Skip and Lib

When the United States declared war on Japan, men answered the call to arms and went off to fight for their country. Meanwhile, the women who stayed at home suddenly found themselves involved with the war effort doing a variety of "men's" jobs, as the need for weapons and aircraft also increased.

In Dallas, Texas, in December 1941, two young women became part of the war effort as they worked at North American Aviation. Each day they spent their working hours on the assembly line welding airplane parts. One of the women, Elizabeth Hanaman (Lib), had been first violinist with the Dallas Symphony prior to the war. However, shortly after the war began, the conductor of the symphony was drafted, and the orchestra temporarily disbanded. Lib began working North American during the week. Often on the weekends, she would drive to San Antonio to play with the San Antonio Symphony Orchestra.

The other young woman, Amy Lou Holmes (Skip), had come to Dallas from Missouri. Skip had graduated with a degree from the prestigious school of journalism at the University of Texas. But Skip's first love was the out-of-doors, and so instead of pursuing a career in journalism, she opened a girl's summer camp in the Ozarks of Missouri. She and her partner ran the camp for a year, and then her partner died. Skip continued to run the camp for another four years. When war was declared, Skip went to Dallas and began working at the airplane factory. There she met Lib and what was to become a lifelong friendship began.

One day, as the ladies were working, Skip invited Lib to return with her to Missouri and help run the camp that summer. Lib accepted the invitation and they returned to Missouri for the summer. Although the camp was a financial success, the two know that the Missouri climate was anything but ideal in the summer. In 1945, the ladies came to Colorado and began looking for a place to buy so that they could build another camp. The two spent the next few days reading real estate adds and looking at property. Finally, they saw an ad for a place near Bailey, Colorado. They took the ad to a man who was a law student at Denver University and who sold real estate as a side venture. The law student, Maurice Reuler, who later became president of the Colorado Bar Association, showed several pieces of property to the ladies and finally arrived with them at the Lazear property.

The ladies spent the next hour or so looking over the site. Several times while they were looking at it, Reuler voiced his dismay over the rundown condition of the property. His words went unheeded. After the tour, Skip turned to Lib and said, "This is it!"

When Reuler heard that, he set about trying to change their minds, ending with, "Ladies, I cannot in good conscience sell you that property."

They were not easily dissuaded. Skip turned to him and said, "If you don't sell us this place, someone else will, because we're buying it!" That show of determination was the beginning of a twenty-five year adventure for the two ladies. On November 5, 1945, the ladies signed the contract that made the 205 acre site theirs. According to their contract with Edward Lazear, who by then was sole owner of the ranch, Skip and Lib bought the site for $10.00 and other good and valuable considerations." Heaven only knows what these considerations were, but it certainly sounds as if they made a good deal!

For the next three years, Skip and Lib divided their time between Missouri and Colorado. It took all this time for them to sell that camp in Missouri and ready the camp in Colorado. Skip spent her winters doing the paper work for the camps, while Lib played the violin with the Denver Symphony. Each summer the ladies traveled to Missouri while the caretaker and his wife, Jack and Myrtle Ryan, cared for the camp near Bailey, which by this time had acquired a new name.

The camp in Missouri had been named "Camp Sylvania." ("Sylvania" meaning wooded area or hills). When it came time for Skip and Lib to name the new camp, Skip suggested "Sylvania of the Rockies" and the camp was so named until Jefferson County Schools purchased the property.

In the Spring of 1948 when the camp in Missouri finally sold, Skip and Lib knew that they would be able to open the Colorado camp. In June, with 38 girls in attendance, the camp opened. 

Little girls could begin coming to camp when they were six years old and they could come every summer after that until they were grown. Many girls took advantage of the opportunity to do this, since from its inception, the camp offered the girls a multitude of unique opportunities.

One of the things for which the camp became well known for was the stable of Arabian Horses. Skip, who describes herself as a 'horse nut' was intent upon having horses and so, she said, "We made a deal. Lib wanted chamber music, and so I told her, 'We'll build a music studio for you and we'll by the equivalent in Arabian mares.' We bought four mares and started breeding. We ended up with twenty-two." Since the horses all needed stalls, Skip and Lib along with Gene and Muriel Barden, people who worked at the ranch during the summer, raised the barn to house horses with such exotic names as Gebel Rakassa (Mountain Dancer) and Brincessa Gamil(Beautiful Princess). 

Meanwhile, as Skip was busily overseeing the horse venture, Lib was equally busy with the music program. She made sure through the years that the girls were offered a variety of musical opportunities through performances both by and for them.

Each summer the girls presented a musical for their parents and for the Denver/Bailey communities. The pianist who accompanied their endeavors played with the Dallas Symphony during the winter months. The lady who choreographed the dances had been with the Martha Graham Dancers. The sets were designed and built by some of the craft classes while other craft classes designed and made costumes. Through the years the girls presented such musicals as The Mikado, The Sound of Music, Knight Riders and Oklahoma. One year the girls presented the world premiere of a play titled, The Wonderful Tang, written by Beaumont Breustle.

In July each summer on the twenty-fourth or twenty-fifth, the girls celebrated 'Christmas in July,' and the holiday was every bit as celebrated in the middle of the summer as it ever was in December! In fact, the only thing missing was snow! Camp was a busy place all year though, so how did the girls keep up with all these happenings? With a newspaper, of course. The girls worked on the paper weekly, with Skip, throughout the summer. The rest of the year Skip and Lib published the paper, but girls had to 'subscribe' to the paper in order to receive it. Subscribers to the newspaper, The Tattler, paid for their subscriptions by sending a note to Skip and Lib about what they were doing. This unique newspaper allowed the girls and their parents to know what was happening among their many friends.

Homesickness was never much of a problem at Sylvania, and there's little wonder. The girls had a variety of classes to hold their interest besides horseback riding and musicals. Swimming, modern dance, archery, jewelry, sculpture, ballet, tennis and ceramics were just some of the things that the girls could do. Incidentally, some of the girls' parents were so confident in Skip and Lib's management and so sure their daughters would have a good time, that they left their daughters at Sylvania and went off to Europe for the eight weeks that camp was in session.

Through the years, the camp continued to grow and gain in reputation. Girls were coming from every state and from such foreign countries as France, Germany, FInland, Peru and Venezuela. By the early months of  the year, the enrollment for the camp was full. Travel magazines and agencies were asking "Sylvania" to advertise with them instead of Skip and Lib having to do the asking. They had truly come a long way.

In 1969, the ladies decided that the time had come for them to sell the ranch and move to Denver. With reluctant hearts, they put the place up for sale in January of 1970. Jim and Virginia Coggin saw the ad and bought the place in April, 1970. Although Skip and Lib stayed through that summer to help the Coggin's learn to run the camp, they knew that their time on this land was over.

Yet, even today the love that Skip and Lib gave to this property is still much in evidence. The buildings they built, the books from their well-read library, the girls who still drop by to see "Sylvania" are a tribute to these unique ladies.

Perhaps their philosophy is best summed up by the sign they left hanging in the theater, the sign which one little girl quoted verbatim when she wrote to Skip and Lib to say what "Sylvania" meant to her:

"The secret of the JOY of living is proper appreciation of what we actually possess."
So then believe that every bird that sings
And every flower that stirs the elastic sod,
And every thought the happy summer brings
To the pure spirit, is a word of God.