“When I look back, it makes me feel awfully old. In fact my great-grandson asked,”Grandpa, were you here when the dinosaurs were here?’”
Well, not quite, but Vern Jetley is celebrating 89 years today and is a very interesting person with not only a rich heritage, but years of his own experience.
If you ever want to know anything about the Montrose Lions Club, ask Jetley, who has been the club historian for years. If you ever want to know anything about the Aspinall water project, ask Jetley. He was the official BLM photographer during the years of construction of the dams, photographing the entire project, start to finish. He has given several photographic programs using the duplicate photographs given back to him by the Bureau.
Jetley can also tell you about the Hope Lutheran Church history, having been a member for many years. He has an endearment for former minister of the Presbyterian Church, Mark Warner, and his connection with the Lion’s Club and the first road built to the south rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.
Curious about the Dave Wood Road and Horsefly area? Jetley has had a ranch for years on what was referred to as Brown Springs and was used as a stagecoach stop in the very early years. He continues to love being at his ranch, but has pretty much turned over the work to family, including a great-grandson.
Jetley’s great grandparents immigrated from Voss, Norway in the late 1850s, long before Ellis Island was established in 1892. At that time the family name was Gjeitle, but according to Vern, “Norwegians were good about taking on any name they chose.”
The family first settled in Iowa, but had a terrible time with their crops due to insects, primarily grasshoppers. Due to a treaty with the Native Americans, the Dakota Territory opened for settlement, so they considered homesteading there. Vern’s great-grandfather and a man named Myron made a daring exploration across the river in order to choose their places. When the river froze over, the families were able to cross with their wagons and goods, building dugouts for homes.
Vern’s great-grandmother was pregnant when the settlers were spooked by Yankton Sioux. They all ran away, but she was unable to, so stayed and was helped by the Indians. She gave birth to twins which the Indians believed to be “big medicine.” They brought food and were most helpful. Vern’s grandfather was considered the first white child born in S. Dakota—the year 1860. Sadly his twin brother died at the age of 16 from an accidental shotgun wound.
Vern’s great-grandparents worked to establish a Lutheran ministry in the new territory. Pastor Peder Dahl came to serve the new little church, bringing his sister Karen
Dahl to assist. Vern’s grandfather fell in love with Karen, taking her as his bride.
In 2012, Vern took his family on a heritage trek where they were able to visit the Vangren Lutheran Church at Mission Hill. It now bears a historical marker and retains its original pews, communion ware, etc.
There is an old cemetery on the grounds where the tombstone of Rev. Peder Dahl lies, as well as a large monument to him. Vern’s great-grandparents large home remains nearby on their former homestead. In 1907, Vern’s father, at the age of 21, was leaving home in order to homestead in S. Dakota, the place where Vern was born. A family photo recorded the occasion. On their 2012 visit, 105 years later, Vern’s family posed for a photo in the same spot.
Also in 2012, Vern and family visited the Pierre SD Heritage Center, learning that Vern’s grandfather served as a state senator in1895; his photo still hangs in the capitol building. It was after he was a senator that he changed the family name to the current spelling of Jetley.
Vern was always curious as to how pictures were made. When he was 16, his mother bought him a little box camera. Soon, he went to work for a local photographer, asked a lot of questions and developed a desire to know more.
Lying about his age, Vern joined the National Guard at 17. He had served his time just as the Korean War was breaking out. By then he had fallen in love with Jean, the new teacher at the one-room community school. He really did not want to go into the regular service when he graduated. He and Jean were married in May—but then he was drafted into the Army!
Although it wasn’t in the plan, Vern enjoyed the Army. He became the post photographer at Ft. Knox, having some unique experiences and opportunities. He was able to attend photography school in Ft. Monmouth, NJ. When he came out of the Army, he ran a photo shop for several years.
Winters were hard in their small town, so a buddy talked him into going to Denver where he got a job doing aerial mapping; a lot of flying and a lot of being gone.
Vern’s brother was a Forest Ranger in Gunnison. Since the city was driving him crazy, he decided to move his family to Gunnison where he ran a photo shop. When the Bureau of Reclamation bought the Moncrief Ranch for their headquarters for building the dams, his wife Jean went to work for them as a secretary. When it was time to hire a photographer, Jean just happened to know a very good one! Jetley got the job and the rest is history—all recorded by him and his camera. They moved to Montrose.
Vern and Jean became the proud parents of two daughters, Barbara and Karen. Sadly he lost Jean a few years ago, but enjoys grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
He is a member of the Bored Coffee Club and recently retired from the board of the Montrose County Historical Museum after helping to get the roof built over the priceless artifacts. Happy Birthday, Vern, and thank you for all your contributions to our area!
Marilyn Cox, a native of Montrose County, grew up on a farm and was always surrounded by countless family members who instilled the love of family and history. She retired from the Montrose County School District and, for 21 years, served as curator of the Montrose County Historical Museum.