would visit his grandmother in Oklahoma. She gave him his first guitar when he was eleven and taught him music. He also sang in a boys choir when he lived in Arizona.

John went to college at Texas Tech University to study architecture, but he continued to  write songs, play his guitar and sing. In 1963 he left college and moved to Los Angeles, California to pursue being a musician. He sang in folk clubs and in 1965 was asked to join “The Mitchell Trio” beating 250 other singers!

In 1969, John decided to leave the trio and sing on his own. He wrote many songs that were popular in the 1970’s, such as “Sunshine on My Shoulders”, “Rocky Mountain High”, and “Thank God I’m a Country Boy.” He won many awards, including two Country Music Awards, three American Music Awards, one Emmy Award and two Grammys. John also performed on television shows such as The Muppet Show. He hosted the Grammy Awards five times and often  guest-hosted The Tonight Show. He was also involved in many television music specials, such as A Rocky Mountain Christmas.

JohnDenverMemorialPacificGroveJohn was passionate about ending hunger around the world and in 1977  he cofounded The Hunger Project. This gained the notice of President Jimmy Carter, who asked John to serve on the President’s Commission on World Hunger. John wrote a song for the commission entitled, “I Want to Live.” He also performed a song for a UNICEF (an organization that helps poor children around the world) concert in 1979. All the money made from the song was given to UNICEF. In 1985, President Ronald Reagan honored John with the Presidential World Without Hunger Award. John was not only concerned about hunger, but also the environment, space exploration, and wildlife preservation, even making a documentary about endangered species in 1987. He was recognized for his humanitarian acts with the 1993 Albert Schweitzer Music Award.


John loved flying and learned to be a pilot of small airplanes. He owned several small airplanes and would often fly them around. However, on October 12, 1997 the plane he was flying crashed into the Pacific Ocean near Monterey, California and he passed away. His ashes were scattered in the Rocky Mountains. There is now a plaque on the beach near the spot where he died.

The State of Colorado honored John Denver in 2007 by passing a resolution to make his song “Rocky Mountain High” the second official state song, the first being “Where the Columbines Grow.”

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Mamie Eisenhower: First Lady and Humanitarian

When: 1896-1979

Photograph_of_Mamie_Eisenhower_at_the_age_of_17
Mamie Eisenhower at the age of 17

Where: Born in Iowa; grew up in Colorado Springs and Denver

Why Important: Humanitarian and wife of President Dwight Eisenhower

Biography

mamie
President Dwight Eisenhower, Mamie Eisenhower and the president of Jakarta, Sukamo circa 1956
(credit: Wikicommons)

Mamie Geneva Doud was born with a heart condition, and her older sister had asthma. In an effort to improve the girls’ health, their father moved the family from Iowa and eventually settled in Denver in 1905. In 1915 she met Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was stationed at Fort Sam Houston, when her father took the family to winter in Texas. She married Dwight D. Eisenhower, and later in his life, he became the president of the United States. Before he was the president, though, he and Mamie moved a lot because he was in the military.10 They had two sons.

As first lady,2 she supported many important causes. On one of her later appearances, on July 8, 1963, she dedicated the Mamie Eisenhower Library in Broomfield, Colorado, and presented it with 337 volumes from her father’s personal library. She is buried next to her husband at the Eisenhower Presidential Library in Abilene, Kansas.

Content Date: Jan. 1, 1896 to Jan. 1, 1979

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Federico Peña: Mayor of Denver

When: 1947 – Present

Where: Born in Laredo, Texas, moved to Denver

federicopenaWhy Important: First Hispanic mayor, helped build a new airport, served as Secretary of Transportation under President Clinton, preserved art and history, and restored buildings in Denver.

Federico Pena at Obama rally at Civic Park in Denver in October 2008(Credit: Denver Public Library)
Federico Pena at Obama rally at Civic Park in Denver in October 2008
(Credit: Denver Public Library)

Biography

Federico was born in Laredo, Texas in 1947. He went to law school at the University of Texas Law School and worked as a lawyer for many years in El Paso, Texas. In 1973, he moved to Denver.

Federico worked for the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund. He worked very hard and was successful. This helped him get elected to the Colorado House of Representatives. In 1983, he decided to run for the mayor of Denver. His opponent, William H. McNichols, Jr., had been the mayor for fourteen years and was favored to win. But the underdog Federico won! He became the first Hispanic mayor of Denver.

Federico had a lot of energy and ambition. He started many new projects as mayor. He funded the building of the Denver International Airport, a beautiful library in downtown, a large convention center, and a new baseball team for Denver, the Colorado Rockies. Federico was also interested in art and saving historic buildings. He created thirty-three historic districts and designated 350 individual landmarks. The people of Denver liked the work that Federico was doing for them and the city and reelected him to a second term as mayor in 1987. Federico decided not to run for a third term in 1992; he had other ambitions.

Peña served the White House when President Clinton named him Secretary of Transportation in 1993. Then in 1998, he returned to Denver. Peña Boulevard, leading to the airport, is named for him.

On September 7, 2007, Peña endorsed Senator Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election. He served as Obama’s National Campaign CoChair.

Content Date: Jan. 1, 1947

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Justina Ford: Denver’s First Female African American Doctor


When:
1871 – 1952

Justina_FordWhere: Born in Knoxville, Illinois, moved to Chicago and then to Denver

Why Important: Justina Ford overcame prejudice and discrimination to become Denver’s first female African-American doctor. Ford was a pioneer in opening up a profession for African-Americans and women

Biography

Justina Laurena Warren was born on January 22, 1871 in Knoxville, Illinois. Justina’s love for medicine was clear at a young age; she often dissected frogs and followed her mother, a nurse, when she saw patients. Justina went to Hering Medical School in Chicago. She married John Ford, a Baptist minister, in 1892. She continued her studies and graduated from medical school in 1899.

justinafordAfter her graduation, Justina was denied her medical license. The license examiner told her, “I feel dishonest taking a fee from you. You’ve got two strikes against you to begin with. First of all, you’re a lady, and second, you’re colored.” When she and John moved to Denver, racial discrimination3  prohibited Ford from joining the Colorado Medical Association2 or practicing in a hospital. So, she set up a practice in her home at 2335 Arapahoe Street.

Justina treated anyone who needed medical care, regardless of race, gender, language, citizenship, or ability to pay. Many of her patients were poor whites, African-Americans, and non-English speaking immigrants who were turned away from hospitals. Ford learned multiple languages to help treat her patients. Her patients paid her in goods, services, or money.

In 1915, Justina and Reverend Ford divorced. In her fifties, she met and married Alfred Allen. It wasn’t until 1950 that Dr. Ford was allowed into the Colorado and American Medical Associations. Even then, she was the only female African-American doctor in all of Denver.

Ford continued caring for patients until two weeks before her death on October 14, 1952. By the end of her life she had delivered almost 7,000 babies. Dr. Justina Ford’s house is now the home of the Black American West Museum.

Content Date: Jan. 1, 1871 to Jan. 1, 1952

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Josephine Roche: Police Woman and Labor Advocate

When: 1886 – 1976

josephine roche 1Where: Born in Nebraska and educated in New York, she moved to Denver in 1906

Why Important: Labor advocate, businesswoman, and Denver’s first female police officer

Biography

Josephine Roche was the first policewoman in Colorado,3 the first woman to run a major coal company, and the second woman to work for the President of the United States. Her father was president of the Rocky Mountain Fuel Company (RMF).  When he died, she inherited some of his stock in the fuel company.  Over time, she used this money to speak out for people in poor working conditions.  With some of this money and stock she invited the United Mine Workers to unionize her mines. RMF was the first western coal company to sign a union contract and pay its miners $7 a day, which was considered a lot of money for mine workers at that time.

Josephine Roche as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury with Surgeon General H.S. Cumming circa 1935(credit: Library of Congress)
Josephine Roche as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury with Surgeon General H.S. Cumming circa 1935
(credit: Library of Congress)

Josephine tried to become the governor of Colorado, but she wasn’t elected.2 However, Franklin Roosevelt, president of the United States, appointed her Assistant Secretary of the Treasury.3

Content Date: Jan. 1, 1886 to Jan. 1, 1976

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Dr. Florence Rena Sabin: Doctor and Medical Reformer

florencesabinWhen: 1871 – 1953

Where: Central City and Denver

Why Important: Dr. Sabin was the first female medical professor at Johns Hopkins as well as a major medical reformer in Colorado. She also was the first female member of the National Academy of Sciences and first female physician-scientist at Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research.

Florence_Sabin_statue
Statue of Florence Sabin
(Credit: Denver Public Library)

Biography

Florence Rena Sabin was born November 9, 1871 in Central City, Colorado. She attended Smith College, a women’s school in Massachusetts.

She went on to attend Johns Hopkins University Medical School.4 The school had just opened its doors to women and Florence was one of only fourteen women in her class.

Dr. Sabin was very talented and became a professor at Johns Hopkins in 1917. This made her the first woman to become a full professor at any medical college in the country! Just a few years later, in 1924, Dr. Sabin was elected the first woman president of the American Association of Anatomists and first lifetime woman member of the National Academy of Sciences.

Although a talented teacher, Dr. Sabin decided to concentrate on  research. In 1925, she became Head of the Department of Cellular Studies at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research. Her research focused on fighting tuberculosis.

In 1938, Sabin retired to Colorado. However, retirement was short-lived. Governor Vivian asked her to lead the State Health Committee.2 At the time, Colorado had one of the highest infant death rates in the country as well as the third-highest scarlet fever rates and the fifth-highest diphtheria total.

Dr. Sabin reformed health care, writing eight health bills that the legislature passed. In 1947 Mayor Quigg Newton declared Dr. Sabin the new Denver Manager of Health and Charities.3 Dr. Sabin soon began a city-wide x-ray and public education program4 that reduced the Denver tuberculosis rate by fifty percent.

Florence died in Denver in 1953.5 To honor her great works, the State sent a statue of her to represent Colorado in the Statuary Hall at the  Capitol in Washington.

Content Date: Jan. 1, 1871 to Jan. 1, 1951

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Judy Collins: Grammy-Winning Musician, Singer and Activist

Judy_Collins_Hootenanny_1963When: 1939-Present

Where: Denver, CO

Why Important: Grammy-winning Musician, Singer and Activist

Judy_Collins_with_Tom_and_Dick_Smothers_1967
Judy Collins with the Smothers Brothers in 1967
(Credit: Wikicommons)

Biography

Judy Collins is most famous for her singing and musical career. She has been a musician for over 40 years. She has released more than 40 albums and has had numerous top-10 hits, Grammy nominations, and gold and platinum-selling albums.

Collins moved with her family to Denver in her mid-teens. Her early musical background was in classical piano. By age ten, Collins was studying with a famous orchestra conductor named Antonia Brico. But, Judy liked folk music better, and so she went from playing the piano to playing guitar.6 In 1961, after an appearance in New York, she signed a contract with Elektra Records. She recorded 19 albums with them. In 1999, Collins started her own independent label, Wildflower Records.

Later, Judy helped to write a documentary about the famous orchestra conductor that she had studied with as a child (Antonia Brico.) This documentary went on to get an Academy Award nomination and was named one of the top ten films of the year by Time Magazine.

Collins is the author of several books, including Singing Lessons, in which she looks back on her life and career, and Sanity & Grace, a Journey of Suicide, Survival and Strength, which focuses on the death of her only son and the learning process following the tragedy. In her 2005 book Morning, Noon and Night: Living the Creative Life, Collins seeks to help people focus on their creativity and increase their productivity and enjoyment in their creative pursuits.

Ms. Collins became a special representative for Unicef in 1995. Because of her involvement with Unicef, she has made several visits to the former Yugoslavia and Vietnam. She has also worked to get rid of landmines. She has received numerous humanitarian awards for her work with UNICEF and alcohol abuse and suicide prevention programs.

Today, Ms. Collins still has a very busy concert schedule. She continues to record and produce music, write books, and work for the causes that she believes in.

Content Date: Jan. 1, 1939

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Golda Meir: Prime Minister of Israel

When: 1898-1978

Where: Denver, CO

Golda MeirWhy Important: Prime Minister of Israel

Biography

A child of Jewish parents, Golda was born in Kiev, Russia. The family migrated to America when Meir was nine.2 Determined to get an education, Meir ran away from her parents’ home in Milwaukee to live with her sister in a Jewish neighborhood in Denver, where she enrolled in high school. It was in Denver that she discovered Zionism.2  Enthralled by society’s debate over gender roles, the Social Zionist movement, and the future for Jewish people, she married Morris Meyerson in 1917. They soon sailed for Tel Aviv. Meir moved quickly up the political ladder and eventually became secretary of the Women’s Labor Council. In 1948 she helped write the Israeli Declaration of Independence.3 At age 70, Meir became Israel’s fourth prime minister.

Content Date: Jan. 1, 1898 to Jan. 1, 1978

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Marilyn Van Derbur Atler: Miss America 1958

vanderbur-atlerWhen: 1937-Present

Where: Born and raised in Denver, CO

Why Important: Miss America 1958, public speaker, and advocate for victims of sexual abuse

At National Speakers Association circa 1981(Credit: Brian Schwart on Wikicommons)
At National Speakers Association circa 1981
(Credit: Brian Schwart on Wikicommons)

Biography

Marilyn Van Derbur was crowned Miss America in 1958. She was one of the most popular women to hold the title. She held the title of Miss America for one year.4 After that, she went back to the University of Colorado and graduated with honors.

She was born in Denver. and did lots of public speaking. After she graduated from CU, Marilyn was hired by AT&T as the only spokeswoman for their television commercial on the “Bell Telephone Hour.” She has been the host of 23 network television specials on CBS and NBC, and she speaks at many conventions. She has spoken to thousands of business and education groups all over the world and has produced eight 30-minute motivational films which are being shown throughout North America at business and civic meetings and conventions.

Marilyn was a victim of child abuse by her father. She struggled to overcome the memories and feelings from this tragic experience. In 1989 she asked the Kempe National Center in Denver to begin a program to help other men and women who were victims of child abuse. Her family contributed $260,000 to establish the program.

During the past five years, Van Derbur Atler has spoken in 160 cities and personally answered over 7,000 letters from men and women who were victims of child abuse. In 1993 she co-founded two organizations based in Washington, DC dedicated to public education and to strengthening laws for victims of child abuse.

Marilyn Van Derbur Atler has received national awards as a result of this work. Van Derbur Atler has been named “Outstanding Woman Speaker in America.” She has one daughter, Jennifer.

Content Date: Jan. 1, 1937 to Jan. 1, 2011

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Harold Lloyd: Actor

harold_lloyd_-_a_pictorial_history_of_the_silent_screenWhen: 1893-1971

Where: Born in Nebraska, moved to Denver, and later to California

Why Important: One of the most influential comedians of the silent film era

Safetylast-1
Still of Harold Lloyd in “Safety Last” circa (1923)
(Credit: Wikicommons)

Biography

Mary Sabin, a science teacher at Denver’s East High, remembered Harold Lloyd as a very quiet boy. Lloyd turned this gift of understatement into a long and distinguished career as a silent film actor. When he was only twelve years old, he played “Little Abe” in a local production of Tess of the D’Urbervilles. High school stage productions attracted Lloyd to the theater business before graduation.

Between 1917 and 1947, Lloyd made more than 200 comedy films, both silent and “talkies.” His best known role was his “Glass character,” a resourceful, success-seeking, go-getter, who was perfectly in tune with 1920s America. The image of Lloyd hanging from the hands of a clock high above the street in Safety Last2 is one of the enduring images in all of cinema history.

Lloyd formed his own film production company2 and was a founding member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (which was started by another East High grad, Douglas Fairbanks, Sr.). In the 1940s, he directed and hosted a radio series called The Old Gold Comedy Theater.3

Harold Lloyd received a special Academy Award and he has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He was considered one of the three comedic geniuses of silent film along with Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin.

Content Date: Jan. 1, 1893 to Jan. 1, 1971

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John “Jack” Swigert: Astronaut, Congressman

swigertWhen: 1931-1982

Where: Born and raised in Denver, CO

Why Important: One of 24 people who have flown to the moon; Elected to U.S. Congress

Apollo 13 lift off in 1970(Credit: Wikicommons)
Apollo 13 lift off in 1970
(Credit: Wikicommons)

Biography

Confronted with the grave peril of outer space, John “Jack” Swigert, Jr. demonstrated a courage and heroism that defies the human spirit. Jack was a member of the Apollo 13 crew that survived a ill-fated mission to explore the moon in 1970.

Jack Swigert began flying airplanes at the age of 13, paying for flight lessons with his paper route proceeds. He graduated from Denver’s East High and was a member of that school’s powerful Angel football team.4 After earning a Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering2 from the University of Colorado, he served with the United States Air Force as a pilot in Korea. He joined the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)3 in 1966, and as one of 19 astronauts chosen for space travel. He served on the Apollo 13 mission as the pilot of the command module. When there was an explosion on board, it was Jack who famously reported to Mission Control, “Houston, we’ve had a problem.”

After the aborted mission and heroic rescue of the Apollo 13 crew in 1970, President Richard Nixon awarded Swigert the presidential Medal for Freedom for his bravery in guiding the Apollo 13 space capsule back to Earth.

In November of 1982, Swigert was elected to the House of Representatives from Colorado’s 6th Congressional District. Tragically, he died of cancer before taking the oath of office. In 1997, the state of Colorado erected a statue of him in the National Statuary Hall in Washington D.C.

Content Date: Jan. 1, 1931 to Jan. 1, 1982

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Douglas Fairbanks, Sr.: Silent Film Actor


When:
1883-1939

16616vWhere: Born and raised in Denver

Why Important: Well-loved silent film actor and star of swashbuckling favorites such as Robin Hood (1922) and The Mark of Zorro (1920).

Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks in Denver in 1926(credit: Denver Public Library)
Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks in Denver in 1926
(credit: Denver Public Library)

Biography

Douglas Fairbanks, the “King of Hollywood,” was born Douglas Elton Ulman in Denver.

As a child, he demonstrated the wild, devil-may-care attitude that would later become his screen persona. Beginning at 11, he was acting in summer stock plays at the legendary Elitch Theater (founded by another Denver notable, Mary Hauck Elitch Long), and performed in his teens in local theater companies. At East High School, Doug was notorious for his pranks and stunts. He left high school during his senior year (1900-1901) to start his journey toward stardom in New York and Hollywood.

Fairbanks would soon become one of the most elegant, dashing, and vital stars in the silent film era. Like today, the American media promoted mass hysteria for romantic and dashing heroes like Douglas Fairbanks. He played Hollywood’s first “Zorro” and “Robin Hood.” He defined the concept of swashbuckler,4 and ladies swooned at the mere mention of his name. He married his co-star in many silent films, the glamorous Mary Pickford.2 The couple soon became America’s “sweethearts,” as well as business partners.

Fairbanks is best known as a silent film actor, but he was a formidable businessman as well. He founded the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the group who gives away the Oscars every year!), and started his own film company, United Artists,3 in partnership with Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin and director D.W. Griffith. He established the country’s first film school, which lives on today as the acclaimed Department of Film at the University of Southern California.

Content Date: Jan. 1, 1883 to Jan. 1, 1939

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Glenn Miller: Musician and Bandleader

Glenn_Miller_BillboardWhen: 1904-1944

Where: Fort Morgan and Boulder, CO

Why Important: Musician/Bandleader

Glenn_Miller_Band
Glenn Miller Band
(Credit: Wikicommons)

Biography

Glenn Miller was one of the most popular musicians of the Big Band era. He was born Alton Glenn Miller in Iowa in 1904. Throughout his childhood, his family moved frequently, first to Nebraska, then to Missouri, then finally to Fort Morgan, Colorado during Miller’s high school years. At his Fort Morgan high school Miller became interested in big band music and formed a band at the school, where he played the trombone.

After graduating Miller enrolled in the University of Colorado at Boulder, but focused more on music than on his academic studies. Finally, after failing three of his five classes in one semester, Miller dropped out of the university and concentrated exclusively on music. At CU, however, Miller met Helen Burger, who he would later marry.

During the 1920s he played with numerous bands, mainly in New York and Los Angeles, including those of Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman. In 1937, Miller formed his own band for the first time, but it was not very successful. Then, through the development of a unique sound through the use of trombones, clarinets, and saxophones, Miller finally found success, and his band began recording for RCA Victor and Bluebird Records. Between 1938 and 1943 Miller enjoyed great success with some of the nation’s top-selling Big Band records, including some of his most famous songs, “In the Mood” and “Tuxedo Junction.” His band also appeared in two movies, Sun Valley Serenade4 and Orchestra Wives.2

When WWII broke out, Miller decided to join the war effort. He was accepted into the Army as a military band leader.3 Soon he was transferred to the Army Air Force. In December, 1944, Miller was stationed in Bedfordshire, England. During a flight from Bedfordshire to Paris to play for the soldiers there, Miller’s plane disappeared over the English Channel. No one knows what happened to Miller’s plane, and his body was never found. Therefore, he has been listed as missing in action since that time. He was awarded a Bronze Star, given to his wife, Helen, after Miller’s death.

Content Date: Jan. 1, 1904 to Jan. 1, 1944

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Mary McDonough Coyle Chase: Journalist, Playwright, Screenwriter

When: 1906-1981

Where: Denver, CO

220px-Mary_Coyle_ChaseWhy Important: Journalist and nationally-known playwright

Jimmy Stewart in film adaptation of "Harvey" (Credit: Insomnia Cured Here via Flicker)
Jimmy Stewart in film adaptation of “Harvey”
(Credit: Insomnia Cured Here via Flicker)

Biography

Mary McDonough Coyle Chase lived in Denver her entire life. At age 18, she was hired as a reporter for the Rocky Mountain News. She gained a reputation as a talented writer and was soon promoted to columnist. At the News she met and married Robert Lamont Chase, a fellow reporter who would eventually go on to become managing editor. The Chases had three children, and Mary decided to quit the News to stay home with her family. She did not quit journalism, however, continuing to write as a freelancer and doing public relations work.

It was at this time that Chase began writing fiction, beginning with short stories and children’s books. In 1936, she penned her first play, Me Third. 4Her greatest success, however, came with the play Harvey, written in 1944.2 Harvey, the story of a six-foot-one-inch tall white rabbit, was a Broadway hit. In 1950, a film version of Harvey debuted,3 starring Jimmy Stewart, who also played the lead on Broadway. A comedy, Harvey was inspired by the Irish legend of the pooka, a large animal visible only to people who believe in it.

Mary Coyle Chase died of a heart attack in 1981 at her home in the Denver Country Club.

Content Date: Jan. 1, 1906 to Jan. 1, 1981

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Robert Speer, Denver’s “City Beautiful” Mayor

When: 1856 – 1918

Where: Denver, Colorado

Robert_W_Speer_19161718Why Important: Mayor who worked to beautify Denver

Biography

Born in Cassville, Pennsylvania in 1856, Robert W. Speer decided to move to Colorado when he was 23 years old. He was suffering from tuberculosis, a disease of the lungs that was very common at the time, especially in industrial areas. Colorado’s fresh, dry air was said to cure tuberculosis, so thousands came to the state for what was called the “climate cure.”

In 1880 Speer moved to Denver, where he took a job at Daniels & Fisher, a fashionable department store on Denver’s 16th Street. Soon, though, Speer decided that he could make more money in real estate, so he quit his job at the store. Speer also became interested in politics. The same year he moved to Denver he was elected City Clerk. Then, in 1885, Speer was named Denver’s Postmaster, appointed by President Grover Cleveland. He held this position for six years.

Mayor Speer with President Theodore Roosevelt and Senator John Shafroth(credit: Denver Public Library)
Mayor Speer with President Theodore Roosevelt and Senator John Shafroth
(credit: Denver Public Library)

Continuing his involvement in politics both in and out of office, Speer ran for mayor in 1904.4 It was soon revealed that his campaign used fake votes to help him get elected.2 Throughout his time in office, Speer was known for not always being honest. He did, however, do many things to beautify Denver, and this is what he was remembered for.

Civic Center Park circa 1904-1910(credit: Denver Public Library and History Colorado)
Civic Center Park circa 1904-1910
(credit: Denver Public Library and History Colorado)

At the turn of the Twentieth Century, at the height of the industrial era, many people who lived in large cities across America began to feel that their cities were old and ugly. The Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 featured a European-style, white model city, and many other cities decided that they would like their cities to look this way. This became known as the City Beautiful Movement. Mayor Speer thought Denver should be beautified this way.

He traveled to Europe several times to get ideas for what Denver should look like. During his term as Mayor, Speer had several blocks west of the State Capitol completely cleared of their buildings.3 This area became Civic Center Park, and the Denver City and County Building was later constructed on this site. Mayor Speer also gave away thousands of free trees that Denver residents could plant in their yards and in Denver’s parks. He also thought Denver should have culture, and he started a series of free Sunday concerts at his new Municipal Auditorium.

Speer served as Mayor until 1912. Four years later, in 1916, he decided to run for mayor again. He was elected, but only served for two years. He died in 1918 of influenza4 during the epidemic that was sweeping the nation just after World War I. Today, his influence can still be seen through Civic Center Park and Speer Boulevard, which is named for him.

Content Date: Jan. 1, 1856 to Jan. 1, 1918

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Ralph Carr: Defender of Japanese Americans

When: 1887 – 1950

Where: Denver, Colorado and Southern Colorado

Young Ralph Carr circa 1910(credit: History Colorado)
Young Ralph Carr circa 1910
(credit: History Colorado)

Why Important: Governor who supported the rights of Japanese Americans during World War II

Biography

Ralph Carr was born in 1887. His father was a miner, and the family moved around to several Colorado towns, including Aspen and Cripple Creek. After graduating from Cripple Creek High School in 1905, Ralph went on to study law, earning his law degree in 1912. His law practice took him to the town of Antonito in southern Colorado.

After living in Antonito for 11 years, Ralph, his wife, Gretchen, and their two adopted children, Robert and Cynthia, moved to Denver. It was very different from the small towns Ralph had lived in most of his life. Ralph had become a very well-respected lawyer, and when he moved to Denver he became Assistant Attorney General. In 1929, he was appointed by President Herbert Hoover to serve as U.S. Attorney for Colorado.5 During this time, Gretchen died, and Ralph continued raising their two children alone. Eleven years after Gretchen’s death, Ralph married Eleanor Fairall.

In 1938, Ralph decided to run for Governor of Colorado and won.2 Three years later the United States entered World War II when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, in Hawaii, on December 7, 1941. After the attack, many Americans began to distrust Japanese Americans, even those who were United States citizens, fearing that they might be spies. Because of this, the United States government forced thousands of Japanese Americans, mostly from California, to leave their homes and live in “internment camps.” However, unlike many others, Ralph Carr believed in Japanese Americans’ loyalty,3 and he did not send Japanese Coloradans to the camps. He believed that the Constitution protected all Americans.4

Governor Carr signing documents at the Capitol. Re-election for governor promotional postcard.(credit: History Colorado)
Governor Carr signing documents at the Capitol. Re-election for governor promotional postcard.
(credit: History Colorado)

When he ran for the U.S. Senate in 1942, Ralph lost the election,5 and some say this was because of his support for Japanese Americans. He decided to run for governor again in 1950, but he died just a month before the election. He was 62 years old. Soon after his death, Coloradans began to recognize that he had been right, that there were no cases of Japanese spies in America. Today, Ralph Carr is remembered as someone who stood up for the rights of others, even when his view was not popular. He has been memorialized in a statue in Denver’s Sakura Square and in the naming of the Ralph Carr Memorial Highway and the new Ralph Carr Judicial Center in downtown Denver. In 1999, the Denver Post named him Colorado’s “Citizen of the Century.”

Ralph Carr is also memorialized by a plaque in the State Capitol that reads, “Dedicated to Governor Ralph Carr as a wise, humane man, not influenced by hysteria and bigotry directed against the Japanese Americans during World War II. By his humanitarian efforts, no Colorado resident of Japanese ancestry was deprived of his basic freedoms, and when no others would accept the evacuated West Coast Japanese, except for confinement in internment camps, Governor Carr opened the doors and welcomed them to Colorado. The spirit of his deeds will live in the hearts of true Americans.”

Content Date: Jan. 1, 1887 to Jan. 1, 1950

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Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales: Boxer, Writer, Activist


When:
1928-2005

Where: Denver and Brighton

Gonzales 826Why Important: Gonzales was a boxer, writer, and Chicano activist.

Hispanic youths attending Corky Gonzales speech at the State Capitol circa 1968(Credit: Denver Public Library)
Hispanic youths attending Corky Gonzales speech at the State Capitol circa 1968
(Credit: Denver Public Library)

Biography

Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales was born on June 18, 1928. According to his article on Wikipedia, Rodolfo had a fiery personality in his youth, causing his uncle to say that “he was always popping off like a cork” – the nickname, Corky, stuck. Gonzales married Geraldine Romero in 1949 and together they had eight children.

Gonzales studied engineering in school, but it became clear that he would not be able to afford college after his first semester. He dropped out and turned to boxing. Gonzales fought as a featherweight seventy-five times. Gonzales was inducted into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame in 1988.

After a career in boxing, Gonzales ran for Colorado State Representative but was defeated. He worked on voter registration for John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign6 and successfully registered more Mexican Americans than any other time in Colorado’s history. Gonzales made his final political effort in 1967 when he ran for Denver Mayor, however he lost again.

Corky became a leader in the Chicano Movement. He founded the Crusade for Justice, led a group in the Poor People’s March on Washington, and organized a resistance at West High School after a teacher made racist comments. Corky also helped to create the Ballet Chicano de Atlan and El Teatro Pachuco. He opened a summer school in 1969 and the Escuela Tlatelolco in 1970 for Chicano children.

Rodolfo Gonzales pursued creative writing throughout his life. He wrote a famous poem “Yo Soy Joaquin” or “I am Joaquin” which was published in 1967. This poem became a bright idea in the Chicano Movement and has been quoted in protest literature, published in plays, and reprinted in several editions.

On April 12, 2005, Corky died of heart failure at the age of 76.

Content Date: Jan. 1, 1928 to Jan. 1, 2005

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