In February of 1975, having recently moved here from Chicago, Vivian Giesler began working for the City of Woodland Park organizing Senior Services under a Vista Volunteer grant. The City provided a small space with a telephone, table and chair, and a box for files. Despite the sparse office, Vivian was very resourceful locating or developing services for seniors.
With the help of a grant and additional money raised by the Senior Club and volunteer labor, the old feed store behind City Hall was renovated, and Vivian saw her goal of created a “home” for seniors. For the first four years, Giesler worked under the city of Woodland Park, which purchased the building from the VFW in 1978 to house the senior-citizens club. “The club volunteered to pay the utilities and the senior men did all the work,” she said. “I wrote a grant to get enough money to fund the (construction) materials.”
That same year, Giesler set her sights on helping seniors in Cripple Creek and Florissant, founding clubs in both places, each one successful for a while. In 1983, Giesler helped raise the money for a new addition on the Senior Club building at 312 N. Center. “There was no federal or state money, so the seniors did it all,” she said. With her Vista Volunteer grant about to expire, Vivian approached the county for support, taking a busload of seniors from throughout the county to a Commission meeting to make her point. Convinced of the need, the commissioners hired Vivian to continue as Director of Senior Services, where she continued in that capacity until 1986 when she retired. In 1996, the county decided not to resume sponsorship of the Golden Circle Meal Program so Vivian came out of “retirement”. Giesler, with the help of Roberta Winn, went to bat for the seniors. Giesler, along with a small group of concerned seniors, formed the Teller Senior Coalition (TSC). “Roberta and I started the Teller Senior Coalition to provide services for the seniors,” she said. The commissioners weren’t off the hook though and eventually Giesler convinced the then-board to restore some funding for meal and transportation programs. “I had to twist their arms,” she said, remembering vividly.
Vivian continued to be a driving force of the TSC, serving on its Board of Directors from 1996 through 2011. Her legacy continues to benefit more than 200 members of Woodland Park Senior Citizens Club as well as some 500 clients of Teller Senior Coalition.
Recalling the story before enjoying a Thanksgiving lunch at the Woodland Park Senior Center, Giesler got a kick out of her now-famous chastising of the then-board of county commissioners.
“She gave them a really hard time,” said Karen Earley, the center’s director.
Today, Woodland Park’s seniors come to the center to play bridge, shoot pool, participate in exercise classes and hear speakers talk about current issues. Many of them also come for the daily lunch at the Community Cafe.
Today, the Coalition, a 501(c)(3) organization, offers several programs that help senior citizens stay in their homes.
In December 2013, the Coalition was one of three beneficiaries of the Holiday Home Tour.
“Vivian is my hero; she was a champion,” said Cindy Morse, former president of the Coalition’s Board of Directors. “She was an advocate and role model for all of us. She had a whale of a sense of humor and when she presented a request, she had a solution and a plan.”
In a surprise ceremony, Vivian Giesler was given keys to the city in 2011 by Woodland Park’s mayor pro tem Jon Devaux. As of 2011, Giesler was only the third person to ever be awarded the keys to the city; the others are Ruth Zirkle, former editor of the Ute Pass Courier, and Tony Perry, president of Park State Bank & Trust.
The coalition has provided critical services for seniors, such as transportation and hot meals. “In a few short years, under Vivian’s leadership, the Teller Senior Coalition evolved into a modern and efficient nonprofit corporation with a six-figure operating budget,” Devaux said.
In addition to receiving the keys, Giesler was given a quilt autographed by her friends at the senior center. “I will use this quilt as my bedspread in my new home,” she said. Giesler moved to Chicago so that she could be with her family and passed there on October 21, 2013.
Whenever a special friend passes away, I like to think of a single word that captures the essence of that friend. In Roberta’s case, I choose the word “Pioneer,” as I can easily imagine her in a big bonnet, driving a team of horses hitched to a wagon heading West in search of an unknown but promising future. A Pioneer has to be three things: curious, determined, and brave. Roberta was all those things.
Her very profession embodied curiosity, the consummate librarian who was always reading about something that had sparked her interest. She was certainly determined. Just a few months after hip surgery, she became part of my Tai Chi class to regain her balance and build stamina so that she could continue to take care of herself as she aged. I think she finally stopped coming to class at the age of almost 97. She spent part of her last class in a chair but mostly on her feet, moving arms and legs a bit erratically because she was at the same time looking over the items for sale on the Senior Center back tables.
And she was brave. She must have been, to travel to Africa with a church group to start a library. It was located in a seminary but she made sure the precious books would be available to everyone in the surrounding countryside. She was brave to live in Turkey Rock, which while not the Wild West was certainly isolated enough to require determined self-reliance.
She and Vivian Giesler were the brave co-founders of the senior services nonprofit, Teller Senior Coalition, which still serves our community today. The two ladies started with no money and overwhelming odds, but also with lots of guts and determination. It wasn’t that Roberta never worried. She worried a lot: about her family, about her Teller Senior Coalition, about her Senior Center, about her Teller County in the event of fires and other natural disasters, about her aging friends. But I never knew her to worry about herself. She had too much compassion for others, and in the fifteen years I knew her, I never heard her once complain. I am so honored that this extraordinary Pioneer was my friend. Her memory will inspire me for the rest of my life.