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by Mark Vialpando
GARDNER — Gardner School celebrated its 29th annual “Voices of the Past” writing competition last week.  This fun project has 7th and 8th grade students investigate the past by interviewing long-time residents of Huerfano County to learn what life was like “back in the day.”  The essays are judged by volunteers from the community, and cash prizes are donated by the World Journal to the top three writers.
Like many of the activities at the school, everyone was invited for a night of students sharing their work and swapping stories.  This year’s winners were: 1st place; Bruno McDonald; 2nd Place; Haylea Perrino; and 3rd place; Bernard Espinoza.  The evening was filled with both laughter and tears as the students read their pieces to the standing room only audience.
The winning essay is… 
Leodore Ralph Salazar
by Bruno McDonald
Have you ever wanted to know about those who came before you?  It may even be your grandpa or older friend.  Well, I did, and I was able to interview Ralph.  Leodore, Ralph Salazar is my neighbor and good friend.  I enjoyed listening to some of the stories he was able to tell me and in doing so I was able to learn more about him.
Ralph was born September 18 1959, in Greeley, Colorado and moved to Huerfano County in 1962.  Ralph is the son of Francis Martinez and Joe Salazar.  Ralph’s mother was born August 31, 1927, in Turkey Creek Colorado and his father was born March 22, 1922, in Malachite Colorado.
Ralph went to school at the Washington School in Walsenburg.  This is where attended both elementary and middle school.  After middle school at the Washington School, he attended John Mall High School.  Ralph never attended college and went straight into work.  Early on in life he worked in a coal mine and later on worked in a meat processing plant.  In his off time Ralph enjoyed and still enjoys agriculture.  His yard is packed full of beautiful plants and crops.  He also raises rabbits and enjoys fishing and woodworking.
Ralph married Francisca Cordova in December 2, 2002.  Ralph has two children, Danny and Jason Salazar. Ralph’s siblings include his two brothers Dan and Leroy along with their sister Susy.  (All Salazars)
Ralph’s words of wisdom, which I respect and believe, are, “Your tape measure don’t lie.”  Ralph would also like to be remembered as a loving husband.
While I was interviewing Ralph, he was able to share some great stories with me and because of that, I want to tell at least a couple of them because these are some things that he did growing up.
One of these that he told me was when he was younger he used to wake up rally early on the weekends and have a bucket of worms and his pole ready to go fishing.  One time he went fishing and caught a whole bucket load of little carp and brought them home where he dumped them all in his bathtub.  After he did this, his mom came in and helped him clean gut and fry every one of them.
The other one he told me, and my favorite one, was about when he and his friend went into a mineshaft armed with BB guns.  After walking for a bit they stumbled upon a skunk they figured was dead.  They figured wrong.  Once they got closer to the skunk, it sprang up on its front two legs and sprayed them both with its God awful spray.  They took off running as fast as they could towards the river and tried washing the horrible stench off-to no avail.  They stank for over a week while in school.
Overall, it was an honor to be able to interview Ralph and learn so much about him.  I was proud to write this.
Second Place
Darlene Kay Pino
by Haylea Perrino
We all have that one close family friend that we call our aunt, uncle, cousin, etc. and I’m lucky to have Darlene Kay Pino as my “aunt.”
Darlene was born June 6, 1960, at 6 o’clock, at 6 lbs 6 oz., and she is the sixth baby- 7 six’s.  She was born in the house that her parents were living in.  Her father and grandmother brought her into this world all by themselves.  Her mother was in labor for two days.  Darlene’s umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck during those harsh days of labor.
She was born and raised in Huerfano County and lives here to this day.
Darlene’s mother is Felia Montoya, born July 5, 1927, in Walsenburg.  She remains alive and healthy today.  Her father, the wonderful person who delivered her, is Gilbert Montoya; he was born on May 11, 1925.
Darlene has six siblings: Diana Mae who passed away at the age 11 by a horrible accident.  Still living are Dana, who is currently 47, Dorris, who is 63, Bobbie at 65 years old, Elizabeth who is 70, and Gilbert (who is called by the name Black Jack) who is 71 years old.
Darlene attended schools in Walsenburg.  First was Hill School and then she went to Washington school.  Later when she grew up, she moved on to John Mall High School.  She grew up way too fast as most parents will say about their children.  The other 25% would say, “Hurry up and get out!”  After high school she went to PCC to study Medical Coding and Billing and then continued at PPI to study to be a Medical Assistant.
When I asked Darlene about her work experiences she said she had so many jobs too remember.  She told me her most fun job was her first job, the announcer at the summer softball games.  Another favorite was working in the kitchen of the Walsenburg Care Center.  She was also a school crossing guard in Denver.  Darlene worked in the nursing home; she was practically raised there.  Her mother would bring her to work when she was two and she would sleep in a cot while her mom worked the grave yard shift. So she was around the elderly at a very young age. Darlene ended up working there at the age of 15, and she worked there for 15 years.
Her hobbies include gardening, church, and Bible studies.  The games she played as a kid include hop scotch, kickball, jacks, tag, and dodgeball.  She was an active little one.
In the year 1995, on February 14, Darlene married Simon Pino.  They have 2 kids together, Jacob and Stuart.
Her words of wisdom and message is to just be yourself.  Don’t be afraid to let the real you shine because life’s too short to live a life someone else wants you to live.
In mid conversation she told me a story that she will never forget.  When she was growing up she used to go play on top of this hill across the field by her house, and one time she was up there by herself and she heard her siblings call, “Darlene!  Dad wants you!”  So she ran down the hill and all the way across the field.  Once she got to him, he simply asked her to change the channel on the TV.  Reminds me of a dad I know very well.  Other than that story she just remembers riding bikes “like crazy.”
The three words to explain her lifetime are challenging, joyous, and a gift.
When I asked about how she wanted to be remembered, she just said as a good person.  Which is definitely going to happen because not only is she a good person but an amazing one!
That concludes the story of Darlene Pino, a kin
hearted, loving person!  A person I’ll never forget.
Third Place
Tony Espinoza
by Bernard Espinoza
Tony Espinoza was born in 1975 in Colorado Springs he currently 42, but the son of Vera and Bernardino Espinoza was almost not meant to be.  The doctor wanted Vera to have an abortion because Tony had Cerebral Palsy in his right hand.  Vera didn’t care, she would love him no matter what.  When Tony was born, the umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck and right shoulder.  It was a scary birth, but he survived.
Tony lived in Springs until 1980 when he was in kindergarten, then they moved to Gardner.  Tony and 4 of his siblings Gina, Wayne, Pat, and Jerod went to Gardner School.  There Tony played basketball for the Falcons.  Other things he and his siblings did were play hide and go seek with friends and, when it snowed, they would go tubing.
Tony went to college for 1 year at TSJC where he studied physical therapy and sports.  He currently works in fiber optic cabling.  He previously worked at the hospital in dietary and housekeeping.  His hobbies are watching sports, fishing, softball, and basketball.  He was married in May of 2001 to Robin Ortiz and has two children, Fabian and Emri.
The courageous story he told goes like this… While Tony was 13 he learned how to ride a bike.  Pat and his friend were ramping on their bikes and Tony finally wanted to do it.  So Pat told him to go to the top of a hill and pedal as fast as he could to the ramp, then pull up; so he did, but when he pulled up, his right hand could not hold on.  When he landed, the handle bar jerked into his gut and he flew about 5 feet before landing on his face and shoulder and getting scraped up.
While he was attending John Mall he saw the movie 8 Seconds for the first time.  Pat and another friend were with him when Tony had the brilliant idea to ride a bull.  Their friend just so happened to own bulls.  He took them to a corral and put Tony on a steer, then slapped its butt.  The steer bucked 2-3 times and Tony flew off, landed on his head, and knocked the air out of himself.  When he came to, his face was under another cow’s udder and Pat was cracking up while Tony was asking him for help.  He was very lucky that day.
Some of Tony’s words of advice are “Everyone’s gonna have adversity in their life but never give up and always do your best.”  Tony would like to be remembered as someone who never gave up and always did his best with what he could.
Pictured l to r: Bernard Espinoza, Tony Espinoza, Jess Vialpando, Jesslyn Trujillo, Haylea Perrino, Ruth Martinez, Marissa Martinez. Photo by