Connie Strasheim, left, and Norm Culverwell dance to "Oh, Johnny," along with others attending the fall hoedown Saturday at Lodore Hall in Browns Park. About 30 people jumped into the circle to dance with family and friends at the event sponsored by Browns Hole Homemakers Club.

Photo by Hans Hallgren

Connie Strasheim, left, and Norm Culverwell dance to "Oh, Johnny," along with others attending the fall hoedown Saturday at Lodore Hall in Browns Park. About 30 people jumped into the circle to dance with family and friends at the event sponsored by Browns Hole Homemakers Club.

Fall Hoedown at Lodore Hall keeps heritage alive

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Finnian Weihing, 3, right, of Denver, plays near Lodore Hall on Saturday in Browns Park. Finnian's grandmother lives in Craig, and he came with his family to the dance.

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Lodore Hall, a nearly 100-year-old schoolhouse, was packed Saturday night with people from as far as California.

Under the soft glare of white Christmas lights strung across the ceiling, John Wayne Band vocalist John Allen led a giggling group of would-be dancers through the do-si-dos of "Oh Johnny," a traditional round dance.

From 12-year-old Sara Dippel to white-haired and grinning Dottie Petrini-Kossar, the circle of couples crossed generations, their feet shuffling on the hardwood floor of the one community building left in the Browns Park community.

The Saturday night dance was a part of the Fall Hoedown, one of several events put on by the Browns Hole Homemakers Club at historic Lodore Hall, about 80 miles northwest of Craig.

The Homemakers Club opened the dance to anyone, and members auctioned off baked goods and sold concessions to raise money to keep the Lodore Hall heritage alive.

Built in 1911, Lodore Hall was the one-room schoolhouse for ranchers who lived in Browns Park.

It was also the center of the small community, as it was the only building available for meetings and church services.

Homemakers Club President Mara Molloy said the hall has played host to dances for almost 100 years.

"It's part of my heritage," said Molloy, who lives in Browns Park with her husband, Bob. "I have to keep it going for future generations."

About 30 people filled the hall Saturday, which was decorated with pumpkins and colored leaves in the spirit of fall.

Only a few people still make their home in Browns Park, but the Homemakers Club and its dances are open to anyone who wants to join.

One family heard an ad on the radio Saturday and drove to the hall from Rifle to see what the dance was about.

A couple from California was camping in the area and said they had never seen anything like the gathering before.

Browns Park Wildlife Refuge employees also were in attendance, an example of the strong relationship officials said exists between the Wildlife Refuge and its residents.

Refuge Manager Chris Dippel said it's important to allow the Homemakers Club a special permit to use the space.

"They really take the lead on maintenance," he said. "They do a great job keeping it up."

Lodore Hall is a National Historic Site owned by the Wildlife Refuge, but the Homemakers Club takes care of everything from grounds work on the graveyard outside to quilting decorations for the building's walls.

But, the social aspect is just as important as the historic one.

"It's a good thing to have out here," Dippel said of the gathering. "There's really not much to do here."

His daughter, Sara, who is home-schooled, said it is an isolated way of life, and she sometimes misses her former home in Alaska.

"But, it's really pretty out here," she said, as she played on the hay bales outside the hall with several other children of Browns Park families. "We have barbecues, and we all get together a lot. We're all friends."

At the first break in the music, a myriad of baked goods were informally auctioned off.

Dippel's wife, Kellie, and Petrini-Kossar paraded around the room holding everything from blueberry cream cheese pound cake to carrot jalapeno preserves while Bob Molloy elicited bids from the crowd.

Petrini-Kossar is treasurer of the Homemakers Club, but she hasn't lived in the area for years.

Now a Maybell resident, she still holds the heritage of Lodore Hall close to her heart.

"We're very proud of it, and we'd do anything we can to keep it going," she said.

She said she had learned to hunt and fish in the area, and the atmosphere of the community keeps drawing her back.

"There aren't that many places like this anymore," she said. "It calls you home."

As the sun went down, the feet shuffling turned to stomping and the dance was in full swing.

As Petrini-Kossar looked around at the people clapping their hands and tapping their feet, she could name almost all of the families and their ties to the history of Browns Park.

"We all have stories," she said. "We all have a bit of each other in us."

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