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Obituary – Polly Blanche Collins Johnson

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Polly Blanche Collins Johnson

September 3, 1933 - March 19, 2022

The world became a little brighter on September 3, 1933, when Polly Blanche Collins made her arrival in Fort Collins. Her proud parents were Don and Blanche Collins.

Following her birth, Blanche and Polly stayed in Fort Collins for a couple weeks before making the trek east back to Don and their home on the prairie at Kit Carson. It was there that Polly’s lifelong love affair with the tiny town began. The family initially lived at Chico, a simple cottage west of Kit Carson, before moving into town in a house on a corner of Main Street. Catty-corner from their home was the Schneider girl house. There were five Schneider sisters, six if you included Polly. Marilyn Schneider and Polly were lifelong best friends. She also adored the Fell sisters. Lifelong friendships and adventures were forged, and Polly found the adoptive siblings that she always longed for.

Polly was a child of the prairie, a rancher’s daughter, and a small-town girl. She spent her days on the family ranch - the Collins Ranch. Polly said that her mother didn’t have a chance having a daughter to help in the kitchen or doing household work, because Don treated Polly as the son he never had, and he took her everywhere with him while working on the ranch.

As a young girl, she would often ride horseback with her Grandpa Charlie Collins and his dog, Snappy. Charlie was very proud of his granddaughter and took extra caution with her except for the times when he traded the horses for horsepower and took her along as a passenger in his early vehicles. Charlie infamously was known for his lack of driving skills and, according to Polly, was known for running into cattle, buildings, and trees. However, Polly wasn’t given much choice, and no doubt her fearless nature was formulated bouncing across the prairie with Charlie, and despite causing much worry for Don and Blanche regarding her safety. She also spent many hours working beside the ranch cowboys, and was so fond of them. They all took great care and pride in Polly. She had a lifelong relationship with Red Craven, which began when she was a young girl, and carried on the rest of Red’s life. Red broke Polly’s horse PoCo for her, and PoCo was the horse Polly’s children learned to ride on years later. Much of her common sense, grit, and knowledge was developed on the back of a horse, taking instruction from a cowboy, fixing fence, or flanking calves at branding time.

Polly attended school in Kit Carson. When her dad was serving in the State Legislature, Polly attended school at Kent Country Day in Denver. She missed her friends and Kit Carson when she was away from them, and that feeling never left throughout the rest of her life. Kit Carson remained home in her heart her entire life.

Polly, however, had wanderlust and love of travel in her blood. She recalled her first trip with her parents was in 1940 when they flew to Portland, Oregon, to do some business for the family’s Franklin Serum Company. They then took the train down the coast to California to meet her aunt and uncle, Pauline and Jack Stewart. They all took the ferry over to Catalina Island, and Polly amusingly recalled she was never sicker in her entire life than during that boat trip bouncing along on the waves. She was a natural landlocked prairie girl.

In school, Polly was involved in band, played the piano, and had all kinds of fun as a teenager. She graduated from Kit Carson High School in 1951.

That fall, Polly began courses at Colorado A & M (now Colorado State University) in Fort Collins. She moved into Rockwell Hall and met her roommate, Virginia (Ginny) Montgomery, from Akron, and a lifelong friendship was sealed. Following her mother’s path, Polly (and also Ginny) pledged Tri Delta Sorority, and the love of all things Tri Delta began. The nickname Pol Col was given to Polly, and it was what she was known as in the Tri Delt circles the rest of her life. As a stalwart Tri Delt, whenever she had a piece of pie, she saved the triangle tip for a wish and the last bite. True to her rancher roots, Polly majored in animal husbandry, and was the first female to become a member of the Colorado A & M livestock judging team, also competing on the wool and meats judging team. She was known to have a natural eye for quality livestock.

Polly was also involved in the student government and, as a senior, received the highest honor given at Colorado A & M - The Pacemaker Award, which was awarded to the top 10 seniors. Polly would bring out a posse of girlfriends to the ranch for the brandings each summer, which they all looked forward to.

In 1955, she became the first third-generation female to graduate from Colorado A & M behind grandmother, Addie Bristol Brown, and mother, Blanche Brown Collins

After graduation, Polly and her other “sisters,” the Borsch Sisters - fellow Tri Delts Jeanne Galvin, Shirley Smythe, and Ginny Montgomery - departed Kit Carson in Polly’s 1955 Oldsmobile, nicknamed KC, and drove cross country for a month-long road trip full of merrymaking, adventure, sightseeing, flirting with young men, and visiting friends across the way. The family possesses a suitcase full of the daily letters Polly wrote home to her parents describing their sights, travel, the price of fuel and lunch, and their digestive issues along the way. All details are recorded for history. Each girl started out the trip with $100 to spend, and each had cash to spare upon their return. The trip is legendary in the family lore of the Borsch Sisters. You may ask why the name? They all took Russian pseudo names and would speak in Russian accent to stir up total strangers. Hilarious, they thought, and the giggling never ended through their lives. The Borsch Sisters continued the tradition of traveling together for years after all the kids were raised. Much laughter could be heard, drinks were toasted, humorous incidents occurred, and memories were made.

Following the adventure, Polly was hired by the Arizona National Livestock Show in Phoenix as the executive secretary. She, along with her friend, Jeanne Galvin, rented an apartment in the only apartment building at the time in Phoenix. There happened to be a bachelor from Marblehead, MA, working for General Electric who also lived in the same building at the time. Polly and the New England bachelor and Bowdoin College graduate, Rogers Johnson, met, and within weeks, were in love and engaged. The prairie girl and son of the sea became a lifelong team.

In true Polly form, once again seeking a little adventure before the wedding, she and some girlfriends drove through Europe on a jaunt weeks before the wedding while Blanche was planning the nuptials back at the ranch. Rogers about couldn’t stand the wait and offered to fly over to Europe to elope with Polly. But Don and Blanche would have none of that; Polly returned to the States; and Polly and Rogers were married August 1, 1959, at the Collins Ranch.

Several days after their wedding, the historic bank robbery of the family’s Kit Carson Bank occurred. They honeymooned at the Broadmoor and drove through the West before moving into their new home at 1214 W. Hayward Avenue in Phoenix.

They settled into young married life and, according to Blanche, (tongue in cheek mind you), nine months and 15 minutes after the wedding, their first-born son, Scott Collins, was born in 1960. Don Harold followed in 1961; Jody Christina in 1964; and Toby Rogers in 1969.

Their years in Phoenix were full of friends, PEO, Bridge Club, Indian Scouts, sunshine, and love. They had a wide circle of friends and love, laughter, and many memories were made. Rogers earned his master’s degree at Arizona State University, and later went on to work for Arizona Colorado Land Company.

The family would summer at the ranch in Kit Carson to escape the Phoenix heat. Polly acquired her pilot’s license during these times and loved flying her dad’s plane over the prairie.

In 1970, Don Collins’ health began to suffer. Polly and Rogers made the decision to relocate to the ranch to help Don and Blanche, and eventually take over management of Collins Ranch. The family loaded up the station wagon and a moving truck left the Arizona dessert in exchange for the eastern Colorado plains, and drove to their new home on the range at the family ranch house.

All the kids attended school at Kit Carson, and Polly and Rogers settled into rural Colorado life. They were extensively involved in the schools and community. Polly served on the St. Joseph’s Hospital (which was later known as Keefe Memorial) Hospital Board, was a member of the Kit Carson United Methodist Church, served in many capacities for the Cheyenne County Republicans, served on the Kit Carson Museum Board, Kit Carson School Accountability Committee, and was a lifelong member of Cowbells.

Faith in God was of upmost importance to her. Her Bible was worn and full of handwritten favorite verses. She prayed for her family and friends without pause. The family grew up having occasional Upper Room lessons around the kitchen table. The worst cuss word Polly was heard to utter was dadgummit. Polly attended church every Sunday, sitting in the same pew second from the front on the east. She helped teach Sunday School, and was president and involved in the Wray United Methodist Women (UMW) fixing plates for shut in’s, funeral dinners, and ladies’ programs. Polly, along with Marilyn Gibbs Bullock and Ruby Gibbs, would activate the Methodist troops whenever the need arose for a funeral dinner, and could serve 200 people without a hitch it seemed with days’ notice. Polly was our go to for the family grace and blessing at meals, holidays, celebrations, and weddings. Every phone call was ended with I love you and God Bless.

Our childhood dining consisted of three square meals a day, perfectly balancing meat, vegetables, and usually Polly’s beloved applesauce for dessert. We ate around the table every night at 6:00 o’clock. We were lucky in that Polly’s cuisine choices took us around the world - Hawaiian chicken, Mexican food, Italian pastas, Teriyaki dishes. Of course, every week’s staple was beef, and we had Polly and Rog’s favorite - steak - often. A creative cook, Polly invented the grilled cheese and jelly sandwich before fusion foods were popular. Polly particularly loved it when Grandpa Harold Johnson would fly in from Boston each fall carrying a cooler of live lobster for a feast at the ranch. Sunday dinners after church with Grandma Collins were also a staple in our lives.

Our lives growing up evolved around ranch work and the Kit Carson community activities. Polly and Rogers never missed a concert, meeting, spaghetti supper, or game, whether in Kit Carson or away. They were loyal fans. Polly was still attending games until COVID struck and shut down the world. She particularly loved the basketball season. She studied the offenses, could report on who had a hot hand that night, knew the margin of victory, if the refs were biased, who fouled out, how many rebounds, etc. In another life, she could have been an amazing statistician for the Nuggets. She lived for the next Kit Carson game, and nothing made her prouder than watching her children and grandchildren compete. Some very proud moments in her life included the success and State Championships of her grandchildren and their teams, and their success in the livestock show ring, golf course, Knowledge Bowl competitions, Honor Band, and other achievements.

Polly also never missed a community bridal or baby shower, loved sitting at the museum as a volunteer, relished the once a year “Polly Party” - Kit Carson Day - which fell on her birthday weekend, and her favorite, the Kit Carson Alumni Reunion, which occurred every five years. She also loved shopping, whether it be in Lamar or Colorado Springs, or on vacation. She and Jody online shopped just a couple weeks before her passing. She loved looking for the next outfit.

Polly was the financial officer for Collins Ranch, managed any logistics necessary, and was a lifelong ranching partner to Rogers. They were lifetime members of the National Western Stock Show, active in CCA and NCBA, and Polly became a Colorado Cattlemen’s Association Lifetime Gold Member.

Preparing for branding required days of menu planning, and no one could pull off a feast on the prairie like Polly, along with help from Blanche and Glaida Craven. She would spread out tables complete with tablecloths and a hot full meal for the up to 50 people helping with branding. She was always last to eat, and made time for each and every cowboy and kid helping that day. She loved touring family and friends on the ranch and kept track of the daily activities and the cycles of life on the ranch. From her many windows, she could observe the daily activities of the ranch which she loved. One of her many highlights in life was the centennial celebration of the Collins Ranch in 2007, when the family hosted a ranch party for past and present employees, family members, and friends. Polly, unfortunately, broke her ankle the night before the party, yet carried on in crutches, being the ultimate hostess to so many.

Polly’s love of travel never waned. Polly and Rogers believed in education at all levels, and that included seeing the world for a few weeks in the summer when the rest of the year was spent in rural Colorado. The Johnson family would take a big vacation every summer when the brandings were over. We have many memories of loading up the car with 13 pieces of luggage and seven people - six Johnsons plus Blanche, trekking to Stapleton Airport, and flying to all corners of the world. Lots of adventures and mishaps occurred on our travels, and so many special moments were made. They spent many summer vacations in Maine as well. As an only child, Polly treasured Rog’s extensive family of New England cousins. She enjoyed the Johnson family reunions on Great Diamond Island, and never missed a great lobster meal with the relatives.

All the kids graduated from Kit Carson High School and went on to their respective colleges. It was never questioned that we would get our education. The kids got married, and the rollout of grandchildren began.

Polly and Rog’s life was full and happy. Then it hit a speed bump when Rogers was diagnosed with lymphoma cancer. The next couple of years were spent in doctor’s appointments and treatments. Rogers passed away in November 1993 when Polly and Rog were driving out to Branson for business. Despite her great loss, Polly carried on, remaining busy and active, filling her moments with ranch work and management, helping others, community involvement, time with grandchildren, trips with family, Borsch Sister adventures, CSU Alumni Board, and Tri Delta reunions. A particular point of pride for her was establishing the Rogers W. Johnson Scholarship, granting Kit Carson graduates funds to help them finish and achieve their college degrees.

Before you knew it, there were 13 grandchildren. The growing family set aside time each year to take a vacation together where many shenanigans occurred between the cousins, and more memories were made. Somehow, everyone survived and maintained the standards of Polly. Grandkids spread out seeking their education in colleges across the country. The grandchildren went to Ivy League, State, and private universities across the country, and three of the grandchildren are Boettcher Scholars. Polly was so proud of each one, but most likely having two grandchildren become CSU 5th generation graduates and continuing the Ram tradition made her very happy. She kept up with everyone, delighting in stories of their college experiences, encouraged them to “go Greek,” was proud of their grades and activities, and sympathized with their setbacks and mild brushes with authorities or a liberal professor.

Family weddings were such a joy to her, and she tried to make each one when her health allowed. She was so happy and excited to be included in Molly’s upcoming wedding planning, and she recently enjoyed the prime rib from Brad and Mare’s November wedding reception.

The great grandkids were such a source of joy and pride for her. She loved it when each one was born, and treasured holding the new babies, watching them grow, and all their antics gave her many laughs and happy moments these past few years.

She loved her dogs - Sox, Mate, Mo, and Toy, who is still with Toby and Amy and is remarkably 15 pounds lighter. She loved her family, she loved to laugh, the ranch, Kit Carson, common sense, talking on the phone, her many friends, March Madness, the ranch, conservative politicians, a good rare, tender steak, Chinese food, nice clothes, the ranch, picnics on the creek, hosting friends, going places, parties, the Kit Carson Day Melodrama, sending postcards and cards, buying gifts for others, good shoes that fit her size 11AAAA feet, holiday celebrations, and visits over coffee or tea.

She was frugal but generous and had high standards but knew how to have fun. She was the epitome of class, yet could laugh at herself. Her gift and specialty later in life was keeping track of the comings and goings of the 39 and counting family members. On any given day, Polly could pretty much tell you where every single family member was, when they would get home, what flight they were on or hotel they were staying at, what project they were working on, the last score of Tess’s basketball game, what the calves weighed, what her friends’ grandkids were doing last week, the exact directions to the restaurant in Denver that she had a good meal at once 15 years ago. She was honest to a fault, polite, exact in her high expectations, faithful to God, her family, Kit Carson, CSU, the Republican party, and the ranch. The bar was set very high for all family members, and we were expected to clear it, maybe with a few bruises, but without any scrapes.

Polly received several awards in her life. Although they were an honor for her, her true rewards were family and friends. She received the CSU Jim and Nadine Henry Distinguished Alumni Award in 1998; the Kit Carson Good Scout Award in 2002; The CSU Livestock Leader Award in 2008; and was the Cheyenne County Fair Parade Grand Marshall in 2017. When asked, her favorite possessions were her family, faith, ranch, memories, and America.

She always thought of others before herself.

Polly passed away peacefully at Cheyenne Wells Hospital March 19, 2022. Her last days were filled with family, smiles, photos, Colorado State Basketball, and March Madness games. In classic Polly fashion, she was still trying to introduce people to one another just shortly before she passed. She was so appreciative of Tara Gaynor, Doris Gibbs, Amy Gibbs, Danette Waggoner, Janette, Charla, Tracie Ball, Dr. Papenfaus, and so many others for their loving care. We rejoice that she is together again with Rogers and so many treasured family and friends in Heaven. We can only imagine the joy, laughter, and celebrating going on. Now she will be home again in Kit Carson beside Dad with a beautiful view of the prairie sunsets. Mom had a lovely way of saying so long. Whenever we would drive away from the ranch, rain or shine, Polly would stand on her porch with a smile on her face and wave until our car was out of sight. I would like to think that she is giving us all a happy wave.

Polly is preceded in death by her husband, Rogers Winfield Johnson; parents, Don Carlos and Blanche Brown Collins; aunts, Pauline Stewart and Georgia McWhirter; uncle, Jack Stewart; in-laws, Harold and Priscilla Johnson; and sister-in-law, Christina Johnson. 

Carrying on Polly’s legacy are her beloved children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren - son, Scott and Jean Johnson of Colorado Springs and their children and grandchildren: Jen and Jay Livsey, Collins and Clint of Lakewood; Will and Lauren Johnson, Henry and Jack of Kit Carson; Myles and Katie Johnson, Stella, Dabo, and Porter of Idalia; Charlie and Kaitlin Johnson, Sofia, Quinn, and Hagan of Kit Carson; son, Don Johnson and daughters Christi Johnson and fiancé Drew Weaver and Taylor Johnson of Litiz, Pennsylvania;, daughter, Jody and Rex Buck of Wray: Brady and Jordan Buck and Brooks of Wray; Molly Buck and fiancé Justin Lange of Arvada; Coby Buck and wife Darcey Carr of Palo Alto, California; Baylor Buck of Wray; son, Toby and Amy Johnson of Kit Carson: Brad and Marilyn Johnson of Denver; Haley and Tess of Kit Carson; and special friends, Donna Eaton, Shirley Smythe, Jaryl Everist, Ruby Gibbs, and Marge Schecter among many others.

Funeral services will be held April 13. at the Kit Carson High School. Burial will follow in the Kit Carson Cemetery. 

Memorial contributions may be made to the Polly Johnson Memorial Fund in c/o The Eastern Colorado Bank, PO Box 175, Kit Carson, CO 80825.

Arrangements are under the direction of Brown Funeral Home.