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Monthly Archives: April 2016

John Iliff: The Man Who Died Once, But Was Buried Twice.

Audio: John Iliff The Man Who Died Once, But Was Buried Twice

John Wesley Iliff was a pioneer. He was a cattle baron. When the pioneers were coming to Colorado, they thought there was something magic in coffee beans because, as they came across the plains they noticed that anybody who drank coffee did not get this terrible condition called dysentery.

Well, apparently Mr. Iliff did not get that memo, because he drank some bad water and died.  His wife, Elizabeth, she was so heartbroken, she bought the biggest, best plot at Riverside for him, and then she ordered from Maine a $15,000, 65 ton granite monument. It took six flat railroad cars to transport the 30-foot high monument, and then 10 teams of horses to haul it to Riverside Cemetery, where he laid in state.

Well, April 13th, 1920, his daughter said Riverside is not the place for father any longer. No, no, no, no. We want to move him to the better, the nicer, the fairer Fairmount Cemetery.

So, they hired a team and brought John Wesley Iliff and his 65 ton monument to Fairmount Cemetery.  His plot over at Riverside is still empty. When I tell this story  I have a little poem I conclude it with, which is:

 Here is the story. It’s about an amazing plot, for as you can see, it’s pretty much an empty lot. Mr. John Iliff had more wealth than health. In fact, being buried twice is his honor, but despite the move, he’s still a goner.


When Omar Blair graduated Albuquerque High School in New Mexico, 1936, the school board insisted that he and five other black graduates sit behind their 600 white classmates in the auditorium. As diplomas were doled out, white students go to walk through a spotlight toward the podium where they received their diplomas. The black students walked in darkness so that no one would notice them.

By all accounts, Omar Blair walked proudly to the podium when his name was called. In darkness or light, he knew who he was, and he knew what he had accomplished. He was a straight A student, proud of his hard work and proud of his education.

Prior to joining the Army Air Corps, Omar attended the University of California at Los Angeles for two years. World War II was about to pull the United States head on into armed conflict. Omar became a Captain in the all-black 332nd Fighter Squadron, better known as the Tuskegee Airmen. His men soon came to know him as a man of uncommon daring.

For instance at one point, Omar’s fighter squadron was tasked to escort a bombing raid over the German central command in Berlin. Omar knew that his squadron’s planes could not make this run outfitted as they were; their fuel tanks were too small to go the distance with the bombers. As it happened, he learned that some larger fuel tanks were on an Army train bound from Naples. So Omar organized his own convoy, halted the train (one might say “held the train up”), commandeered the tanks (one might say “stole them”), and had them fitted to the aircraft in his squadron. After that, the mission to escort the bombers went off perfectly.

In the early 1950s, Omar and his wife Jeweldine moved to Denver where he soon became a leading progressive voice in community affairs. The father of three children, he nonetheless found time to run for and get elected to Denver’s Board of Education where he served from 1972 to 1984. He spent four years as board president and was the first African-American ever to do so.

Omar’s tenure as president was arguably one of the stormiest in Denver’s history. The city was working hard to desegregate its school system. Racial tensions swung wildly out of control and, during the tumult, 37 school buses were bombed.

Through it all, Omar never wavered on his commitment to civil rights for all. “The kids are what it’s all about,” he said on many occasions.

He cared less about having black and white students sit with one another, more about creating the foundation for true equality in education — that all children, regardless of race, creed, or color could receive new textbooks, trained teachers, lasting respect, and the hope of a life where they were in charge of their own destinies.

In 1979, 43 years after he graduated Albuquerque High School, Omar was named that institution’s “Most Distinguished Graduate of the Past 100 Years.” Not long after that, in 1984, Omar was awarded an honorary “Doctorate of Public Service” from the Metropolitan State College of Denver in commemoration of his leadership and unwavering commitment to equality for all.

Among his many other accolades, Omar counted the American-Israel Friendship League’s Partners in Education Award and the U.S. Department of Justice Award for Outstanding Community Service. His church, Shorter Community AME, dedicated its community room in his name.

In 2003, the City and County of Denver named the $16.5 million Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library in recognition of Omar’s lifetime of service to our community. The Caldwell co-honored in the facility’s title is Elvin Caldwell, Sr., the first African-American member of Denver’s City Council.

When asked the secret to his immense success and unwavering moral compass, Omar attributed everything to his 52 years of marriage to Jeweldine. “You can put this in big bold letters,” he told a local reporter. “Without her I would not be half the person I am and I know that.”

The Omar D. Blair Charter School on Cathay Street was named in Omar’s honor.

In this life full of conflict, injustice, and inequality, we cherish those souls who refuse to walk any path but the path of justice. For this reason, and in honor of his life and many accomplishments, we at Fairmount Cemetery proudly safeguard the mortal remains of Denver’s own Omar D. Blair.

A Man of the People Gov. Samuel Hitt Elbert (1833 – 1899)

Throughout the ages and across all cultures, people have celebrated so-called “common” men and women who rose to prominence by little  more than their dedication, hard work, and vision. One such man, undoubtedly, is Samuel Hitt Elbert.

Born in Logan County, Ohio, Samuel and his family moved to Iowa (which was then a territory) when he was seven years old. His father was a learned man, Dr. John Downs Elbert, a physician and a surgeon. His mother’s name is recorded as Achsa Hitt Elbert — not much else is known about her.

Samuel studied agriculture at the public school he attended. Later, at Ohio Wesleyan University, he turned toward law and graduated in 1854. For the next two years, he continued his studies in Dayton, Ohio before being admitted to the bar. Samuel then moved to the Nebraska Territory, and specifically the town of Plattsburgh, where he established his law practice.

A capable leader renowned for his sound and fair judgement, Samuel was elected to the Nebraska legislature in 1860 as a Republican. From 1862 to 1867, he served as Secretary of the Colorado Territory where he helped the Republican party plant its roots and grow. As Secretary, Samuel served as acting governor whenever Governor Evans was unavailable.

In 1865, he married Josephine Evans, the daughter of his mentor, John Evans, who at that time served as Governor of the Colorado Territory. He continued to serve as Secretary of the Territory when Governor Evans passed the office to his successor Governor Alexander Cummings.

In 1873, President Ulysses S. Grant appointed Samuel the sixth Governor of Colorado. The position lasted just over one year, until Samuel’s predecessor Edward Moody McCook could be reappointed. However, during Samuel’s time in office, he hosted Grant in his very own home during what amounted to Colorado’s first visit by a U.S. President.

In the summer of 1873, Samuel took President Grant on a tour of Central City and helped preside over a groundbreaking meeting with leaders of the Native American Ute tribe. The Ute reservation occupied more than 3 million acres, all of which could be used to enhance the productivity of the state’s mining and railroad enterprises. Samuel worked hard and brokered a treaty with the Utes that was designed to work to everyone’s advantage. By doing so, he paved the way for a new and thriving Colorado economy.  

Samuel also drew upon his agricultural expertise as Governor. In particular, he championed various initiatives designed to equip Colorado with modern irrigation. Samuel knew that the state could not grow without water for crops. As such, he helped found the Western Irrigation Conference which wrote many of the state’s water laws, some of which are still in effect today.

Samuel was later appointed to the Supreme Court of Colorado where he served with distinction from 1877 to 1889. From 1879 to 1883, he held the position of the State Supreme Court’s Chief Justice. He resigned from the Court due to poor health. He died ten years later on November 27, 1899. He is buried in Block 13, Lot 68.

Today, the name Elbert has become a regular feature in the life of Colorado. Samuel Hitt Elbert has a county, city, and mountain peak named after him.

Perhaps fittingly, Mt. Elbert is Colorado’s highest mountain. Legend holds it was named after Samuel to recognize his many efforts to open the Southern Ute land to mining and railroad enterprises.

Everyone starts out the same in life. If nothing else, cemeteries prove that we all end up the same, as well. But the time we live in-between these two polarities can be very different, indeed, and perhaps, in the final assessment, says a great deal about our character. For this reason, we at Riverside Cemetery take great pride in stewarding the remains and memory of a great Coloradoan, Governor Samuel Hitt Elbert.



Joe Sakato at the Nisei War Memorial in Denver, taken during a March, 2014 photo shoot. He’s holding a photo of himself being awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

Joe Sakato at the Nisei War Memorial in Denver, taken during a March, 2014 photo shoot. He’s holding a photo of himself being awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

The Congressional Medal of Honor is the highest military honor the United States government can bestow upon one of its soldiers. The President awards it himself to commemorate acts of valor above and beyond the call of duty.

No wonder, George Taro Sakato received it — albeit belatedly — on June 21, 2000.

George — better known to his friends as Joe — was born on February 19, 1921 in Colton, California. He was the youngest and smallest of five brothers.

“I was skinny and I got pneumonia, chickenpox, measles, anything that came by,” he told Densho, the Seattle-based Japanese-American Legacy Project, in 2009.

Joe’s parents owned a barber shop but later moved to the town of Redlands to open a meat market and grocery.

On December 7, 1941, Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor, which pulled the United States headlong into World War II. In those times, it was decided that Japanese-American citizens (called Nisei) on the West Coast should be rounded up and placed in internment camps to neutralize the possibility of spy networks passing vital information to the Axis powers. Hoping to avoid this treatment, members of the Sakato family uprooted themselves and moved to Phoenix, Arizona.

While in living in Phoenix, Joe tried to enlist in the Army Air Forces. The military rejected him based on his race, but the regular Army accepted him as an infantry fighter the following year.

Joe recalled his reasons for wanting to join the military in a 2003 PBS program. “To prove our loyalty,” he said. “I’m an American and I want to be respected as an American even though I look like the enemy.”

From the outset, Joe showed very little talent for soldiering. During basic training, it became clear that he wasn’t much good with a rifle. Also, at 5 feet 4 inches tall, he was miserable at the obstacle course.

Despite these drawbacks, Joe performed extraordinary feats of heroism. He volunteered for the Army’s all-Nisei 442nd Regimental Combat Team and was assigned to its 3rd platoon, Company E, 2nd Battalion. This unit was mostly made up of Americans of Japanese descent from Hawaii and the mainland.

Joe Sakato is second from the front in the left row in this WWII photograph of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

Joe Sakato is second from the front in the left row in this WWII photograph of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

During a firefight in the Vosges Mountains, northeast France in October 1944, he killed five German soldiers and captured four others before making a one-man rush against a heavily fortified hilltop position that won the hill and changed the balance of power on that particular battlefield. When the leader of Joe’s squad was killed, he took charge of the men, killing seven more enemy soldiers and playing a major role in capturing about thirty additional prisoners.

Having received a wound, Joe was evacuated to the United States where racial tensions ostracized him despite his exemplary service.

“I can remember going into a restaurant for a cup of coffee and the two waitresses wouldn’t even wait on me,” he told the Stars and Stripes in 2013.

In commemoration of his distinguished deeds, Private Joe Sakato received the Army’s second-highest award for bravery, the Distinguished Service Cross. He was recommended for the Medal of Honor but denied it based on his race.

He later settled in Denver where he took a job as a postal worker.

Joe and 21 other Asian-Americans were finally awarded the Medal of Honor by President Clinton fifty-five years after World War II ended. Since so much time had passed, fifteen of the medals were bestowed posthumously.

Joe was involved with creating the memorial along with Richard H Shay, Fairmount president and past chairman of the board.

At Fairmount Cemetery, we believe that the story of Joe Sakato — his humble life, his immense bravery, and the great love he held for our country — qualifies him as a true American hero. We feel honored that this brave man chose to settle right here in Denver, and proud to act as stewards for his memory and remains.


Carl A. Norgren – Inventor, Industrialist and Serial Entrepreneur

Watch “Carl A. Norgren, 1990 Colorado Business Hall of Fame Laureate” on YouTube

Kitchen Table Inventor

Carl A. Norgren was an American businessman of singular distinction.

Trained as a mechanical engineer, Mr. Norgren designed a hose coupling for his kitchen in 1925. The new product’s potential prompted him to create his own manufacturing company, Norgren USA, which he started with $800.

Two years later, Mr. Norgren sat down at his kitchen table and sketched plans for what would later become the world’s first lubricator. This ingenious device essentially created a multi-billion dollar industry for pneumatic fluid and motion control products.

Norgren and a partner purchased the Byers Peak Ranch near the town of Fraser on the northern edge of Arapaho State Forest. The 446-acre ranch was known as the “Western White House” since, during his presidency, Dwight D. Eisenhower would frequently visited to go fishing. Norgren was a personal friend of both President Eisenhower and President Hoover; he was invited to attend both of Ike’s inaugurations in 1953 and 1957.

From 1955 to 1963, Norgren served as President of the Denver Museum of Natural History (now called Denver Museum of Nature and Science). He also served on at least nine boards, including those of the First National Bank of Englewood, Denver Zoological Foundation, and National Council of the Boy Scouts of America. Carl Norgren was heavily involved with the boy scouts. As thanks for his dedication and involvement, that organization honored him with two awards: the silver beaver and silver antelope.

Business Hall of Fame

Mr. Norgren was also an organizer of the Pinehurst Country Club as well as a member of the Denver Athletic Club and Cherry Hills Country Club. He was an inductee into the Colorado Business Hall of Fame.

Norgren’s company eventually grew so much that it had to build its own plant in Littleton. Still in operation today, this facility was once cited by Factory Magazine among its Top Ten Plants of the Year for its pleasant grounds, safe working environment, and unique employee participation plan.

Carl Norgren believed that his employees were his company’s greatest asset. As such, he created an employee profit sharing program and work schedules that offered three to four day work weeks. Under this system, employees could enjoy more leisure time with their families. Contrary to current beliefs, Norgren’s program created a more relaxed and creative working environment, increased employee loyalty, and a better bottom line for the institution overall

Mr. Norgren and his wife retired to Arizona where he passed away in 1968. Though Norgren USA was sold in 1973, the company continued to bear Carl’s name, likely as a nod to the spirit and vision of the company’s founder.

Billion Dollar Business

Today, Norgren USA has joined the global family of IMI Precision Engineering. The company enjoys well over a billion dollars in revenue with sales and service networks operating in 75 countries. Norgren USA now offers Supply chain capacity and sector expertise in the fields of industrial automation, life sciences, energy, rail, commercial vehicles, plus the food & beverages industry.

Despite its explosive growth, the company continues to champion the uncompromising quality and enlightened work standards that Carl Norgren set into motion. For all these reasons and more, we at Fairmount Cemetery are proud to steward the remains and final resting place of this inspirational entrepreneur.