John Albert Roby
(1916 - 2007)
In the early Tuesday morning hours of September 12, 1916, Harriet and Albert Roby celebrated the arrival of their firstborn child. They called him John Albert Roby, though most would end up calling him Jack. Harriet and Albert had been married two years by this time, and Albert provided for his new family as many men in the area did - through hard work on one of the local Tonopah Placer Company dredges.
While the war raged on in Europe, the United States maintained a neutral stance for as long as they were able. It wasn't until the spring of 1917 that the United States declared war on Germany, joining the allies in World War I and forever changing America's relationship with the world. Jack was only seven months old.
His father, who was 27 years old at the time, may have had mixed emotions about the conflict, having grown up with a father who immigrated directly from Germany in his early adulthood. He was not alone. Nearly 28,000 Germans and Austrians were reported in Colorado in the 1910 census, and many still had a great allegiance for their home country.
Whatever his feelings were, Albert registered for the draft as the law required, and although he didn't claim an exemption, his wife and child depended on him for support, and this thankfully kept him out of his wartime obligation. Also especially fortunate for them all, as Harriet was six months pregnant with their second child.
On September 18, 1917, Harriet gave birth to a daughter - a precious baby whom they called Frances Virginia.
By the time the rest of the country saw an official mandatory sobering in January of 1919 with the ratification of the 18th Amendment, Colorado had already been dry for a full three years. Underground (and not so underground) bootleggers aside, this would remain official law for the next 14 years.
That same summer, the Treaty of Versailles was signed; it took effect on January 10, 1920 putting an official end to the war.
Around this time, the family moved from the silver town of Breckenridge to the coal town of Lafayette, within the Boulder county limits, and settled into a little house on Chester Street. Albert had taken a job as a repairman in a coal mine. Unfortunately, the post-war era brought about hard time for the coal mining industry. People were turning to alternative fuel sources and continuing labor strikes added to the instability of the industry's production.
On August 18, 1920, some 26 million other women throughout the United States, was finally given the right to vote as the 19th Amendment granted universal women's suffrage. Harriet, however, was among the lucky women of Colorado, which had been the very first state in the union to welcome women to the popular vote an entire 25 years earlier.
1921 brought about the construction of Colorado's concrete highways on it's main travel routes.
That following November election, Warren G. Harding won in a landslide, bringing the republican party back to the White House.In August of 1923, President Harding succumbs to a fatal illness and his office is replaced by Vice President Calvin Coolidge.
By 1924, Albert had given up his job at the coal mine and moved his family once more. They settled in Denver, and Albert got a job as a clerk at Tritch Hardware Company.
Tragedy struck the family in the spring of 1925, when Harriet suddenly took ill. At the young age of 8, Jack lost his mother to pneumonia.
Albert, knowing he could not rightfully care for two young children on his own, took them back to Lafayette to live with their aunt, Clara Newcomb, and family. There, Jack and Frances not only had a woman to look after them, but also the company of their three cousins, William, Alice and Dorothy.
During this time, Jack recalls walking to the local movie theater to see "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," starring Lon Chaney. He was so scared after watching the movie that he could barely make the walk back home on his own. But he liked it and never forgot it.
This situation at his Aunt's was more suitable to the family at the time, but in the spring of 1926, Clara's husband, William, died suddenly, and Clara was left alone caring for not only her three children, but also Albert's two as well. Albert knew he needed to find a mother figure for his two young and impressionable children as soon as possible. He found that figure in 31 year-old schoolteacher, Hazel Laskey Holman.
Hazel's husband had been suddenly killed three years earlier in a mining accident, leaving her all alone to make matters worse, she was three months pregnant. Also in need of a father-figure for her baby, Hazel and Albert found the perfect arrangement in one another. In May of 1927, Albert and Hazel were married, and little Jack and Frances found themselves with not only a new mother, but a new stepbrother, also named Jack. The family once again settled in Denver.
He and his siblings bickered and fought like siblings often do, especially those so close in age to one another and he and Frances were. The family would return to Breckenridge often to visit Albert's mother, Minnie, a sweet older woman who by this time lived all by herself, and whom the children loved.
Hazel's parents, John and Henrietta Laskey, took on a prominent role in Jack's upbringing, and he loved them with all of his heart. "Grandpa Laskey" ran a cattle ranch outside of Dillon, and during the summers Jack would spend all of his time out on the ranch, idolizing his new grandfather. To Jack, he was the greatest man he ever knew.
As a child in Denver, Jack spent much of his time in the mountains, soaking in the fresh pine air. Jack and his father would bond over fishing trips, and as he got a little older, Jack and his friends would disappear into the mountains for days on end, living off of the land, eating whatever they could catch. They entertained themselves by clearing out a spot in the ground to shoot marbles and challenge one another with various games.
But most of all, Jack looked forward to those summers at the ranch with his grandfather.
Shortly after his 11th birthday Jack likely would have witnessed the marvel of the first motion picture to include sound.
Although remaining in Denver, the family never put down roots in one specific home. They continued to move residences almost yearly.
The family attended church every Sunday, and went to Sunday school, and in the spring of 1928, Jack was baptized at the Central Presbyterian Church in Denver.
In November of this same year, republican President Herbert Hoover entered office.
Two months later, on October 29, 1929, the stock market plummeted, beginning what would later be known as the Great American Depression. Americans rushed to withdraw all of their money from the banks, causing them to fail dramatically. The demise of industrial production was soon to follow, and unemployment became the sad norm.
By 1930, Albert had begun working as a stock clerk at Whitney Sporting Goods Company.
Jack attended Northside High School in Denver. The school had a large population of Italian and Jewish students, but all generally got along very well. Outside of school, Jack spent his time as a Tenderfoot Scout in Denver's Boy Scout Troop Number 70.
It wasn't all scout's honor in those days though. At one time Jack and his friend Jake Ryan got mixed up with another classmate who wasn't the best influence. He picked Jack and Jake up in his fancy new car and drove them down to Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs to show them a good time. This wasn't the first fancy car the boys had seen him driving, and when they asked him about it, he said the cars were from his brother's car lot.
Well, turns out the cars were actually stolen, and the kid was later caught robbing a laundry as well. When faced with the authorities, he told them that Jack was actually the one who had stolen the cars, and he himself had only been the driver. Luckily, Hazel was there to take Jack's side, and explained everything to the police. It all worked out in the end, but was quite the scare for Jack at the time.
In December of 1933, when Jack was 16 years old, prohibition officially ended.
Jack had another close friend during this time who's dad had an old car. He'd let the kids borrow the car and on Saturdays they'd go around picking up old newspapers, which they'd then sell to a company for cash. The boys would then use the money they'd earned to buy prom tickets so that they could take their girlfriends to the dance. They made sure to clean the car up real nice to impress the ladies before picking them up.
When Jack was in his senior year of high school, Albert became sick to the point he could no longer work. Jack left school to get a job and help provide for the family until his father was well enough to return to work, leading to him graduating mid-term.
After high school, Jack went to Colorado State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts (Colorado A&M) in Fort Collins. He had to work his way through school, but the faculty saw great promise in him. So much so, that one day the dean pulled Jack into his office and offered to lend him $1,500 so that he could concentrate fully on his studies. Unable to foresee any possible way he could ever make enough money to pay him back, Jack turned the offer down and quit school after his 2nd year.
Around this time, Jack had gotten a job as a salesman. He was still living at home with his parents, but spent the majority of his time on the road. He traveled throughout the west, first with a supervisor, and then on his own, selling adhesive bandages to druggists, and later cleaning supplies to Catholic institutions.
On one of his trips through northern California, he encountered a part of town that had been hit hard by a recent storm. The two-lane road into town was closed due to flooding, and local authorities weren't permitting anyone past. Jack, however, used his charm to explain to them his need to visit the local druggist on business, and they allowed him to pass so long as he was in and out immediately after. On the way back out of town, Jack noticed a car in the distance, heading straight toward him on his side of the road. As it came closer and closer, Jack slowed to a stop, watching the entire time as it collided head on into him at full speed. Jack's car was completely demolished, and he spent the next several days recovering in a local hotel room until he was finally able to take a bus back to Denver. It is unknown what became of the three drunk Mexicans that were in the other vehicle.
Shortly after this incident, a few of Jack's friends who worked as shoe salesmen mentioned Jack should join them in their business. Seeing that they were doing pretty well for themselves, he took them up on the idea and joined Edison Brothers as a salesman for a while. The company maintained during the Great Depression by emphasizing lower-priced Baker's shoes.
Later, another close friend of Jack's spoke with him about coming to work with him at the Hall (Continental) Baking Company - best known for their Wonder Bread, Hostess, and Twinkies. He worked in the Happy Home Bakery division, with a truck and a delivery route of his own, delivering from door to door. He used his salesman's skills to sell pies, cookies, breads and cakes, but he didn't stop there.
One day he got the idea that perhaps his customers would like to have fresh donuts. He started taking orders from the homes he visited, and at just after 2 o'clock in the morning, when the donuts were fresh from the oven, he'd load up his truck and deliver them to each doorstep. That way just as soon as his customers woke they'd have fresh donuts waiting for them when they opened their doors.
During this time, Jack would occasionally spend time with a girl in Denver when he was in town. Born of Jewish Russian immigrant parents, Esther Berman and her siblings had grown up in Colorado. A very intelligent young lady, she worked as an accountant at a local company there in Denver. She and Jack would go to a movie or play cards at her sister's house, who lived just down the street from Jack's parents. They'd see one another off and on for years, and eventually fell madly in love. In June of 1939, 22 year-old Jack and Esther traveled to Littleton to be wed by a Justice of the Peace. Esther's brother and sister stood in as witnesses.
That fall, the United States once again declared its neutrality in the European war. Jack quit his job at the Baking Company and returned to Edison Brothers. He initially wanted to work part time, but seeing great potential in Jack, one of his managers took an active interest in him and convinced him to come on full-time.
Not long after their marriage, Esther had an emergency appendix operation, during which a foreign substance found its way into her bloodstream and made its way to her brain. She lost the ability to both read and write, and she suddenly found herself with pinpoint vision. The couple counted themselves lucky that Esther seemed otherwise healthy, and had a physician there in Denver to continue treating her in her new condition.
In September of 1940, amidst an escalating situation in Europe, the U.S. Congress enacted the first peacetime conscription draft. All men between the ages of 21 and 45 were required to register for military service. On October 16th, 24 year-old Jack did his patriotic duty and filled out his draft registration card. Shortly after, F.D.R. won his third presidential election, becoming the first man to hold office for three (and later four) terms.
In 1941, news hit of the terrifying and tragic Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and the U.S. declaration of war that followed. Daily life became challenging as families constantly prepared for attacks on American soil and rationed food and common supplies to support the war effort. Edison Brothers also saw the effects of rationing as up to 40% of the nation's sole leather supply was slated for military use. The company tried their hand at a line of millinery, called the "Casual Hat Bar Operation", but this was hardly a success.
When Jack got offered a position with Edison as a window-dresser in one of the biggest stores in Chicago, he brought the opportunity to Esther. Her doctor in Denver told them that if she didn't have specific medication she would die, making the move quite a risk. After several long discussions, Jack took the job, and the two of them relocated to Illinois.
Jack found them an apartment on the north side of Chicago near Wrigley field, and found himself taking to the hustle and bustle of the big city like a fish to water. He loved the fact that in Chicago, there was always something interesting to do. They lived in one of the biggest cities, head of the famous "mother-road", Route 66.
They found a doctor in the medical school at University of Chicago who was very much interested in Esther's case. He believed that when one side of the brain was damaged, the other side could be developed to compensate. Given a glimmer of hope, the couple found an apartment right next to the campus, and every day Esther would go for her treatments. Stationed close by were a number of sailors who made it their duty to take care of Esther, making sure she got to campus and back home again safely.
At one point, the doctor wanted Esther to come stay in the hospital for a period of time so that he could work with her on a more full-time basis. When they were finally notified that a bed was made ready for Esther, Jack regretfully informed the hospital that he could not afford to pay for such treatment at that time. By the time they'd left Denver, Esther's medical bills had reached over $5,000 and they were doing all they could at the time to pay those outstanding bills. The nurse called back shortly asking Jack if he could afford to pay a dollar a day. He agreed that that was manageable, and she made him a deal. They wanted Esther to stay at the hospital for a month's time at a dollar a day, and if they needed her any longer than that, it would be free.
During the time Esther was being treated at the University of Chicago, Physicist Enrico Fermi had also set up an experiment on a small squash court in the basement below the university stadium. It was here that he produced the first self-sustaining nuclear fission chain reaction, solidifying the actuality of atomic energy.
While great progress was being made on the campus in regards to homeland security, Esther made a little progress during her stay at the hospital, but nothing truly of note. Shortly thereafter, Jack was transferred to Detroit, and the couple made their way north to their new city. They remained there for a while, but never quite settled in to it the way they had Chicago, and both were probably thankful when they found they were being transferred once more - this time to Rochester, New York.
In the time they lived in Rochester, it was one of 19 cities across the United States and Canada to be home to the Manhattan Project, the States' secret plan to develop the atomic bomb. Very few people knew exactly what they were working to build at the time.
On April 12, 1945, at the height of the war, President Roosevelt died suddenly, and Vice President Harry S. Truman assumed the role of President. Four months later Truman issued orders for the use of the atomic bomb on both Hiroshima and Nagasaki, leading to the surrender of the Japanese delegation and the end of WWII.
August 14, 1945 was celebrated as Victory Over Japan, or "V-J Day". There was singing, dancing, bonfires, and fireworks in the street, and Truman was hailed as a national hero. Jack's business sprung back into action as if it had hardly been dampened, and new style demands pushed women to update their shoe wardrobes.
It may have been a time of peace, but the conflict was not over. Instead, a new period of Cold War began and fear of the communist threat began to sneak into the American psyche. It's hard to imagine what this time must have been like for the couple, Esther, coming from a family of strictly Russian origins.
Jack became a member of the Elks' Lodge No.24 out of Rochester, in 1946. It was around that time that he and Esther began serious talks of trying to start a family. Up until this time they'd put it off, knowing that it would be difficult to care for a baby with all of Esther's health concerns, but she wanted a baby more than anything in the world. God had been good to them so far, and they knew He would find a way for them if it was meant to be.
That fall, he and Esther found themselves expecting their first child.
In the spring of 1947, Jack was transferred once again, this time to St. Louis, Missouri, the headquarters of Edison Brothers. Apartments were hard to come by in that time, and so Esther headed back to Denver to stay with her parents while Jack secured a home for them in the midwest.
One day Jack received a call from Esther's brother, urging him to come home, as she was very ill and in the hospital. It seemed the world was working against Jack in his rush to get back to Denver, but when he finally arrived, Esther opened her eyes and looked upon Jack once more before she took her last breath. He arrived just in time to say goodbye to the love of his life, as she passed on into the next. They had been married 8 years. Doctors tried to save the baby, but it would not survive.
Jack buried his wife and child at Mount Nebo Memorial Park in Arapahoe, and to this day you can see her grave, headstone inscribed:
"In memory of Esther Berman Roby... From the tree of life, two leaves, two lives... here rests a baby in the arms of her mother."
After her death, the lonely widowed Jack found himself alone in St. Louis, without a permanent home. It was here that he met another beautiful, young brunette. During an extended stay at the Mayflower hotel, Jack struck up a flirtation with the girl working the hotel desk, Miss Lorraine Charlotte Stevens. Although it was against hotel policy, Jack got permission from her manager to take Lorraine out on an official date, and by May of 1948, they were engaged.
When news got out that Jack was to be married, a close friend and coworker of his asked him for a favor. He wanted Jack and Lorraine to be married in his home. Surrounded by friends and family, initiated by a minister, the two were married in the warmest and most intimate of settings.
Just a few months after their wedding, Lorraine found herself pregnant and the following spring gave birth to their first child - a boy whom they named Gregg Alan. Around this same time, Edison Brothers opened it's 200th store and first store in a shopping mall.
Times were booming for Jack.
The summer of 1950 saw war once again - this time in Korea. It lasted three years, but is often termed the "Forgotten War". In addition, the "Red Scare" was really starting to intensify.
Almost two years to the day from the birth of their son, Lorraine gave birth to a little girl. They named her Debra Lynn.
The election of Dwight D. Eisenhower was another landslide in 1952.
That same year, the first color televisions go on sale. NBC was the only network to broadcast in color at the time, and the sets were very expensive, so they didn't really gain household popularity until the early 1960's.
In March of 1954, Jack and Lorraine welcomed their third child, a son named John Douglas.
May of 1955 brought the integration of public schools in the United States with "deliberate speed", and January of that same year Rosa Parks infamously refused to give up her seat to a white man on the public bus. The next several years would be marked by civil rights protests that would change the face of American society as everyone up until this point had known it.
With their new family of five, Jack and Lorraine took out a $17,000 loan for a 3-bedroom home in Crestwood Hills. It was the home their children would grow up in, and a neighborhood where Jack would find himself at home. He eventually joined the Crestwood Home Owners Association and participated in (and also judged) the Christmas home decorating competitions.
In 1958, Edison sales went above $100 million after opening its 300th store.
By the 1960's Edison Brothers had expanded into women's clothing and children's shoes, and later began acquiring other retail chains.
That November, the United States bid farewell to President Eisenhower and welcomed John F. Kennedy to the White House.
In January of 1962, Jack was serving as chairman of the Crestwood Homeowners Association when a zoning issue threw the neighborhood into debate. The City Zoning Commission proposed the construction of 12 two-story apartment buildings on a 12-acre site behind the 9400 block of Watson road, but Jack and his fellow committee members argued against it. "He argued that the passage of the amendment would lead to other multiple dwelling projects in the city. He contended that the proposal should be submitted to a public vote, that the proposed amendment was special legislation of questionable legality and that the aldermen were acting hastily without sufficient time to study the final plan drawn up by the Layton firm."
The fall of that same year brought about the Cuban Missile Crisis, a conflict which lasted a total of 38 harrowing days in which many believed the Cold War might actually break into armed conflict.
Despite the political upheaval of the season, Jack and the family kept their focus closer to home and prepared themselves for the holidays to come. That year, their home won the Crestwood Christmas Decorating contest, and the following year Jack acted as an honorary judge.
On May 22, 1963, Jack lost his father. Albert passed away in Oregon at the age of 73.
That summer, the Civil Rights movement raged on with a march on Washington D.C. and Dr. Martin Luther King's iconic "I Have a Dream" speech.
The tumultuous era continued with the assassination of President Kennedy on November 22, 1963. It was an event that would shake the nation to its very core.
March of 1965 brought about the decision to send American troops to the war in Vietnam.
That October, the great Gateway Arch of St. Louis was completed.
On April 4, 1968, another devastating assassination rocked the United States - that of Martin Luther King. Race riots were rampant in Kansas City in response to his death. Almost two months later to the day, presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy is shot at a campaign victory celebration. He died one day later.
That November, Richard M. Nixon took to the White House.
In the summer of 1969, millions sat around their living room televisions and witnessed the unimaginable: Neil Armstrong's first steps on the moon.
In 1970, Edison Brothers acquired 5-7-9 shops and launched the Wild Pair shoe operation in 1972.
This same year, Americans witnessed the Watergate crisis as well as the re-election of President Nixon, and the beginning of his downfall. His impeachment proceedings took place throughout 1974, and ended with his resignation on August 9th.
In May of 1977, the talk of the people was the release of the movie Star Wars, the highest grossing film to date.
In June of 1980, the Jack and Lorraine made the final payment on their home on Gayle and proudly collected the title.
That November, Ronald Reagan is elected the 40th president of the United States. Three months later, he is shot in the chest during a failed assassination attempt while walking to his limousine.
In September of 1981, Jack retired from Edison Brothers, and started a new phase of his life. In his time with the company, he had seen them grow from about 100 humble locations to a franchise making over the $1 billion mark. Just as in his youth, he spent much of his free time in the outdoors, hunting with friends and the Big Game Hunters Club, or playing a couple rounds of golf.
In January of 1986, the Challenger Space Shuttle exploded after lift off.
On October 19, 1987, the stock market crash known as Black Monday occurred with a historical 22.6% drop in one day.
In November of 1988, George H.W. Bush was elected President of the United States, and one year later, the Berlin Wall came down after thirty-eight years. The overarching message to the world at large was that the Cold War was finally coming to an end.
In August of 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait, thus beginning the involvement of the U.S. in the Gulf War. Operation Desert Storm began in January of 1991 with air strikes against Iraq and in February of the following year a cease fire is declared, ending the war.
November of 1992 saw the election of Democratic President Bill Clinton.
February of 1993 was one of many tragic deaths with both the bombing of the World Trade Center by Islamic terrorists as well as the 51-day standoff in Waco, Texas of the Branch Davidian cult leader David Koresh. Closer to home, the Great Flood of 1993 swept over the midwest, devastating many parts of St. Louis.
Then, in the summer of 1994, there was the O.J. Simpson trial, one of the highest profile murder cases in the nation's history. Americans everywhere were glued to their televisions as live news covered the infamous high-speed white Bronco chase.
In the spring of 1995, anarchists Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols detonate a bomb outside of a federal building in Oklahoma City in yet another domestic terrorism attack.
July of 1996 big news was announced in the shape of a sheep. Dolly was the first mammal to be successfully cloned, beginning a strong debate on both animal rights ethics and the potential ability to do the same on humans.
On September 11, 2001, Jack likely watched on television with millions of others around the world, as the news broadcast the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
In December of 2003, Lorraine's health began rapidly fading. By January of 2004, she had slipped into a coma, and the family gathered to her bedside as she slipped away on New Year's Day. They had been married 58 years, and though their marriage was not always the perfect semblance of marital bliss, her passing effected him greatly.
Jack spent his remaining widowed years spending time with his children and, of course, new lady friend, who drove him around when his drivers license was eventually revoked. His health gradually faded, but his passion for life never did.
After an extended stay at Barnes Jewish Hospital, in January 15, 2007, Jack passed away from congestive heart failure. Jack's body was cremated according to his wishes, and a small, private memorial service was held by the family at Southminster Presbyterian Church, just down the road from his home, while Lynard Skynard's "Freebird" played just for him.