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The Lacey Legacy: The lasting impacts of one Fountain family

 

Last updated 4/19/2022 at 10:13pm | View PDF

Submitted photo

Keith Lacey in his World War I-era uniform.

The year 2021 brought an end to the Keith and Ruth Lacey Family's 91-year history in Fountain, Colorado. As a World War I disabled veteran, Keith and his wife Ruth Lacey came to Fountain in 1930 and raised eight children here. When Pat Lacey died in 2021 at the age of 89, he was the last of the first generation and the last descendant of Keith and Ruth Lacey to live in Fountain. Some 95 descendants are scattered from Alaska to Florida and from Maryland/Virginia to California. Certainly, the Lacey Family's relocation experiences are not unlike many other American families whose descendants moved from their hometowns in pursuit of their careers and their own families. However, most of Keith and Ruth Lacey's 95 descendants still live in Colorado.

This is a story about the Lacey Family's lives, careers and accomplishments and where they lived in Fountain in six rental homes. But in the main, this is a story about the enormously positive impacts of the "small town environment, stable family and adult commitment and sacrifice." These four elements form the foundation of the 91-year Lacey Family of Fountain Legacy.

Keith and Ruth Lacey arrived in Fountain in 1930 with a family of three children, Louise, Mary and Mike. Their family grew to 8 children by 1941, 3 girls and 5 boys - one of the largest families in Fountain, at the time. Gail Simpson, a close Lacey Family friend and brother-in-law to Louise, remarked, "One thing about the Laceys, they came out of the nest clawing and scratching!"

Prior to marriage, Ruth taught at the Fountain High School, in about 1920. Her experience and the friends she made in Fountain likely led Keith and Ruth to consider Fountain when looking for a home in 1930.

Keith, born in 1896, grew up on a farm in Indiana. He graduated from High School in 1914 and was the Graphic Artist for his high school class yearbook. There is some evidence that after high school, he was an itinerate farmhand and took time to travel the Midwest on freight trains. He voluntarily enlisted in the U.S. Army when the United States entered World War I in 1917. After Boot Camp, Keith was assigned to the 1st Division in France, the first American division to enter the war. Keith arrived in France in December 1917. He was gassed in May 1918 during one of the most intense German gas attacks on American troops, but not a sufficient exposure to take him out of the fight. Though injured and suffering from a degraded respiratory system, Keith stayed with the 1st Division through the end of the war and the occupation of Germany. At the time, military medical science was behind the experiences of the soldiers on the battlefield. Though Keith went to Sick Report (medical examination), his seriously compromised respiratory condition was consistently misdiagnosed as chronic, acute bronchitis, caused by the common cold. After the war, Keith's health seriously failed. He entered the Veterans Administration Hospital system in 1922 and was sent in 1923 to Fort Lyons in southeast Colorado, to help cure the tuberculosis that he contracted because of a weakened respiratory system. After a year at Fort Lyons and against medical advice, he moved in 1924 to a charity home in Colorado Springs, a "mecca" for tuberculosis patients. This is where Keith met Ruth Mathis.

(On August 5, 2017, at Fort Carson, 99 years after his WWI combat service, Sgt. Keith N. Lacey was posthumously awarded the Silver Star - the third highest United States medal for valor; Purple Heart; World War I Victory Medal with France Service Clasp and Montdidier-Noyon, Aisne-Marne, St Mihel-Argonne Battle and Defensive Clasps; Army of Occupation of Germany Medal; and the French Fourragere. To view more information regarding the Award Ceremony at Fort Carson: Google "Keith Lacey WWI.")

Ruth was born in Lakota, Iowa, in 1899. Her father, Rev. Frank Mathis, was the Methodist Church, Northwest Iowa Conference, evangelist and pastor. He moved his family to Colorado Springs about 1914, as his home-base, traveling the states from Colorado to Iowa conducting Methodist evangelistic services. Ruth graduated from Palmer High School in Colorado Springs and graduated from Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa - a rare accomplishment for a female, at the time. She taught business and drama at Fountain High School about 1920 and later taught at Calhan High School and in Colorado Springs. During her youth, Ruth suffered from Rheumatic Fever. Ruth met Keith in 1924, and they were married in November 1925.

Over his lifetime, Keith's compromised health, from exposure to warfare gas resulting in tuberculosis, alternated from being able to work for several years, then falling ill and having to rest in bed for a considerable period. Also, his general health and energy due to this ailment seemed sensitive to altitude. Unexplainably, his health would deteriorate at lower altitudes. Over his lifetime, the Colorado Springs area was the "sweet-spot" for his "feeling better." After marriage, Keith worked as a graphic artist and as the "window dresser" for Waymire's Men's Clothing Store in Colorado Springs and Gasman's Men's Clothing in Pueblo. In 1930 after living several months in Pueblo, Keith did not feel well at the lower altitude. During their return to Colorado Springs from Pueblo, Keith and Ruth and their three children stopped in Fountain to visit Ruth's friends. During this visit, Ruth suggested that they look for a house to rent in Fountain.

The Laceys arrive in Fountain

The "Dewey House" (later addressed as 405 Main St., Fountain), owned by Mable Sanborn, was available for rent. Keith and Ruth, and their family of three, Louise, Mary and Mike, took up residence for the Lacey Family of Fountain, that would last for 91 years. Fountain was the ideal place for the Lacey Family, and the family thrived. (Small town environment at the time, neighbors knew neighbors, safe for children to be out and about, and people who cared.) All the Lacey Family children attended Grade (Elementary) School, Junior High School and High School in Fountain. Two doors north of the Dewey House on Main Street was the Fountain Methodist Church. The Methodist Church would play an important role in the lives of the Lacey Family. The grainy photo above shows Keith with Mary, Louise and Mike (left to right) on the concrete fence in front of the Dewey House in 1930. The concrete fence still stands today.

Louise Lacey Simpson was born in Colorado Springs in 1926. She started first grade in Fountain in 1932. Louise was an active student participating in band and other school activities. She was Salutatorian of her Fountain High School Class of 1944. During her teenage years, she worked a variety of jobs, babysitting, house cleaning, waiting tables and secretarial tasks for Ms. Wanden LaFarge Kane, a former mayor of Fountain. After high school graduation, Louise started work as a bookkeeper for the First National Bank in Colorado Springs. In November 1946, Louise married Allen Simpson, a Fountain High School graduate of the Class of 1943, in the First Methodist Church in Colorado Springs, officiated by Louise's grandfather, Rev. Frank Mathis. In 1944, Allen had enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and was wounded on Iwo Jima in March 1945. After marriage, Louise worked in the Fountain School District as an administrator and later was elected to the Fountain-Fort Carson School District Board of Education, serving 12 years. Allen is best known for being a rural mail carrier in Fountain for 26 years. For 35 years, Louise and Allen lived at 112 E. Missouri Ave., Fountain, where they raised their three children: Richard, Fountain-Fort Carson High School Class of 1966; Betty, Fountain-Fort Carson High School Class of 1968; and Daryl, Fountain-Fort Carson High School Class of 1979. Allen passed away in 1986. Afterwards, Louise sold her home in Fountain and moved to a retirement community in Colorado Springs where she lived until she passed away in 2009 at age 83. Louise and Allen have two grandchildren. Louise and Allen were members of the Fountain United Methodist Church.

Mary Lacey Hitchcock was born in Colorado Springs in 1927. She remembers her youthful years in Fountain as a special time of her life with caring parents, many brothers and two sisters and "many fun times." With one year difference in their ages, Mary and Louise grew up together. "Rebellious" may be an understatement regarding Mary's youth. As a teenager, Mary worked as domestic help during the summer. In the summer of 1942, Mary, along with Louise and Mike, ran the Standard Oil gas station on U.S. Hwy. 85/87. The owner, George Kerr, worked building Fort Carson. Mary was a very bright student and entered nurses training after graduating from Fountain High School in the Class of 1945. She was certified as a Registered Nurse from Beth El School of Nursing in Colorado Springs in 1948. After graduation, Mary took a nursing position in Burlington, Colorado, where she could earn extra money, above salaries offered by hospitals on the Front Range. Mary had not been in Burlington long before she met Rex Hitchcock (Curly), a World War II veteran and rancher. Mary and Curly were married in 1949 in the First Methodist Church in Colorado Springs by Mary's grandfather, Rev. Frank Mathis. For 20 years, Mary and Curly lived on an isolated ranch 25 miles from Burlington where they raised their four children. After moving near Burlington, Mary resumed her nursing career until retirement. Curly passed away in 1999. Unfortunately, Julie, Mary's and Curly's youngest daughter, died in 2010. Mary turned 94 years of age in 2021, lives in Burlington and has 8 grandchildren and 23 great-grandchildren.

Mike Lacey was born in Colorado Springs in 1929. He was an excellent student. During his youth he was quite active, industrious and innovative, growing a flock of over 100 ducks while at the Potter Place. Mike started the Lacey Family Gazette Telegraph delivery route in Fountain. The paper route also provided income for his sisters and younger brothers. The Lacey Family delivered the Gazette Telegraph in Fountain for 13 years, from the fall of 1941 to the fall of 1954. During World War II and while still in high school, Mike worked at Fountain Valley School in the summer and for Clarence Foster on his sugar beet farm northeast of Fountain. In addition to doing extremely well with his studies, Mike was quite active in high school extra-curricular activities, playing the snare drum in the band, participating in school plays and being a starter on the varsity basketball team his junior and senior years. Mike was the Class of 1946's Valedictorian. A hard worker and dedicated to his education, Mike paid his own way through college, graduating from Colorado State College in Greeley with a Bachelor's Degree in Education. Mike and Betty Thielbar, whom Mike met while at Greeley, were married in Pueblo in 1952. Mike was drafted in the Army in 1953 and spent most of his active duty in Germany, where Betty joined him and where their daughter was born. After discharge from the Army in 1955, both Mike and Betty taught one year in the Fountain school system prior to moving to California, nearer to Betty's family. While teaching in California, Mike received his Master's Degree in Education at Stanford University during three summers of study. Mike was a classroom teacher until becoming a school principal in 1962. He was a school principal until his retirement in 1989. As an educator, Mike touched, in very positive ways, the lives of tens of thousands of people. Well done, Mike! Mike and Betty have a daughter and son and one grandson. Mike, who turned 92 years old this year, and Betty live in California.

While still at the Dewey House in 1930, the Lacey Family welcomed Billie Lacey Hinkhouse. Billie was named after Keith's closest and dearest sister. Billie was the sweetheart of the Lacey family – always the peace-maker and a person who unfailing ly gave others the benefit of the doubt. Billie learned to play the piano and was the trumpet player in the Fountain High School Band. She delivered the newspaper along with Mike and Pat. She worked at Gaunt Drug Store on the southeast corner of Main Street and Ohio Avenue in Fountain, and worked at Mrs. Dissler's café. She graduated from Fountain High School in 1948. After graduation, Billie became an X-ray technician at the medical center in Colorado Springs. As a bridesmaid at Mary's and Curly's wedding, Billie met Curly's Best Man, Bill Hinkhouse. Bill Hinkhouse was a farmer from Burlington, Colorado. Billie and Bill were married in 1952, in the First Methodist Church in Colorado Springs, officiated by Billie's grandfather, Rev. Frank Mathis. Billie and Bill lived in Burlington where Bill continued to farm. Bill, a U.S. Navy Reservist, was called to active duty in 1954. Bill and Billie moved to San Diego for two years. After Bill's tour with the Navy, they returned to Burlington to resume farming and expanded the farm into one of the largest agriculture operations in Eastern Colorado. Billie was the homemaker, very content with this crucial role. For many years, Billie played the piano for the Burlington United Methodist Church. Billie and Bill have one son and three daughters. Today, they have 12 grandchildren and 1 great-grandchild. Billie turned 91 years old in 2021.

The Rock House era

Shortly after Billie's birth, Keith and Ruth moved their family from the Dewey House to the "Rock House" (today at 308 Race St. in Fountain; called the Rock House because of its large-rock exterior). They rented the house. During the Depression, the Lacey Family had a steady income because of Keith's WWI disability, though the family budget was quite tight. The Lacey Family was one serious illness, for either Keith or Ruth, from disaster. During this period, Keith was sick and returned to Fort Lyons Veterans Administration Hospital for a short stay and required bedrest when he returned home. The following is a summary of a Veterans Administration nurse report of May 6, 1931, during a home visit: The patient (Keith) was isolated to the sleeping porch and was doing well, but generally confined to bed rest. The VA Nurse acknowledged the excellent care of the patient by Mrs. Lacey. There were four children: A 4-year-old girl (that was Louise); a 3-year-old girl (that was Mary); a 2-year-old boy (Mike); and 6-month-old girl (Billie).

No doubt, the Lacey Family survived on a good portion of Divine Intervention!

But a near calamity struck the Lacey Family when Ruth suffered an episode of Rheumatic Fever, a strep infection. Dr. Gillette made a home visit to care for Ruth and did not expect her to live through the night. Despite the odds, Ruth beat back the infection. Grandma Mathis (Cora Anderson Mathis) stayed with the family during Ruth's illness and recovery.

During this time, Fountain's mountain-water supply ran dry. Jess Keys, a fellow WWI disabled veteran who lost the lower part of one leg in WWI, ran a cobbler shop on the southwest corner of Main Street and Ohio Avenue in Fountain. Jess and Keith drove Jess's touring car, with every possible water container, to the mountains to supply water for their families. Fountain's first water well was drilled after this drought.

Keith Lacey with Mary, Louise and Mike on the concrete steps in front of the Dewey House in 1930

While living at the Rock House, Pat Lacey was born in 1932. Pat was a veteran of the Korean War, Vietnam War and the Cold War. Pat, an extraordinarily talented person, got off to a slow start in school due to a late diagnosis of poor eyesight. By the time he received glasses, the classroom work had progressed beyond the fundamentals, and he was always behind. Like his brothers and sisters, Pat delivered papers and worked at several jobs around Fountain during his youth. At 17 years old, Pat joined the U.S. Army in September 1949. Pat took Keith's advice from Keith's WWI experience, "If you want to stay warm and have plenty to eat, be a cook." Pat's 21-year service took him to Japan, Korea, Vietnam and Germany. While in Korea in 1956-57, Pat met and married Eun Soon Park who worked for the U.S. Army. They arrived in the United States in November 1957. Pat retired after 21 years of service in 1970 at the rank of Sergeant First Class. Following his retirement from the Army, Pat worked for the Fountain School District as Director of Transportation. He completed his high school education while in the Army and went on to receive a Bachelor's Degree in Business from the University of Southern Colorado. Pat developed a superior skill as a wood craftsman. He built magnificent furniture and built his own home at 312 N. Main St., Fountain. Pat's U.S. Army awards and decorations include the Army Commendation Medal with 1 Oak Leaf Cluster, the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Ribbon and Device, the United Nations Service Medal and nine other awards. Pat passed away in October 2021, the last Lacey Family member to live in Fountain. Pat and Eun Soon have two daughters and one grandson. Ruthie was a graduate of Fountain-Fort Carson High School in the Class of 1976. Debbie graduated with the Fountain-Fort Carson High School Class of 1978. Regrettably, Debbie passed away in 2020.

Editor's Note: This article is Part 1 of the Lacey Family story. See Part 2 in the April 27 issue of Fountain Valley News.

(Much of the information in this story comes from Louise's book, "The Laceys," Mike's book, "When I was a Boy" and the Keith N. and Ruth M. Lacey Family Reunion books of 1992, 1996 and 2001.)

 

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