Avis Funk: 'Strong as a rock'

Rancher knows there's work to be done

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Avis Funk

Each day, Avis Funk rises before the sun is up and eats the breakfast her son, David, makes. Then, she takes the "old-lady pills" that keep an 88-year-old lifelong rancher going.

The cattle need their feed. Avis drives the tractor while her son unloads the feed for the cows at the ranch on Bowling Alley Hill on a dark morning outside Hayden.

"I have a bad time because the cows are black and the dog is black, and I don't want to run over them," Avis said.

She is an inspiration to those who know her.

"Living history is what she is," Sand Reed of Hayden said. Sand and his wife, Anne, have come to admire Avis during the more than 12 years they have known her.

"She's strong as a rock and stands straighter than a woman who is 50," Anne said.

"Not a lot of people like that in town," Sand added.

Sand said Avis lives the life of rancher, the way a rancher did decades ago.

"Breakfast is at 6," he said. "The world stops at 12 because it's lunch. Dinner is at 6, and the world stops. Nothing interrupts that. That's that old history."

Avis drives the tractor because she has to. Otherwise the cattle will not eat.

She lives by the values instilled in her by parents, who lived by the values instilled in them by their parents, early pioneers who settled in the Yampa Valley.

"You aren't looking for blame," Sand said. "And if there is a problem, you don't blame anyone. You fix it. Afterward, you may chew someone's head off, but first, the problem has to be solved. That's a big thing that was taught and now forgotten."

One of Avis' jobs on the ranch was to take care of critters that would eat the grain. She would keep a gun at her side while she drove the tractor and the men loaded the crops onto the wagon.

"They had a lot of faith in me because I had a .22, and if they uncovered something with a bale of hay and there was a squirrel under it, I would shoot it," Avis said. "And I hoped and prayed I got the squirrel and not them."

Avis was born in a log cabin about 10 miles southeast of Hayden at the "summer cow camp."

She proudly says she was a Hooker before she was married. And she'll tell you about riding a shovel down Hooker Mountain, which is named after her family who settled near Hayden in the late 1800s.

Avis went to Hayden schools and in 1936 attended the Barnes Commercial School in Denver. That's the only year she ever spent away from Hayden.

Her first jobs were as a secretary and office nurse for local doctors and lawyers. Her starting salary was $50 a month. She worked part-time at the bank for about 25 years.

"Loved every minute of it, too," she said. "They were nice people."

She met her husband, Jim, at a church square dance and they got married in 1947, shortly after Jim finished service in World Ward II.

They were best friends, and they were a team on the ranch.

Jim ran the ranch, and Sand said Avis ran the roost.

"Outside the screen door, he ran it," Sand said. "On the inside of the screen she ran it. There was a crisp line between the two."

That line may have been blurred slightly after Jim got sick.

"I was sitting there praying my life out because the doctor says, 'Avis we can't bring him out of it, he's gone.' I said 'Yes you can.' I says, 'I've been praying, and all of the sudden I feel good. You go back in there and try one more time.'"

The doctors went back in, and they were able to revive Jim, Avis said. But he had damaged his heart and he never fully recovered.

"He was brave, and he had certain jobs he could do and certain jobs he couldn't," Avis said.

He died in 2003, and Avis continued to make sure the work got done.

"Whenever the hardships hit, she just keeps on going," Anne said.

Avis still plays the organ at Hayden Congregation Church, a job she inherited more than 20 years ago.

"One day the organist said she was going to leave," Avis said. "She called me down there, and she showed me the organ, and she said you do this and you do this and it's yours. No one else played, so I had to learn the hard way.

"I've been there ever since."

In addition to the organ, Avis is a hardcore bridge player. She plays most Wednesdays if she can.

"Wednesday is holy Wednesday," Avis said. "It's known all over town. You're not supposed to work or do anything. It's the written law."

Keeping a diary is another thing that does not have to be done, but she has tried hard to write in it every day since 1933. Avis has not bothered to count how many diaries she has filled, but she tries to keep them near the front door so they can be saved in case of a fire.

"If you ever wanted to know what the weather was on a certain day, all you had to do was call (Avis)," said Pat Holderness, Avis' friend and fellow bridge player.

Avis is interested in everything, Holderness said. Everything goes in the diary including the news that is often broadcast over a police scanner in her house.

"Sometimes, people will say 'Avis, will you please turn that scanner off,'" Holderness said.

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