Glenwood woman tells of a life well-traveled
In an antique trunk in her cozy apartment, Bessie Simonsen stores the keepsakes of a whirlwind life.During her 95 years, the petite great-great-great grandmother has traveled to the corners of the world and lived in Australia, Thailand, Africa and Korea. She traversed the Rocky Mountains in a covered wagon, hunted wild boar in Morocco and fished in Spain.
Now, Simonsen is enjoying her role as the matriarch of a six-generation family in Glenwood Springs.”My second husband was a traveler and went on safaris. When he wasn’t working, we were traveling. When we first went to Australia, we lived in the bush,” said Simonsen, who was born in Palace, Okla., on April 2, 1909.”I have had an interesting life,” she said. “I always lived by the credo, ‘If I work hard, I play hard.’ “With a grandfather whom she recalls having “itchy feet” and pioneering parents, Simonsen became accustomed to trailblazing early in life. In 1915 she traveled with her parents, J.E. and Pearl Edwards, and her brothers and sisters in a covered wagon from Washington state.
“I can also remember traveling on a steamboat when my parents left Washington,” she said. “My father was a cowboy – he was quite the one with horses. He always said, ‘I have five daughters and none of them walk. They all run.’ And my granddad, he was sort of a nomad, always wanting to move.”Simonsen remembers living in southeastern Colorado as a child and eventually settling in Silt. In 1928, at the age of 19, Simonsen married her first husband, Bob McDonald, and later had three children: Bobbie, Darlene and Shirley. The couple were married for 24 years.”I grew up with my children and I loved them so much,” she said. “During World War II we lived in Michigan, and my husband worked for the Ford Motor Co. making airplanes and parachutes.”In the 1940s and ’50s, Simonsen and her family lived in Long Beach, Calif., a city that remains close to her heart.
“My girls went to high school in California and I made their clothes so they could keep up with the fads,” she said. “The only way I could afford cashmere sweaters for them was by sewing their other clothes. I made beautiful wool poodle skirts, jackets and petticoats.”During the 1960s, Simonsen’s life took an adventurous turn after she met and married her second husband, Seymour. The couple traveled all over the world as part of Seymour’s career in heavy construction.”When I met Seymour he asked me what I wanted to do with my life,” Simonsen said as she flipped through old snapshots. “He said to me, ‘Save your money and maybe I’ll take you around the world,’ and he did. In my life, I know I’ve done more than a lot of women my age.”Although the couple kept a home in Boise, Idaho, they embraced international cultures such as Madrid, Bangkok, Nepal, Singapore, Morocco and Malaysia during their 20-year marriage. Highlights include a visit to the Taj Mahal in India and a trip to Angkor Wat, the ancient Khmer temple in Cambodia, on one of several special visas.
“I trampled through the jungle and cut my way through. In Morocco we went clear up the Andes on donkeys, where we fished and hunted wild boar. We had a special visa to get into Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia to fish. My greatest fishing was in Spain and also in Mexico, where we spent eight winters,” she said.”My husband once said to me, ‘You’re an unusual woman – not a lot of women would go the places you go with me.’ “Simonsen also had the opportunity to perfect her love of cooking while traveling abroad. She said her specialty is Oriental cuisine.”I used to make all of my egg rolls and I’ve given recipes out from all over the world,” said Simonsen, who is no longer able to cook like she did in her younger years. “I’ve perfected Moroccan couscous. I would give my right arm for one of my home-cooked Chinese meals.”
Today, Simonsen’s extended family revels in her experiences.”My youngest son has turned out to be the cook in the family,” said daughter Shirley Mobely, of Glenwood Springs. “He just loves to pick his grandma’s brain for recipes. Everyone has said she should put out a cookbook.”Family get-togethers are now what Simonsen cherishes. Not only do the gatherings allow her six-generation family the opportunity to learn about her past, but they also serve as a way to honor her perseverance.In December, Simonsen and her female kin showed just how special she is by posing for a six-generation photograph – a milestone few families can boast.”I’ve enjoyed my years and am happy spending time with my family,” Simonsen said.
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A ski season surrounded with uncertainty kicks off on Wednesday. The six inches of new snowfall Tuesday will allow opening of an additional 62 acres on Aspen Mountain, bringing opening-day total to about 160 acres.