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Oltjenbruns farm declared a new piece of history PDF Print E-mail
Written by Karen Ortner   

Ken Oltjenbruns has long been an enthusiast for local history, but this time, it’s much more personal. The Oltjenbruns homestead in the Amherst area, once home to his great-grandparents, August and Emma Welper, has officially been added to the National Register of Historic Places.

It was the combination of a University of Colorado-Denver master’s level class on historic preservation and a project by Colorado Preservation Inc. that first identified the farmstead for its historic roots, visiting various sites around Colorado and analyzing the homes of the area’s original settlers.

“The train came through in 1887 here,” explained Oltjenbruns. “Lumber was able to be hauled in, and that made for nicer homes in the area.”

The original home of the Welpers was built in 1915 by Robert Buckholz, the previous tenant. It was certainly larger and nicer than many homes of the era.

An aerial view of the four-generation Oltjenbruns farm in the rural Amherst area shows the buildings that earned the farmstead a distinguished spot on the National Register of Historic Places.

On the south side, a columned front porch used to stand, topped with a walk-out balcony from a second-floor bedroom. Two of the four bedrooms boast large walk-in closets, something that was surely a luxury in 1915 Amherst, and beautiful, original woodwork is still evident throughout the home.

In short, it’s a considerable improvement from the two sod buildings that once comprised the whole of the farmstead, back when it was first homesteaded by Anson Hanway.

The Welpers came to Amherst from Nebraska in 1917 to move into the nice home built in front of the sod buildings, the same year their daughter Amelia married Harry Oltjenbruns. They then added a summer kitchen/washhouse to the west side of the house, the first of many added buildings the homestead would see over the years to come.

“That’s where they would separate the cream from the milk and where they’d burn down the fat to render it for lard,” said Ken Oltjenbruns. “I imagine it wouldn’t smell too good to do that in the house.”

Harry and Amelia Oltjenbruns followed the Welpers to Phillips County in 1919, moving as far away from Holyoke as the Welpers, but in the opposite direction — south and west. The younger couple took over the Welper place in 1939, bringing their three daughters and twin sons, Elton and Milton (Ken’s father), with them.

A fourth-generation homestead, the Oltjenbruns place was added to the National Register of Historic Places Feb. 2. Above at left, the family home, currently unoccupied, stands shaded by tall elms but has changed little from its original 1915 state, pictured at right.

—Johnson Publications photo at left

By that time, the farmstead had acquired a chicken coop, a brooder house and an outhouse. The next buildings to go up were a workshop in 1943 and a granary in 1945.

Milton grew up and married his wife Leona in 1947, at which time the newly married couple took over the farm. In time, they added a cattle feeder, grain elevator and a machine shed, along with three children of their own. “This place has been really good to us,” said Leona. “We raised our three children here, and the house was big enough that they each had their own rooms.”

“We started with rented ground and it just grew,” said Milton of the property, which has been the hub of the family farm and a small feedlot over the years. “We bought land as it became available just about every year.”

The Oltjenbruns operation primarily grew wheat and forage crops and raised cattle. They added irrigation in 1970 and sprinklers around 1980. With irrigation, their crop variety expanded to include corn, beets and pinto beans.

A cattle feeder was built in 1950, followed by a grain elevator in 1953 and a machine shed in 1960 as agriculture progressed and the operation became larger.

After almost 40 years on the farm together, Milton and Leona moved to town in 1986, but the farmstead remained the center of operations. Ken lived in Fort Collins but returned often to help manage the farm, as he still does today. The final building added was a large, modern steel-sided shop in 2010.

Ken Oltjenbruns stands beside his grandfather’s 1939 John Deere “A” tractor, parked in the old granary now used for storage.  

—Johnson Publications photo

Since 1917, farming has changed quite a bit and so has the farmstead. Buildings were repurposed over time.

The old washhouse was converted into a one-car garage. The chicken coop was moved to the south of the house and turned into a calf shed by the corrals.

A peek into the old granary reveals Ken’s grandfather’s 1939 John Deere “A” tractor and an extensive collection of antique hand grinders and post drills.

“Dad’s always been quite a collector,” smiled Ken.

While much has changed around the farmstead in the last century, it remains as a reflection of the evolution of agriculture in the area, the reason it was deemed historic to begin with.

As Ken approaches retirement, he said a nephew will someday take over management of the family properties, and the home’s legacy will live on. Ken, in the meantime, looks forward to taking on more upkeep-type projects around the farm, beginning with rebuilding the old balconied front porch where he used to play with his siblings.

Holyoke Enterprise April 28, 2016

‘More than just bats and balls’ PDF Print E-mail
Written by Karen Ortner   
Full-time city recreation department a real possibility

“It is something people are looking for, it is realistic, and it is achievable,” said Bret Miles during the community recreation committee presentation to the Holyoke City Council Tuesday, April 19.

The committee had certainly done its homework before presenting to the full council, armed with packets summarizing the need, benefits, budget, timeline and even a job description example for a full-time recreation director to oversee the potential department.

“It’s more than just bats and balls,” said Tom Bennett, explaining how the department would help organize and oversee not just youth and adult sport leagues but could also extend to events like Rural Philanthropy Days and Pedal the Plains. “We have some real opportunities to help grow the community.”

Recreation is part of a thriving community and an economic driver, the presentation stressed. It keeps more young adults in town, and along with more opportunities for youth and adults, it also brings more revenue to the community through events.

Committee member Michelle Vieselmeyer noted, “As a parent, we go to Sterling all the time for different leagues. It would be nice to have that here in town and see people come here, too.”

One of the key advantages discussed of a formal, full-time recreation department is simply the consistency of a single, year-round source of contact. Speakers mentioned various activities that thrived while the person coordinating the events was around and passionate about the event but died out as the coordinator moved away or lost interest in it.

In other cases such as the women’s volleyball league, the event exists and is fairly successful, but if a new person in town is not in the right circles, they may not ever know about it, limiting the league’s potential.

A city recreation department would solve both of those problems by having a single public source that can link a person to any recreational event or league and provide a full-time position with the purpose of overseeing, coordinating and scheduling these events.

Luke Goldenstein pointed out Holyoke’s excellent facilities for harboring events, and Miles said the Holyoke school district is willing to be a part of this project, crediting HHS athletic director Sandra Rahe’s involvement in the committee’s conversations.

“Policies are already in place for community use of facilities,” he said.

For nonathletic recreational events, Brooke Dirks said the Prairie Winds Art Center would love to host events and classes.

Bennett said, “Recreation is defined as an activity done for enjoyment when one is not working. It’s really open-ended as to the possibilities for this department.”

Jeff Tharp spoke as to the economic side of things. “People like to play and enjoy themselves and will spend money to do it,” he said simply. “Small towns can triple and quadruple in occupancy because of events.”

For the potential department that could play such a large role in the community, the major sources of revenue include a proposed increase of $29,500 from the Holyoke General Fund on top of the $25,000 already appropriated for recreation. In addition, participation fees and a potential lodging tax, if approved in the November 2016 election, would also play a major role in funding.

The proposed 2.5 percent lodging tax has already been discussed by committee members with local hotel owners, who say they support such a tax. It is this piece of the puzzle, which is estimated to potentially generate $25,000 for a recreation department, that especially drives the project’s timeline.

“The beginning of June is the beginning of election season if you want a successful campaign,” said Miles, who concluded the presentation by asking that the council keep the recreation department discussion on its agenda for its following meetings.

With many people in the community willing to serve in volunteer positions and the potential for a formal structure to be put into place, the recreation committee presents a strong case for people of all ages in Holyoke to enjoy more organized activities next year.

Holyoke Enterprise April 28, 2016

2 teachers hired for elementary PDF Print E-mail
Written by Brenda Johnson Brandt   

Stephanie Chaney was hired as a second English Language Learner teacher and Melanie Wheeler as a fourth-grade teacher at Holyoke Elementary School for the 2016-17 school year. Their contracts were approved at the April 19 meeting of the Re-1J Board of Education.

Chaney has more than 12 years of teaching experience with a background of striving to meet the needs of culturally, racially and socio-economically diverse learners, with early childhood education and reading intervention focuses.

The past eight years, she has been an interventionist at Todd County Middle School in Mission, S.D., which is located on the Rosebud Reservation. This past year, she co-taught an eighth-grade reading/writing class at the school.

Chaney has completed several graduate level courses in the area of ELL instruction, specifically interventions for reading and writing.

Wheeler will be teaching third- and fourth-grade writing in the school’s departmentalized system. She has a seventh-12th-grade English teaching certificate and has had two years of teaching experience as a seventh- and eighth-grade English teacher at Sterling Middle School.

She has signed up to take the elementary PLACE test in May, and once she passes it, she will apply for an elementary education license through the Colorado Department of Education.

Wheeler has been trained in and used Every Child a Writer and the online Reading Plus instructional programs with her students the last two years. Both of these programs are used at Holyoke Elementary.

In other personnel action, the school board accepted resignations from one teacher and two teacher aides.

Effective at the end of the 2015-16 school year are the resignations from third-grade teacher Heather Walter and JR/SR high school aide Karla Cruz. Elementary aide Adya White’s resignation is effective May 6.


Winter sports summarized

Athletic director Sandra Rahe gave a summary of winter sports during last week’s board meeting.

She highlighted coaches, records, number of participants, team awards and individual awards for the past four years for HS girls and boys basketball, wrestling and girls swimming.

Additionally, she shared four-year highlights of coaches, records, number of participants and post-season or LPAA standings for JH girls and boys basketball and wrestling.

Goals for each sport were identified by Rahe. In JH boys basketball, she noted that 2015-16 was Jim Yakel’s last year as coach, so the goal there will be to recruit and retain a new head coach. For JH girls basketball, they will coordinate with coaches to get a little more practice time daily.

A goal for both HS and JH wrestling will be to recruit and retain a new head coach to work with the entire program and to increase participation.

A key goal in girls swimming will be to keep communication with the city and pool employees open. Rahe noted that Colorado High School Activities Association has just established a 3A girls swimming division that the HHS team will compete in. Up through this year, only 4A and 5A divisions were involved.

Goals in HS boys basketball will be to possibly work toward getting a third paid coaching position and to schedule 10 or more C games each year as needed.

Hiring a new head coach before the end of school — and to support the coach during transition — were highlighted for HS girls basketball. Rahe also shared the head coach interview questions and process used for hiring.


Jones shares her story to encourage changes, clarifications in policies

“Sentence Without a Trial: The End of a Career” is what former Holyoke Elementary counselor Sharon Jones called her story that she shared with the school board at last week’s meeting.

Jones resigned her position with the district to purchase a business a year ago. With a change in direction, she has more recently been seeking positions in education. After a number of rejections, she discovered that her name has a police number attached to it. She is devastated.

Her story starts with an accusation from a child at Holyoke Elementary in the fall of 2014 that led to a child abuse report being turned in to the Holyoke Police Department and Phillips County Department of Social Services.

She shared the written police report, which notes that the complaint was investigated and that there was no wrongdoing on her part. The case was closed.

However, she recently discovered that because the police report was taken and social services was contacted, the police number is attached to her name for any background check.

She was made aware of this when she wasn’t getting call-backs for jobs and was finally told that there was a problem with her background clearance.

She said the company looking to hire her worked with the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services to try to “clear” her name so she could be employed by them. She said the Phillips County Social Services director wrote a letter to the company explaining the facts around the case, saying it was an informational referral and no case was opened.

“Unfortunately, I received word that the center would not be able to receive clearance to allow me to work directly with children and families,” said Jones.

Jones said she had no idea the impact this number attached to her name would have. “At 45 years old, I own a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree that cannot be used. The end of a career ... A sentence without a trial.”

She gave the board copies of the law on mandated reporting, which includes exclusions. She emphasized that school districts need to be aware of the power that comes with mandated reporting and how a call to the police and social services will affect all parties involved.

“Policies must be in place to protect our children. But the policies that were involved in my situation need visited, need clarified, need changed,” Jones added.

She pleaded with the board to make a difference in policy so that no other educators are subjected to this situation.

Jones said she wasn’t given due process nor a fair trial, and she now carries the sentence of child abuser to the untrained eye. “A sentence that I do not deserve,” she said.

“Take my story to educate others so that no other person goes through this. Please don’t sweep it under the rug,” she concluded.


Other business

In other business April 19, the Re-1J board:

—approved a $10,000 payment toward the City of Holyoke ballpark renovations.

—acknowledged the following gifts to the district: a donation to the music department from the Marie Millage Memorial, a donation for equipment for the baseball program from the Dragon Fan Club and a donation to the cheerleading department from Julie Wiebke.

—gave approval for nonresident student Bianca Liang for the remainder of the 2015-16 school year.

—held a work session on the 2016-17 budget immediately following the regular meeting.

Holyoke Enterprise April 28, 2016

Assessing health of Holyoke, Phillips Co. PDF Print E-mail
Written by Holyoke Enterprise   

Survey responses due May 11

“Melissa Memorial Hospital needs the residents of Holyoke and Phillips County to provide their feedback on how they feel not only about the health of their community but also the services provided at the hospital,” said Trampas Hutches, MMH’s CEO.

For residents’ convenience, a copy of the survey is a separate pull-out insert in this week’s Holyoke Enterprise. Electronic versions in both English and Spanish are available online at

Those who complete the survey are welcome to drop them off in a box conveniently located at the entrance of the hospital. Survey responses will be accepted by the hospital until Wednesday, May 11.


MMH working with Colo. Rural Health Center

At the invitation of MMH, the Colorado Rural Health Center facilitated the first of three meetings designed to assess community health needs in Holyoke and Phillips County on April 6. Seventeen attendees participated in this first meeting, which was held at the hospital.

Attendees were invited to join in the conversation about the health of their community and the health statistics that support their perceptions. Data representing health factors measuring against state and national averages were presented, giving the audience an evidence-driven viewpoint about their community.

Hutches noted that “the leadership represented in the group gave valuable insight to help tell the community’s health story.”

Highlights from the data presented included substantial findings. The percentage of adults that are overweight or obese is 73 percent in Phillips County, while the rural average in Colorado is 58 percent of the population.

Correlating is the heart disease death rates in the county, which is 56 percent higher than the rural Colorado average.

Positive attributes in the community also were discussed, including high school graduation rates remaining 24 percent higher than the rural Colorado average and 19 percent higher than the whole state. Additionally, 87 percent of Phillips County residents have not delayed seeing a physician due to cost, where the state average is 84 percent seeking care when needed.

The second community leader meeting will be held Wednesday, May 18, to discuss the results of this community-wide survey that residents are being asked to complete by May 11.

East Phillips County Hospital District, dba Melissa Memorial Hospital, is committed to living and fulfilling its mission.

With strong board leadership comprised of community members and focusing on the health and wellness of the community, the hospital’s excellent and compassionate staff and medical staff are committed to providing the care needed within a new facility with advanced technology one might not expect in a rural setting.

The Colorado Rural Health Center was established in 1991 as Colorado’s State Office of Rural Health. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, CRHC serves dual roles as the State Office of Rural Health with the mission of assisting rural communities in addressing health care issues; and as the State Rural Health Association, advocating for policy change to ensure that rural Coloradoans have access to comprehensive, affordable health care services of the highest quality.

CRHC has a diverse and inclusive statewide constituency of over 3,500 people and organizations. CRHC collaborates with a variety of partner organizations, such as public and private sector corporations, government agencies, foundations, hospitals and other health facilities.

For more information, visit, call 303-832-7493 or call toll-free 800-851-6782 from rural Colorado.

Holyoke Enterprise April 28, 2016