In 1950 a single engine Cessna airplane, piloted by Hubert Alphonse Amman, carried a Pueblo Chieftain & Star Journal photographer over Rye for photos of the area. Afterwards, his passenger guided him north to Beulah, and soon, the Cessna topped the trees at the crest of Signal Mountain, and they swooped down for a closer look at the beautiful Beulah Valley. After two 360-degree circles of the Valley, Phonse declared, “That’s where I’m going to raise my family.”
Phonse’s father was a Denver fireman with roots in Austria and Switzerland. His mother was a homemaker, born in Ballyhaunis, Ireland. Aviation was always part of Phonse’s core, solidified for the 15-year-old Denver teenager in 1927 when Charles Lindbergh completed his non-stop transatlantic flight to Paris. Later that year, Lindbergh arrived in Denver to promote U.S. commercial aviation and urge the city to build its own airport. An estimated 50,000 people gathered at Lowry Air Base, including Phonse Amman. Within four years, he enrolled in the Curtiss-Wright Ground School, the world’s oldest flying organization.
Phonse attended Annunciation High School. There he met the love of his life, and fellow student Helen Miroslavich. Helen’s father was a mailman of Slovenian and Croation descent and her mother was a homemaker born in Warsaw, Poland.
They married on Thanksgiving Day in 1935, the same year Phonse secured a position with the city of Denver as an airport line attendant (responsible for guiding, towing, parking, greeting and organizing aircraft). He cleaned the airplane cabin of Amelia Earhart, the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. In 1937 he took his first solo flight in a Fairchild 24.
In 1938, Phonse was hired along with Ed Knollonberger as the first two air traffic controllers of the now-gone Stapleton International Airport. At that time, the raised cupola was just large enough to hold two people. A well known family story includes best-selling author Dale Carnegie (How to Win Friends and Influence People), who Phonse spied running across the Denver Airport tarmac to catch his plane. From his tower position, Phonse called down to Carnegie and asked if he would sign his copy of the book, lowering the book and a pen in a bucket tied to a rope. Carnegie signed the book and ran on to catch his plane. When Phonse pulled the book back up to the tower, he looked at what Carnegie wrote: “You have got what it takes!”
Bright and capable, Phonse secured a job with the Civil Aeronautics Administration as an airport inspector in 1943 for a seven-state western region based in Kansas City, Missouri. He and Helen moved their growing family, which now included Larry (1936), Loretta (1938), Lorraine (1939), and Dick (1943).
In 1950, Phonse realized the dream of returning to Colorado when he took the job as Chief Air Traffic Controller to Pueblo, CO. Seven-year old Dick vividly recalled the inital drive from Pueblo to Beulah, feeling as though he was in a John Wayne movie, and expecting a band of Indians to descend the mountain at any moment.
Phonse was so excited to show the house he bought in the middle of towering ponderosa pine trees on the west end of the valley. Helen held back her shock and tears having just left her tidy, white-clapboard house. The shag-bark cabin with two small bedrooms, a 4-hole outhouse and one bath for a family of six (with Linda a month away from being born) was going to take some adjustment. For the kids, their new home looked like the best place in the world! They would name their new home ‘Shagbark’ (at that time homes were known by name rather than address). With no refrigerator, the family kept the butter, milk, and meat on a window ledge on the shady side of the house. Drinking water was piped directly from Middle Creek to a cistern and then to the cabin, and everyone knew not to completely drain their water glasses to avoid the sand at the bottom.
Linda was born in July 1950, and two and a half years later Laura was born in January 1953. Phonse had no choice but to start knocking down walls. The front screened porch was enlarged into a bedroom to accommodate the four girls. Phonse and Helen took the drafty bedroom on the north side of the house. Larry and Dick slept on a fold-out couch in a niche. They were close, and they thrived.
The newly revamped cabin became the family’s alpine retreat, complete with gingerbread trim. Phonse hand-painted the Peter Hunt folk design on the window shutters and flower boxes and then painted the chimney like a candy cane. He even built a doghouse to match. Phonse painted bright and whimsical pieces for his family. No one would know he was colorblind.
The young family raised chickens, geese, horses, goats, cats and dogs. The distinguished Afghan hounds they had raised and shown in Kansas City were unlike any dog folks in Beulah had ever seen. The canines quickly lost their long luxurious flowing hair to the ravages of Beulah’s cockleburs.
Phonse and Helen were active in the Beulah Community. Helen was a charter member of the Beulah Belles, a member of Home Demonstration Club, and Brownie scout leader. Both were a part of the original committee in 1952 to establish the first Beulah Yule Log festival. Phonse was a member of the Beulah School PTA, Boy Scouts, and editor of the Beulah Bugle first published in 1952. He and Ward Stryker printed copies in the basement of the Amman home, using an old duplicator machine. Phonse was a founding member of the Beulah Historical Society in 1974 and BHS Book Committee that wrote the comprehensive history of Beulah. A talented craftsman and artist Phonse’s articles and drawings were showcased in the monthly newsletter RegionAir, an air/flight publication.
They were part of the neighbors who bought bonds to help facilitate the building of the Beulah Community Center, and both were deeply involved parishioners with Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church.
Helen was a fabulous homemaker and cook. She was a teacher of love and demonstrated it by example–a strong, hardworking woman who absolutely embraced her vocation of motherhood. As a stay-at-home mother raising six kids in the Beulah mountains, there were never any dull moments for Helen. One time, she asked Larry and Dick to take two-year old Linda for a buggy stroll. The boys put Linda in the buggy, and set off for the front gate, and the steep hill down to Pine Avenue. They wondered aloud what a thrill it would be for Linda to coast down the steep hill in the buggy, but didn’t consider the sharp turn at the bottom of the hill. Linda wound up with a broken collar bone.
Phonse was a collector and restorer of old Ford Model T ’s. Whenever the family would go on an outing, he would tell the kids to keep their eyes “peeled” for any Model T cars parked by an old barn or in a field. If they saw one, they were told to “bark.” They considered themselves the barking children of Phonse and Helen Amman. On several occasions, they stopped by a farmhouse to give the owner five to ten bucks for a Model-T chassis and engine. It could be months or even years before they would go back to get it. Sometimes they even forgot where it was. The Amman property had 8 to 10 cars lined up in various stages of restoration. Among those was a 1911 Ford Model T, still owned and driven by Sandra Amman.
Summers offered all the kids a chance to make some money pulling weeds or bucking hay bales. The girls cleaned houses and cooked for some of the wealthy summer residents on Pine Drive. Dick recalls working with the Jones boys in the hay fields. Of course, they would save their money to go to the State Fair in August, a ten-dollar bill would last them all day in the 1950’s.
All four girls worked at the Beulah Inn from the early 1950’s-1975. Loretta and Lorraine put themselves through college waiting tables and washing dishes. Both of the restaurant owners the girls worked for were personal friends of Phonse and Helen, so the girls made sure they were exemplary employees!
Phonse taught a work ethic and a sense of responsibility. His daily drive to work at the original Pueblo Airport on the west side of town became a long commute after the new airport was built far east of the city. When the children reached high school age, he shutttled them every day–all six of them, over a span of 21 years–to a private Catholic high school in Pueblo.
Evenings, one could find him tinkering in his shop, a wood burning stove his source of warmth, creating something for his children and grandchildren. In the background, a record player taught him how to speak Spanish or Russian by the Berlitz method. His library of books and subjects was expansive. He taught all the grandkids to recite pi to the 20th power. He memorized the names of all the presidents and vice presidents and their spouses and years in office. Just because he could.
Helen passed away in October 1983, and Phonse passed away in June 1991. Linda recently passed away in October 2020. All are buried at Beulah Cemetery.
The legacy of nurturing imagination, self-expression, creativity and love that Phonse and Helen cultivated with all their children continues through their grandchildren and great grandchildren, today. The sky’s the limit for the Amman family. v