This is a tale about LaVern Johnson that you may not have given much thought to. In order to run a historic museum, you have to raise money! The Lyons Redstone Museum survives on grants, donations, memberships and fundraisers. It does not charge an entrance fee.
Once upon a time, the museum ran a craft fair and flea market in Sandstone Park, and along the open space of Railroad Avenue (prior to the Walt Self building), for many years. One day it was taken over by the Town of Lyons. It seems they felt they were relieving LaVern of weeks of hard work, “at her age,” and they could just give her a lump sum donation instead. But they didn’t have the gumption and know-how of LaVern and the fair did not do as well under their direction, so the donations stopped. It was a big loss of revenue for the museum.
But they still had the Christmas Bazaar to fall back on. It happens on the first weekend of December, Saturday and Sunday, for approximately 40 years. It took a lot of time, muscle, and coordination, but, in this case, there was always museum staff and volunteers to lend a hand during the weekend. Thanks to the Town coordinators of the Bazaar (now called Artisan Market), it always had the third booth spot as you entered the Lyons Elementary School gymnasium. So, people knew where to head first. And, made sure they got some of LaVern’s homemade Never Fail Fudge, which she spent many days making and packaging. (In later years, her son Jerry would help mix the thick batter, and lift the heavy trays into the oven). Others donated homemade cookies and cupcakes.
The leftovers were taken to the Lyons Visitors Center in Sandstone Park on Saturday night and were sold (for a donation) to long lines of cold and hungry Parade of Lights attendees. It was a big production to get it all set up, and find outlets to boil tall party-size carafes of hot chocolate. At one point the River Church started serving hot chocolate and cookies for free. Any donations were given to the museum! But no one could beat LaVern’s fudge and other baked goods; plus, the customers were glad to donate to the museum.
Every year, Geneva Sabados would come to the two-day Christmas Bazaar and sell raffle tickets. She continued to come even when she moved out of town (due to the Great Flood of 2013). As with most things that LaVern did, the tickets were just 5 pieces of paper, about 1″ x 4″ in size, that were stapled together. You paid your $1 for the 5 tickets, and filled in your name and phone number on the tiny pieces of paper, hoping to get one of the lovely prizes. Geneva was equal to LaVern in her ability to pursue every person that came in. Both the buyers and the sellers KNEW Geneva and got their wallets ready.
“I also sold tickets during Good Old Days, and I remember walking thru town to River Bend and to the Rodeo,” said Geneva. “One year I won a 5″ television that was black and white! This year Jerry told me I sold 349 tickets.” Geneva felt her age a bit this time, and by the end, her feet ached a lot, and she slept in the car on the way home. The prizes were games, stuffed animals, sports memorabilia, cute Knick knacks, and more.
For years, LaVern collected odd and end knick knacks, from garage sales and here and there, to give out as prizes at both the Bazaar and at her Red Rock Ramblers Square Dance group events. Kay Laatt knew Carol Purcell, for more than 40 years; who was a crafter at the Bazaar, so she attended it one year. She was attracted to LaVern’s charisma. When she won a couple of LaVern’s prizes, she felt she could improve on them, and she donated a few items over the next few years. After the Great Flood of 2013, she decided she would help out LaVern and her beloved town by donating a couple of cardboard boxes full of enticing prizes. She was able to get “access” (the word she used) to greatly discounted prices at a gift store (which has since changed ownership a couple of times, and she will no longer have that access). She said, “Everyone knows LaVern. Even at my 50th wedding anniversary party it seemed everyone had to say Hi. She is the Icon of Lyons.”
I would usually take over LaVern’s spot at the booth during Saturday afternoon so that she could take a nap for the long night ahead of her. The second booth from the entrance door was run by Carol Purcell, and we got to share a few laughs and stories in between customers. Her daughter Shannon would help set up and break down the booth, and, as she said, “would walk around and spend money.” Carol’s handknit hats (a lot of 1940s style) and scarves were very popular, and she added some handbags in recent years.
Although Carol and Shannon lived outside of Lyons, they would see people gravitate to the museum booth with big smiles on their faces, and often had stories or comments to tell about some project in town that LaVern was involved in. A lot were political or school oriented talks. The two had attended the Bazaar for about 30 years, by their estimate (the age of a baby in their lives), except for the COVID years. In 2022, with the passing of LaVern, Carol decided to take a break. She felt it was a bittersweet time. But, she plans to be back in 2023.
“When I first met LaVern and Geneva, it reminded me of LaVern and Shirley (“Happy Days” on television),” said Shannon. “It was like a time capsule. They didn’t seem to age. I look at her as the First Lady of Lyons. Every person who walked by knew LaVern. Her services were amazing.”
Shannon saw the dollhouse that was set up for Silent Auction bids at the museum booth. It reminded her of her childhood and dollhouse she had owned and loved. She ended up out-bidding everyone by a lot, as she was determined to own it. It would not only be a beautiful item for childhood memories, but for LaVern memories.
“We so admired LaVern, that I plan to convert a room upstairs in my house and devote it to LaVern,” said Shannon. She plans to put newspaper clippings, like LaVern’s “About Town” column, and get an old typewriter, add some photos, and more. (I have put together a big envelope of memorabilia for her, including a photo of LaVern at her computer). “When I get a new house, I’m going to put the dollhouse and background information on Ann O’Brien, who made it, and items about LaVern in my ‘parlor.’ I love history and stories,” added Shannon.
and the beat goes on… stop by the booth next December…
“My mom became immediate friends with Carol and her two daughters (from Walden) when their booth was randomly selected decades ago to be next to the Lyons Historical Society booth at the annual Christmas bazaar,” said Jerry Johnson. “It became their Christmas Tradition! My mother would be thrilled to know that Carol’s daughter (Shannon) had the high bid for the dollhouse that was graciously donated by Anne O’Brien for the support of the Lyons Redstone Museum. These proceeds will continue to fulfill mom’s dream of a town museum in her beloved Town of Lyons. The museum had been a major part of mom’s life since its inception and would not exist today without her tireless efforts.”
Lyons Historical Society d/b/a Lyons Redstone Museum, P O Box 9, Lyons, CO 80540
(donations greatly appreciated, a 501(c)3 nonprofit. Open weekends in May, and 7 days a week from June to October 1st)