With the death of Kathy Conley, 76, southern Teller County has lost another of its ties to the region's history and its sense of community.
Revered for her kindness and quiet strength, Conley never lost sight of the importance of relationships. “She was, without a doubt, kind and warm to everyone,” said Mary Bielz, who was Conley's niece by marriage. “She was very much a lady.”
While she may have been soft-spoken, Conley loved a good joke. “She could remember them and passed on many good jokes,” Bielz said. “She was just a joyful and happy soul.”
Conley spread good cheer and accepted the fact that the introduction of gaming into Cripple Creek in 1992 would change the city's flavor. “She recognized that people had to make a living and wanted a place for our children so they wouldn't move away,” Bielz said. “I think she worked very hard on imparting those community values to the newcomers. She fostered community.”
Conley's roots are deep in the area's history. Born Kathleen Flanagan, she clung to her Irish lineage, particularly through her love of music. “She wanted to live through St. Patrick's Day and died at 11 p.m. March 17,” Bielz said.
In a place where it's tough to earn a living, Conley's work history echoes the area's evolving economic scene. As a child in Victor, she worked at the Isis Theater as well as Harshbarger's, (now the Fortune Club) where she scooped ice cream. “That's where she got her muscles,” said Lisa Noble, Conley's daughter and one of four children of Conley and her late husband, Donald Conley. “We had a perfect childhood; we were poor but we didn't know it. She loved us all.”
Noble recalls her mother doing a variety of jobs, such as tarring the roof on a building. More subdued, perhaps, Conley spent 30 years in the Teller County Clerk's office, followed by a stint as the deputy and acting Cripple Creek City Clerk. She served as the city's clerk, an elected position, from 1996 to 2004.
Noble's memories recall a vibrant woman who loved art, concerts, theatre, the Broncos and traveling. Only a year ago, Noble and her siblings took their mother to Washington, D.C.
Georganna Peiffer grew up with Conley in Victor. “She was my friend for more than 70 years,” she said. “We were both cheerleaders at the Victor High School.”
The Conley children spent summers at the Conley Ranch west of Mt. Pisgah in Cripple Creek. “My dad's family homesteaded the ranch,” Noble said.
Conley died after suffering the effects of cancer for 10 years. The family plans to scatter her ashes on Bobcat Cliffs alongside her husband's. “My dad used to take my mom out to the cliffs,” Noble said.
In addition to Noble, Conley is survived by Noble's siblings, John Conley, Coleen Sweden and Anna Horton. A memorial service for Conley is at 3 p.m. March 29 at the Cripple Creek Elks Lodge.