June Shaputis

June Shaputis and her macaw Bobo relax in their Buena Vista ara home.

She appreciates the man who has been by her side for 55 years.

In a dedication of one of her books, local historian June Shaputis writes, “Dedicated to my husband, Larry, because he loves me enough to crawl into the lilac bushes, brave the 6-foot high willows, pull the cactus from my tennis shoes, accompany me on most of my excursions, and help me with housework and cooking when I was buried under tomes of newspapers for 7 years—without ever losing his temper.”

Her three books delve into the history of Chaffee County, old cemeteries and outlying graves.

Every piece of research opens her mind up to the lives of those who lived before.

“I have learned that everyone has a story,” she says. “As I research, I get to know these people as if they are old friends.”

While she said her school days were filled with beloved history teachers who “were patient and really made the past come alive,” it was the loss of her second-born son, Scott, who died of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) that made her want to visit graves.

“I would see many gravestones covered in weeds and wanted to know their stories,” she says. “The loss of our son was horrific and very difficult, but that was the turning point for me, too. To research and learn the stories of those who were gone made them more real and memorable.”

Shaputis married Larry in Buena Vista when she was only 17. “We began having our children right away,” she says. “Larry worked for Climax Mine for 30 years and we both immersed ourselves into the community while raising our family.”

Larry and Shaputis both volunteered on the ambulance service, Larry for 16 years and she for 4. “Larry also worked on Search and Rescue for 20 years and helped start the Buena Vista Fire Department, which he served for 16 years. While he did that, I was also helping on the Women’s Auxillary, so we’d have hot soup for those on rescue missions when they returned.”

Shaputis says, “Larry’s pager was always going off. He might be lifting a fork of food to his mouth and it would go off and he’d be out the door. He was gone most holidays for emergencies.”

In her spare time, Shaputis enjoyed acting. She took on roles made famous by local melodrama playwright Margery Dorfmeister.

“The Incredible Cock-Eyed Liz,” and “He Promised Me Violets,” were hits and Shaputis enjoyed many performances held at Golder’s Nugget (now Jan’s Restaurant) and the old hotel (now Buena Vista Square.)

Shaputis laughs as she recalls the hotel being next to the train tracks. “Whenever a train passed by, the whole building shook and we had to stop our scene. Then we’d all sing, ‘I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,’ but as soon as the train passed by, we’d pick up on our lines right where we left off. That really amazed people.”

Shaputis says melodramas were a fun form of entertainment back in the day. “We also performed melodramas at Cottonwood Hot Springs and on stages that were in businesses at the location of The Branding Iron.” Other locations included performances at the correctional facility and in Salida for the High Country Fine Arts Association.

“When we moved here in 1963,” Shaputis says, “Buena Vista was still a pretty wild west town.”

She says she has some pretty vivid memories of how crazy it could get.

“I remember a female bartender/bouncer in one local bar literally throwing a man out the window, chair and all flying.” She says another memory is the day a rider came right through the front door of The Lariat on his palomino.

After Larry retired from Climax Mine, they moved to Nevada for 15 years. “We had to do this to bolster up Larry’s retirement,” Shaputis says. “We hated being away, but in the long run it helped set us up for retirement. When we came back, Larry finished out his career at the correctional facility.”

Shaputis is part Ogalala-Lakota Sioux Native American and feels a kinship with her heritage. For the past 9 years, they have hosted folks in the sweat lodge on their property, alongside three teepees. Their friend Longsoldier, a Lakota native, lives on the property and leads the groups in the Lakota native tongue as he guides the cleansing rituals. There are traditional prayers and songs, while the group prays for others in the dark of the sweat lodge with only the red glow of lava rocks, which are sprayed with water to create a sauna-like temperature in the lodge.

Shaputis says, “Longsoldier will also lead people on vision quests for 4 days, where the seeker is left alone in the wilderness without food or water during the trip. The purpose is to solicit visions. “They want to learn what their purpose is. What is the Creator asking of them?”

The past 5 years have presented Shaputis with debilitating health challenges but she sees a swing toward improved health.

“I’m anxious to get back out in the community and meet some of these new folks,” she says.

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