Valerie Stelzer will tell you she’s not very interesting.
“I’ve never done anything interesting,” she’ll say, a little perplexed.
Valerie was born in Montana, spent six years of her childhood in Germany, and made it back stateside just in time to attend high school in Maryland. It was in Maryland she earned a nursing degree and met Vernon, the soldier who, exactly 40 years ago, asked for and received her hand. When the Army transferred the young family to Germany, of all places, Valerie put her degree to work at the U.S. military hospital in Nuremburg.
“I was just a licensed practical nurse,” she’ll insist, as if her duties there were somehow less challenging, necessary and, of course, interesting than those performed by the registered kind.
Valerie and Vernon got their first taste of the Centennial State when Vernon was transferred to Fort Carson in Colorado Springs. They spent 10 years in Colorado’s second city, all the while scouting for a more permanent personal posting higher and to the west.
“We wanted to live in the mountains really badly. When we saw Evergreen, we loved it. We rented a house for a few years while we looked for a place to buy.” Twenty-six years ago the Stelzers and their two daughters settled on a green and lovely piece of heaven along Blue Creek Road, where they now have a house and a cabin and a front-row seat to the best of Evergreen. Valerie got involved with Saint Bernard rescue.
“I love all dogs, but Saint Bernards are big, loving, gentle giants, and they can be really hard to find homes for.” At last count, six rescue dogs have found a good home with Valerie.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the couple’s interests lean strongly toward veterans affairs. Vernon is a charter member of American Legion Post 2001. Valerie is a charter member of that chapter’s auxiliary. Both devote uncounted hours to the “Millenium Post” and its stalwart brother in arms, the Evergreen Elks Lodge.
“For eight and a half years I was the bingo game manager for the Elks,” Valerie smiles. For the record, managing a bingo game entails a bit more than reading little colored balls out loud, and the unpaid gig consumed more of Valerie’s time than the average part-time job three days each week. “Do you want to know the biggest risk I ever took? The bingo game raised money for our charities, and it was losing money. When I told them what I was going to do they said ‘You can’t do that! If it doesn’t work we won’t make any money!’ I said ‘If it doesn’t work we’ll be out of business in a month anyway.’ I doubled our payouts and tripled our profits,” she grins, with just a hint of satisfaction.
About 10 years ago Valerie decided that Veterans Day observances at the Elks Lodge would go well with food. “I brought meatloaf and gave it away to anybody who wanted some. I did it again the next year, but there were a lot more people.” These days that humble home-cooked supper is the popular Veterans Day Dinner and Dance fundraiser, and Valerie still wears the executive apron. “It went from meatloaf to money-maker,” she jokes.
Valerie is active in the Blue Star Salute Foundation, giving comfort and support to local families with loved-ones on active military service. She and Vernon have been persistent drivers behind the Veterans Memorial in Buchanan Park. On Rodeo Weekend she can be found pouring beer for the Elks down at the El Pinal rodeo grounds. And each Christmas, Valerie cooks up a wonderful holiday feast, Vernon dons white beard and red velvet, and the couple brings much-needed season’s greetings to the Tennyson Center for Children in Denver.
“There’s always a handful of kids who have nowhere else to go,” says Valerie, simply. “I guess it’s kind of changed how we do Christmas.”
On the face of it, one might think Valerie isn’t quite so humdrum as she’d have you believe. Valerie will disagree. “I didn’t do any of those things by myself,” she protests. “It takes a lot of hands to get things done, and I’m just one small part of a big group of people who work very hard.”
That’s undoubtedly true. But it doesn’t make her any less interesting.