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A responsibility to participate

Locations: News Published

By James Steindler

When it comes to balancing public service with a growing community whilst preserving what that place has to offer, it takes a lot of grit and an exuberant amount of dedication. Dorothea Farris is an authentic example of someone who strives to meet that balance.

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Farris believes wholeheartedly that “if you participate, and participate sincerely, you really can accomplish a lot.” Coming from a woman who protested the first stop-sign in Aspen — knowing then that it symbolized the future of human expansion in the Roaring Fork Valley — she does not mean that those who participate will get exactly what they want.

Farris was born and raised in New Jersey and grew up on a block where most of her friends were Italian-American. Her community there looked out for one another, but didn’t always agree; she learned from a tender age that they didn’t have to.

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Farris ventured to the University of Colorado in Boulder, where she graduated with a degree in “distributive education” which she modestly pointed out translates to a teaching certificate. Farris intended to study geology but was not allowed the opportunity at that time only because she was a woman. 

While in college, she came to Aspen to ski and fell head-over-heels for the place. After graduating, she got a job at the Hotel Jerome as a waitress.

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Before too long, in 1960, she found herself teaching English at the Carbondale Union High School (where Bridges High School is today) as the only woman teacher at the time. The job came with a humble living quarters above the principal’s garage.

She married a local, Doug Farris. For a time they lived across from Doug’s mother’s childhood home in Woody Creek. After a while, they decided to relocate but it was important to Farris to remain within Pitkin County. Eventually, they settled on a property on Prince Creek Road (south of Carbondale) where they still reside today.

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“Pitkin County was trying to do things right, even then,” said Farris, who was pulled in by her keenness for stewardship. She served on the board of education in Aspen from 1969 to 1988 and had a hand in helping create the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (commonly referred to by its acronym: ACES). ACES was intended to help elementary school educators teach science and — along with outdoor education opportunities — a philosophy of experiential education took hold in the district.

Having grown up in a large family, Farris was accustomed to lively discussions with varying points-of-view. “There were 32 of us at a Sunday dinner all of the time, and none of us ever agreed on anything,” she quipped, “but we came to a solution.” Regarding the community where she was raised, “There was always discussion and debate and that was accepted, that was good,” she explained. “So I loved that kind of behavior.”

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It was no wonder that she ended up in politics. Farris won a seat on the Pitkin County Commissioner board, representing the Crystal River Valley. Over the first decade of the 21st century, she strived to meet the needs of her constituents and the land.

To Farris, just because people don’t agree on something does not mean they can’t work together. She pointed to her own working relationship with Garfield County Commissioner John Martin as an example. “I worked very well with John,” she said. “We probably don’t agree on most things, but deep-down inside we agree on everything; he wants to do what’s right for the community and so do I.”

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Farris joined the Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association (CVEPA) board in 2009 and recently stepped down. Farris leaves big shoes to fill but has no doubt in the rest of the CVEPA board members’ devotion to the Crystal Valley. And still, “I will continue to participate,” she assured, “I’m not going anywhere.”

She lauded CVEPA’s prevention of the damming of the Crystal River as the most important feat during her time on the board. Today, she says, “The next most important thing to do is to save the Crystal,” which means  “to limit growth.” In some departing words of wisdom, she included, “There’s not enough water to build another house in this valley [the Crystal Valley].”

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Farris understands the allure of this place, and it’s not only for the beautiful landscape. “I think that everyone is looking for a community to belong to,” she pontificated. To her, it is no wonder people want to join one like Carbondale’s.

Tags: #Carbondale #Crystal River Valley #CVEPA #Dorothea Farris #Pitkin county
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