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Beacon Senior News

Ellen Roberts: Fruita farm girl to show girl!

Mar 02, 2020 04:04PM ● By Melanie Wiseman

Ellen Roberts with friend Mary Lee Bowen

With a resume full of dancing, comedy and entertainment galore, it’s hard to believe Ellen Roberts ever described herself as “bashful.” On the cusp of turning 99, she remains active and serves as an unofficial inspirational senior ambassador for the valley.

“Everywhere I go, everyone knows me and is always so happy to see me, and I like that,” said Roberts. “I enjoy volunteering and helping others. Whatever is asked of me, I try to do.”

True farm girl

Born in Branson, Missouri, Roberts was just a baby when her parents and older brother traveled through 20 states in a Ford Model T before settling in Palisade in 1922 during peach harvest. They fell in love with Fruita, and homesteaded on a farm where the Co-op now stands, using Douglas Pass for their cattle during the summer.

“I was a real country girl who pitched hay, cleaned ditches, split wood, milked cows, washed clothes on a rub board, worked in the fields and chopped off a lot of chicken heads,” she said.”

As a child, life was about work, school and church. Roberts said her parents inspired a good work ethic, which she passed on to her three children and a great-grandson, whom she raised.

Farm life wasn’t easy. Roberts survived typhoid fever from drinking ditch water, the family’s two-story house burned down when she was in third grade, and she tragically lost her father at a young age after he was bucked off a horse.

But she also remembers the bright spots: visiting the farm where Mike the Headless Chicken was alive and well at the time, participating in high school glee club skits, and sleeping in the corner of barns while her parents enjoyed community dances.

After her junior year in high school, newly-married Roberts left Colorado for Oklahoma and then California with her sweetheart. For 25 years, Roberts worked as a shipyard welder and laborer.

In her early 60s, Roberts moved back to Fruita to be a caregiver for her mom and stepdad, and countless other relatives and friends. She has outlived two husbands and all three of her children.

“I’ve been a caregiver my whole life,” said Roberts. “Some people get sad or down as they get older...but I get over that and stay busy.”

No longer bashful

Ellen Roberts with Mary Lee Bowen
Ellen Roberts with friend Mary Lee Bowen

At first, Roberts felt too bashful to go out and about after moving back to the Grand Valley

“But then I learned about all these places you could go to dance and things to do, and now I’m not bashful anymore,” said Roberts. “I’m a good entertainer and keep everybody laughing.”

Roberts discovered line dancing, hula dancing and belly dancing. She performed dances regularly across the Western Slope at hospitals, nursing homes and special events, sometimes four or five nights a week! She also did the staging, PR and made costumes.

She and her dear friend, Mary Lee Bowen, have entertained at numerous BeaconFests and other occasions as the hilarious Patsy Cline Wannabes. After attending a Patsy Cline impersonator show in Branson, Roberts told Bowen their act was better and she was ready to get up and show it!

“I was quiet and didn’t do anything until I met Ellen,” said Bowen. “She taught me everything I know, and she’s an inspiration to so many people.”

Giving back

When not performing, Roberts attended every Fruita Community Center planning meeting and was instrumental in overseeing can collection and recycling for 10 years. Her work enabled them to receive a matching grant. She still collects cans today, which helps fund smaller Fruita Civic Center projects.

Her involvement as a volunteer includes 37 years at the Moose Lodge, a Fruita Lioness, a Boy and Girl Scouts den mother, RSVP, Fruita Thrift Store and a Thursday regular at the Grand Junction Senior Center to name just a few.

Roberts is a fixture at many local events. Every year at Fruita’s Mike the Headless Chicken Festival, people ask for her autograph and pictures of her in her signature chicken hat.Ellen Roberts in chicken hat

“I won three years in a row doing the chicken dance for the longest time, maybe 30 minutes each time,” said Roberts. “I don’t want to win that anymore!”

Every August, Roberts participates in 16 events at the Western Colorado Senior Games, winning a stash of gold medals. Shot put, disc golf, softball slug, corn hole, horseshoes, long jump, golf chipping and track—Roberts struts her stuff.

“The first time I started crying before the finish line because it meant so much to me that I could do it—more than all my medals,” she said.

For a great-great-great-great-grandmother whose mottos are staying busy and giving back, Roberts succeeds at both.