Museum of Northwest Colorado: Struck with tragedy |

Museum of Northwest Colorado: Struck with tragedy

Mary Pat Dunn, Museum of Northwest Colorado Registrar

Some families just seem to experience inexplicable tragedies that would seemingly knock them down, but somehow the indomitable human spirit keeps those hurting hearts beating and moving forward. A young family, full of hope for a good life, came to Craig in 1944, unaware of the pain that lurked in their future.

Wallace Morgan was born in Kansas in 1912, and as a young teenager he moved with his family to Colorado during the Great Depression. After completing school he met Mary Jane Akers and they married in 1939 in Colorado Springs. Following World War II the economy began expanding again, offering new opportunities to young families. Wallace saw the advantages of those new prospects and moved his wife and children to Craig to start work at the Colorado Natural Gas and Fuel Company.

In 1955, tragedy struck Wallace and Mary Jane, who by then had five children. Their son, 13-year-old Willard, was camping with the Boy Scouts the first night of June at the ditch by the high school, which is now the site of Craig Middle School. The scouts were guarding the fish that had just been planted in the ditch for the next day's Huck Finn Days festivities. In the middle of the night Willard felt chilled and decided to walk to his family's home just north of the Sandrocks area near 13th Street. He became too ill to make the distance and lay down to rest in his sleeping bag. He was found unconscious the next morning and taken to the hospital where he died later that day.

Just barely a year later, cartoonist Chet Klock came to town to create his six month "Familiar Faces" series for the newspaper. As one of the pioneer men for the LP gas industry in the state of Colorado, Wallace Morgan was an obvious choice for Chet Klock's columns. Though certainly still struggling with his immense grief, Wallace was according to his boss George Rice, the 'right-hand man' for the company. Wallace was the company's installation and service manager in addition to being the bulk plant operator for both the Craig and Meeker facilities.

When not working at the gas company, Wallace sometimes would help out with custom haying on the local ranches. In June of 1958, just three years after his son's heartrending death, Wallace was haying on the Charles Grassie ranch near Cedar Mountain. Somehow the 45-year-old Wallace became entangled in the baler equipment and died almost immediately.

Mary Jane, now a young widow of 43, stayed in Craig for one year before leaving for the Denver area. She returned to Craig in 1963 and worked for Jessie Palmer at the Moffat Nursing Home on Yampa Avenue. Her daughter, Amelia, graduated from Moffat County High School in 1964, and son Arthur graduated in 1968. Mary Jane finally left Craig in 1976, returning to the Front Range area to live. Four years later Mary Jane experienced the loss of her son, Arthur who died of pneumonia at the fairly young age of 30.

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With her husband and two of her five children deceased, Mary Jane continued to live in the Longmont area until her death in 1994, at the age of 79. Tragedy had struck down three of her family, all at much younger ages than she would have dreamed possible. Certainly those three unfortunate deaths must have affected Mary Jane and her perception of the unexpected turns that life can take.

In this wonderful season of the year when so many people come together to celebrate, it behooves us to be mindful of the preciousness of the relationships that fill our lives. Whether at work or at home, life is never static and change is indeed inevitable. As we continue to document those changes within our community, the staff at the Museum of Northwest Colorado wishes all of our friends a wonderful holiday season and a very Merry Christmas. The museum will be open for most of this special season, except holidays, with free admission as always. Call 970-824-6360 to check on our holiday hours of operation.