The Cerise family: ‘They weren’t good old days. It was hard.’ |

The Cerise family: ‘They weren’t good old days. It was hard.’

It was the mountains and the mining opportunities that brought the Cerises from Italy to Colorado. It was the ranching and the small town that made them decide to stay.

Val d’Aosta, Italy, is in the Italian Alps. But in the 1880s there weren’t many jobs in that region of Italy, so brothers Albert and Flavian Cerise moved to Leadville to mine silver, eventually crossing over the Continental Divide to Aspen. Albert Cerise met his wife, Onorina Milanesio, while he was helping to build the road over Independence Pass.

In 1919, after mining opportunities dried up, Albert and Flavian Cerise purchased 640 acres of land along Little Woody Creek, the stream that flows down from the east to Woody Creek.

“Dad used to say it was very, very quiet in town, and there was nothing going on,” Carolyn said of her father, Martin, who was Albert’s son. “They struggled hard making a living ” raising potatoes and cattle.”

Martin Cerise went to the schoolhouse in Woody Creek for eight years, and then went up to Aspen for high school ” boarding in town since there were no buses. In the book, “Aspen: The Quiet Years,” Martin Cerise said almost all the children in school with him spoke a French Italian dialect, and he learned English in school.

Martin met his future wife, Virginia Wagner, at a country dance in 1951, and they married in 1952. Virginia was born in Glenwood Springs, and was living on a small ranch in Missouri Heights when she met Martin.

“We didn’t go to Aspen that often, so the big social events were Saturday nights, when places in Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs opened for dances with local bands,” Virginia recalled.

Martin and Virginia lived on the lower part of the Little Woody Creek Ranch, and had two children, Jim and Carolyn. Since Albert Cerise was then in his 70s, the family gave up ranching in 1956, sold the ranch in Woody Creek and moved to Aspen. The family moved into a home on Cemetery Lane.

Martin Cerise and his brother-in-law owned Herald Motors on Cooper Avenue, where Mezzaluna restaurant now stands. Virginia took care of the kids, both of whom attended schools in Aspen. When skiing grew popular, Martin and Virginia were too busy raising their family and working to spend much time on the slopes.

Martin Cerise said in “The Quiet Years” that he liked the 1950s and ’60s in Aspen, fixing cars and knowing all of the people in town.

“There used to be just two seasons when people were in town ” summer and winter,” Virginia said. “In the fall when hunting season came around, there were very few men in town because they’d go hunting. Everybody wanted a deer because it would help with food for the year. There wasn’t a lot of money back then. Nobody went hungry, but we were more careful.”

Martin Cerise died in 1993, after he and Virginia had moved to Gunnison. Shortly thereafter, Virginia returned to the Roaring Fork Valley and she’s now active with the senior community in Carbondale. Carolyn and Jim Cerise share the house they grew up in on Cemetery Lane in Aspen.

“When we grew up, this was like any other small town ” it was friendly, everyone was involved in skiing and sports,” Carolyn said. “I think changes are good, and certainly inevitable, but Aspen has done a great job of controlling growth and changes.”

Modern-day Aspenites often lament the passing of the so-called quiet years. But there were plenty of hardships then, including a lack of good medical care. Martin Cerise said in “The Quiet Years”: “They talk about the ‘good old days’; they weren’t good old days. It was hard. I would say if I had a wish, I’d like to have stopped Aspen about 1965. And the same kind of people who were here at the time. That would have been the answer for me.”

Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is

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