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Durango students preserve history of longtime residents

May 17, 2019

DURANGO, Colo. (AP) — Jai Fallows, Deandra Shideler and Cooper Machicek, freshmen at Animas High School, are budding historians.

But rather than starting with something as auspicious as World War I or 14th century popes, they’re confining their first foray into something a little more familiar: the north Animas Valley.

“We got to pick from about 12 people, and we thought Honeyville would be a pretty cool place to learn about,” said Shideler, who admits she’s more into math than history.

Earlier this month, the trio filmed Danny Culhane, owner of Honeyville, about the business, which has been in the family for three generations and began life even before that - with the Mayer family in California in 1918. The Mayers brought the business to the Durango area in 1953.

Vernon Culhane, Danny’s father, earned the local nickname “The Falfa Honey Man.” In the 1950s, he would take the farm’s flat-bed truck to the train station in Durango, where people would fill their own containers straight from barrels on the truck.

Of the AHS trio, Fallows is the admitted history buff. A Russophile, who plans a trip to Russia next year, Fallows is particularly interested in the Cold War era.

“I read a lot of European history, the Cold War, the Eastern Bloc. Local history is more new to me,” he said.

The group plans to transcribe and subtitle its interview with Danny Culhane and create a recorded oral history of the interview that will be donated to the Center of Southwest Studies at Fort Lewis College.

AHS humanities teacher Stephen Sellers said his class might create an oral history booth at the All School Exhibition to get more oral histories from longtime residents of the north Animas Valley.

Next year, he said, his class will repeat the exercise, but this time with a focus on South Durango, which will glean more of life from the perspectives of the town’s longtime Hispanic and Italian families.

Sellers said this year’s oral histories seek to preserve the personal histories of community members who have grown up in the Animas Valley. His students are partnering with the Animas Valley Grange, the San Juan Mountain Association and the Center of Southwest Studies to collect the interviews.

In October, Marie Roessler, president of the Animas Valley Grange, plans to have all eight AHS teams that are recording oral histories of longtime north Animas Valley residents speak about their subjects at the grange.

“We have an idea of doing something with the elders in the valley,” she said. “We’re working with local historian Ruth Lambert, and at the same time, we wanted to figure out a way that we could get the youth involved with the grange community.”

Roessler said grange regulars are aging, and the grange is always looking for creative ways to involve more young people.

Sellers, who has taught at AHS for seven years, said when Roessler reached out to AHS about the project in January, he realized it was a perfect fit with his own interest of finding the stories and music “that fly below the radar in our culture.”

Sellers is also a filmmaker and location sound engineer, and he had the necessary equipment to obtain high-quality recordings. He also plays bass with the Six Dollar String Band.

“Hopefully, this project helps my students grow their curiosity about the things that surround them. I know it has for me, and that’s why I love teaching at Animas High. I hope it helps build their perspective on working people’s lives in their community,” Sellers wrote in an email.

Machicek said Shideler, Fallows and he had conducted background research on Honeyville but were surprised by many of Culhane’s stories imparted during their interview.

“We didn’t know about the Honeyville across the street,” he said, noting the operation’s former longtime home was across U.S. Highway 550 from its present location.

“We sold honey out of the front room, the living room,” Culhane told the students.

Essentially, Honeyville is a family’s story.

“We look at it as a family business, and our beekeepers are pretty much family operations, and like us, they’ve been doing it most of their lives,” he said.