Helen Burchett, near Chimney Canyon, northwest of Sterling, shares the secret to living to 102: ‘Riding horses I guess.’
Ninety-two years ago, Helena Burchett’s doll was stolen. It wasn’t just any doll. Dolly Dimples was 8-year-old Burchett’s most prized possession.
That year, Burchett sold products for a cosmetics company during World War I to earn the doll they advertised. One had to sell a certain amount of product to earn the prize. Burchett rode her pony to the neighboring farms to take their orders. Once it came in, her mother would then help deliver the orders. The day came. Burchett sold enough.
Finally, a long brown box arrived at the post office. Her mother made her wait until they got all the way home to open it. When she did, she found herself staring at the exact Dolly Dimples from the picture.
One day, the neighbor girls were at Burchett’s house for ice cream, as her mother had one of the few ice cream makers around. One of the girls stole Dolly Dimples before leaving to Denver.
Burchett was heartbroken. She loved her doll and worked hard to earn her.
Burchett’s mother told her she couldn’t hold a grudge over a doll. So she never complained.
That’s the story Burchett’s daughter Sherry Wolf, 66, told at Burchett’s 100th birthday before presenting Burchett with the same brown box.
Burchett opened it and exclaimed, “My Dolly Dimples!”
Wolf spent years tracking down Dolly Dimples. When something finally surfaced on the Internet, Wolf jumped at the chance. It took time and the antique required significant restoration, but when the doll was finally in Burchett’s hands, Wolf knew it was worth it.
“I wasn’t sure she’d remember,” Wolf said. “But 92 years later she did.”
Burchett, now 103 years old, lives an active life in near Chimney Canyon, northwest of Sterling and three miles shy of Nebraska.
Helena Anna Carlena was born in 1913 at her parent’s ranch in Grover, Colorado, the youngest of five. Her father died of typhoid fever when she was just 3 years old.
Burchett’s mother ran a restaurant in Starbuck Park and all her children worked in the business. Burchett stood on a box and washed dishes. Her mother eventually aquired 223 acres of government land. Burchett and her siblings worked to plant grain and irrigate meadows, cook, clean and milk cows. Burchett attended Hudson School, a one-room school house. She then went to Evergreen High School and later attended the Emily Griffith School of Business in Denver.
She found herself working at a telephone office in Denver.
Her brother brought a fellow road department worker by the name of Don Burchett over for supper one night. Don and Helen hit if off. Don would travel to Denver to take Helen out after work. One night, he told her he was tired of traveling to Denver.
“Well, what are you going to do about it?” she asked him.
He replied, “I guess get married.”
That weekend they were married in Cheyenne, Wyoming. It was July 16, 1940.
The two moved to Fairplay, Colorado, and Don worked at a mine near Alma. Helen gave birth to Lynn, her first daughter. Soon after, Barbara was born. The family ended up working for Troutdale-in-the-Pines, a resort in Jefferson County. They needed a caretaker and hired Don. Helen helped with the horses, dudes, took care of the girls. At Troutdale, they had two more daughters — Sherry and Brenda.
Don and Helen celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in Sterling, Colorado. Don passed away in August 1995 at 89 years old. Helen still lives in the house they shared together. Now, her daughter, Wolf, lives with her.
Burchett still enjoys riding. Just last fall at 102, Burchett got back on a horse.
“I’ve rode ever since I was 8 years old,” Burchett said. “If I can get on them, I can ride them.”
Two of Burchett’s daughters live close by. They make sure to keep her included.
What’s the secret to living so long?
“She never looks back,” Wolf said. “She thinks about what she has to do today and what she’s doing next.”
Burchett’s house overlooked wide open expanse of rippling plains. Two large horses reside in her red barn. Homemade fountains fashioned out of old sinks bubble over peacefully near the porch. She can’t imagine living anywhere else.
She travels when she can. Burchett and Wolf recently took a trip to New Mexico to visit Burchett’s great-great-grand daughter Rheiny Ortega. Ortega and Burchett are exactly 101 years apart. Her family jokes Ortega is her little replacement. She looks forward to returning for a visit soon.
“I always come back and think, ‘What in the world did you leave here for?’ ” Burchett said. ❖
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