Jean Rutherford Martin and her twin sister Jo were born on May 26, 1927 at her family’s home in the farming community of Lewis, ten miles northwest of Cortez. The two sisters were incredibly close, riding the same horse to elementary school, sharing an apartment and working at the same soda fountain in Durango as they attended high school, traveling to and living together in southern California near the end of World War II, and even marrying and giving birth to their first daughters within a few weeks of each other.
Patty Jean (and Peggy Jo) were born to William Griffith Rutherford and Roxie Elizabeth Lewis Rutherford. Roxie’s father William Lewis, a widower, brought his four children from Des Moines, Iowa to what was commonly called “space” in those days, the largely unsettled Great Sage Plain that extended from the northern escarpment of Mesa Verde into Utah, where in 1909 he established a store and post office that he called Lewis, a name the postal service accepted and that endures today. Griff’s family immigrated to the Lewis area from north Texas early in the twentieth century, and Griff and Roxie moved into their family home on Road W on their wedding day in 1917, establishing a family that would eventually include six children and two sets of twins.
Because Griff was a sheepman, and sheepmen did not want any part of the trappings of the cowboy and cattle world, their “ranch” was simply what the family called “the place,” and, once the children were grown and lived elsewhere, “the home place.”
Jean met her husband Claude Martin, who was raised in the Goodman Point community west of Cortez, at a dance at McPhee, the lumber camp and sawmill where Jean and Jo worked at the time, which is now covered by the waters of McPhee Reservoir. Jean and Claude were married on July 10, 1948 at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Cortez. Daughter Claudia was born in 1949, son Russell in 1952, and daughter Carol in 1957.
In addition to her dedication to her husband and children and profound connection to her larger family, the St. Barnabas community was immensely important to Jean throughout her life. At the time of her death, she was the church’s oldest surviving parishioner and its longest tenured communicant. For decades, Jean served as business manager, head cook, and president of the board of the Episcopal church camp that was established by St. Barnabas and later supported by numerous Episcopal parishes on Colorado’s Western Slope. The camps were initially held at Dunton Hot Springs, then later at Lake Mancos Lodge, Stoner Alpine Lodge, and finally at the abandoned hydroelectric plant at Ilium, a few miles outside Telluride. She also served for many decades on the Altar Guild at St. Barnabas, sang in the choir, organized the annual bazaar and other fundraisers, and managed the parish kitchen on dozens of special occasions. In recognition of her service to her church and the children of the Western Slope, in 1984 Jean was awarded the Bishop’s Cross by the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado, an honor infrequently bestowed, one Jean was both proud of and humbled by.
Over the years, she helped her husband Claude build a successful insurance agency in Cortez with branches in Dove Creek, Norwood, and Telluride. He served as a director of the First National Bank, Cortez for a quarter-century prior to his death. For twelve years, he was a member of the Montezuma-Cortez school district board, and served two terms as president of the Colorado Association of School Boards. He oversaw construction of the family home on north Market Street in Cortez and built by hand the family’s treasured cabin at Trout Lake, near Telluride, in the late 1960s—always with Jean steadfastly by his side.
In addition to her focus on her family and church, Jean was a gifted tailor and clothing designer. She established a company she named Sage Designs, taught tailoring and dressmaking, and marketed her distinctive southwestern clothing at shops and shows throughout the Four Corners states and Nevada.
Jean was the kind of person who, when something needed to be done or someone needed help, came early and stayed late. She volunteered constantly throughout her adult life—serving as a PTA president, a dedicated water-safety instructor and swimming coach, a food deliverer for Meals on Wheels, a cook and server at Grace’s Kitchen, a longtime member of the scholarship committee for her sorority PEO, and she volunteered for many years as a clerk at the Cortez Cultural Center alongside her cousin and next-door neighbor Ardy Ptolemy.
When Jean and Claude retired in 1992, they began spending winters in Lake Havasu City, Arizona—a small city on the shores of Lake Havasu on the Arizona-California border that they grew to love, creating many enduring friendships and reconnecting with Claude’s closest army buddy, with whom he had been out-of-touch for almost fifty years. Jean continued to spend summers in Cortez and winters in Lake Havasu City following Claude’s death in 2003 until she moved to Scottsdale late in 2018, where she became a resident of the Gardens of Scottsdale.
At the Gardens, Jean survived both a broken femur and the harsh isolation required in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Her years at the Gardens were punctuated by the creation of important new friendships and were sustained by her relentless good cheer and optimistic outlook. “I like being alive,” she told her physician just months before she passed away, less than four weeks before what would have been her ninety-fifth birthday.
Jean was the last survivor of her immediate family. She is survived by her three children, Claudia Martin, Woodland Park, CO, Russell Martin (Sher Novak), Scottsdale, AZ, and Carol Martin (Kurt Schneider), Durango, CO; five grandchildren, Megan Nibley, Phoenix, AZ, Sarah Drummond, Loveland, CO, Laurel Mikolon, Bozeman, MT, Ian Drummond, Lakewood, CO, and Silas Hatch, Durango, CO; and five great grandchildren, Thomas Nanson, Phoenix, AZ, Waylan Mikolon, Bozeman, MT, Madeline Hille, Phoenix, AZ, Sloane Mikolon, Bozeman, MT, and Mira Joy Hatch, Durango, CO.
A memorial service and celebration of Jean Martin’s long, loving, and remarkable life will be held at 3 p.m. on Saturday, August 27, 2022 at St. Barnabas Church in Cortez. Her cremated remains will be interred at the Lewis Cemetery and near the family cabin at Trout Lake. Memorial gifts in her memory can be made to St. Barnabas of the Valley Episcopal Church, Cortez, stbarnabascortez.org, or Hospice of the Valley, Phoenix/Scottsdale, hov.org/donate/.
She would want all her family and friends to remember how much she loved them, and to remind them that life is a blessing despite its inevitable challenges and hardships.