It’s an early spring day in Avondale, a sleepy hamlet just east of Pueblo and the portal to southeastern Colorado’s farm communities. Heading east on Highway 50 you’ll cut a line through the Lower Arkansas River Valley passing through Fowler, Manzanola, Ordway and Sugar City, stops where gas stations or restaurants are still meet-up places for locals. Avondale native Lynn Soto can tell you a little or a lot about a lot of these towns, but none more than Avondale.
Driving the town with the retired Department of Corrections employee and Avondale native, Soto names the people she sees, honking now and then to wave hello. Some pause to wave back. Driving slowly, we pass the house where she grew up and where her 92-year-old father still lives. Soto lives just down the street.
Originally called Avon---named by an early settler for Shakespeare’s home, Stratford-on-Avon (the ‘dale’ part was added later) ---it’s mostly shuttered. The grocery store closed a few years ago; same with the barber and beauty shops and most everything else. But on this Saturday morning, the Loaf’n’Jug is staying busy. Chuck’s Place, the local watering hole will open later in the day. But despite its past more bucolic than its present and, perhaps, its future, Avondale’s still a special place to Soto and the six hundred and change who still call it home.
Soto’s family goes back three generations on both sides in Avondale. While three siblings have left, two---like her---still call it home. And because it’s home, Soto harbors both hope and desire that Avondale still has a future. She was instrumental in winning a $20,000 grant from The Colorado Trust to compile a list of things that would improve life in Avondale.
Not wanting to ask for the moon, Soto starts small. “We could use some sidewalks,” she said. “We’re also a food desert,” she added. Just buying groceries or any staple requires a trip into Pueblo.
Soto, though, takes pride in the town’s community center which also serves as the Boys & Girls Club along with a sheriff’s department substation. “The youth are always there and using it,” she said. It’s the one place where there’s internet. While it’s opened seven days a week, today it’s closed. A new basketball floor was just installed.
Despite the town lacking the creature comforts that nearby Pueblo has, Avondale takes great pride in a history that reflects a singular love of country. The park has a veterans’ wall where the names of local kids who’ve gone to war or simply served their nation shines in the late morning sun. There’s also a special plaque---embedded on a giant rock---with the names of Avondale’s casualties of war. “For our size,” said Soto, “we gave a lot.”
Boone, a stone’s throw to the east of Avondale, is also a place where the past shows up in spades. Businesses, including the beanery that once buoyed the local economy, are mostly closed. The past is reflected in peeling paint, shuttered doorways and empty streets. Crops that once dominated the region are mostly gone, replaced by marijuana grows, the new cash cow.
While it might be easy to be angry about county indifference, an indifference that has allowed the cemetery to overgrow with weeds, the town to go without sidewalks and so little effort to bring in a grocer, Soto is neither angry nor defiant. She carries herself with a quiet dignity. “We haven’t prospered,” she laments. “It’s hard to get people to engage.” Too few, she said, have spoken up.
But Blend, another community also east of Pueblo and just a few miles down the road seems to have plenty of what Avondale and Boone lack. Roadsides are plush with greenery, next summer’s agricultural haul that is central to this region’s economy. There are also banks, restaurants, beauty and barber shops along the road, things that serve the needs of the families, new and long established.
Soto doesn’t harbor unrealistic dreams for Avondale but would like a bit more attention paid to the place she’s called home forever. In the city, she said, for every dollar paid in taxes, $1.50 comes back in services. “We pay a dollar; we get fifty cents back.”