The heart of Pagosa


By Betty Slade

Sometimes when I look around Pagosa Springs, I don’t recognize it. It saddens me to think we are changing. All the building, traffic and new people have redefined our sleepy little town. I loved the way we used to be, but change is certain to happen.

Years ago, a writer from The Durango Herald newspaper wrote an article about Pagosa. That writer described Pagosa as an old sick man, bent over, wearing a tattered coat, pushing against the wind, trying to survive, going downhill and going nowhere.

True. Those words were hard to hear. With faded and torn awnings on rundown store fronts, no money in our pockets, Pagosa has had some hard days, but it was our town; it was us. One stoplight and a telephone booth were sufficient.

We all struggled. A good winter coat, pair of overalls, work boots, a lot of grit and hard work, we made a life for ourselves. We were not fashionable like the city folk who came to visit, but we didn’t need to be. We had work to do. No time to sit around and be on vacation.

We gave all the gusto we had and put another log on the fire. A pair of vice grips turned the handle on the car door. We drove those old cars for another year. Duct tape and a sheet of clear plastic over a broken window kept out the cold.

I attended the funeral of Frederick W. Sorenson Jr., fondly known as Junior to all of us. I realized we haven’t lost what we thought we had. There was so much love toward this family, I don’t think I’ve ever felt this much love for one family in my lifetime. The true heart of Pagosa was sitting in the church seats. The music from old-timey hymns was sweet to our ears. The family told ancient stories about Jan’s Café, the Red Barn Lumber Company and many other places long gone that we used to frequent.

As I sat among people whom I’ve known since 1965, I was comforted to see, under the surface, Pagosa is still filled with hardworking, good and caring people. These are people who have helped us and others out of the ditch many times, lent a hand, jumped-started our cars and brought wood for our stoves. They were there for us.

Friends came and cut down a tree leaning over our house when we feared to sleep in our bedroom. The town people cheered on our kids and grandkids at football and softball games. We traveled out of town to all the games together. We laughed during fun times and we cried when tragedy came to our friends.

At the funeral, an overflowing crowd honored and supported the Sorensons, Johnsons, Charles and Christians during their time of loss. Junior Sorenson was the epitome of the heart of Pagosa. Even the lumber company where he worked closed for the day to honor him. He was the essential nature of what it means to live in Pagosa. Story after story about this man’s life were told. Everyone at one time or another was helped by his expertise and generous heart.

Junior’s family settled in this area in the 1900s. Junior was born in Pagosa Springs in 1936. I remember meeting the Johnson family in 1976 in the tallest house in Mesa Heights. Our kids went to school with each other and they are still a big part of our lives today.

The legacy of Junior Sorenson will continue. Words in his service brochure written by Henry Scott Holland says it all: “Death is nothing at all. I have only slipped into the next room. I am I, and you are you. Call me by my old familiar name, speak to me in the easy way you always used. Put no difference in your tone, wear no forced air of solemnity of sorrow … Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight? I am waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near; just around the corner. All is well.”

As we bid farewell to a sweet giant of a man in our community, remember he just slipped into the next room. He is still with us. He has left strong men in his family to carry his principles forward. He left a wonderful family who calls him Pa and they will be around to play football and softball just like he did those many years ago. He was a pillar in his church, and he loved Jesus. He left behind a town not forgotten.

Final brushstroke: As we look at the sleepy little town we once knew, remember, “I am I. You are you, we are still here. Call Pagosa by its old familiar name, speak about us as you used to. Embrace the old-timers, they are still with us, they are who made Pagosa what it is. All is well.” 

Readers’ comments 

To the old-timers who never knew entitlement. They worked hard to provide for their families and supported their community by showing up to help others. We need you to stick around. You are the heart of Pagosa. Send your stories to me and I’ll make sure they are heard.

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