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HOPE: opportunity in inopportune times

HOPE: opportunity in inopportune times

by: Silvia Hagan

As we look around our communities and absorb the economy, we often lose sight of how our forefathers took on the same challenges, yet prospered with new beginnings and often in a new country.

Without a lot of money, but with hopes and dreams, they moved forward, seizing the day when opportunity knocked.

 1800 lb coal block from the Black Diamond coal mine, Wetmore, CO.

 1800 lb coal block from the Black Diamond coal mine, Wetmore, CO.

In Denno, a small village of Trento, Italy, three young men sought a better life. Upon learning of a “land of opportunity,” Louis and Guido Yellico and their friend and neighbor, Silvio Dalpiaz, who was betrothed to their sister Maria Yellico, set out to make their way
in America. 

In their small village, farming and mining were the main means of support, so upon arriving at Ellis Island they were sent where their mining skills could be put to use:  Silvio to Ohio, and Louis and Guido to Aguilar, Colorado. Opportunity!

Louis married Mary Canistrini around 1908 and some years later bought a farm in Wetmore. There was no home on the 80 acres so the children helped haul sand rock from Newlin Creek seven miles away in the south coal field. The lumber came from a sawmill in the North Hardscrabble Creek area. Louis worked on the Gamar Ranch putting up hay to feed his family and later began work at the Double Dick coal mine between Wetmore and Florence. Their 11 children helped on the farm where they raised hay, wheat, beans, and corn, and soon they were able to buy more farms. Opportunity!

Miners at the Black Diamond coal mine, Wetmore, CO.

Miners at the Black Diamond coal mine, Wetmore, CO.

As the story goes, Louis, a prospector at heart, was walking and stumbled over a rock, which turned out to be bituminous coal (soft coal). What an opportunity! He quickly went to town to stake his claim. Being an industrious, forward thinker, Louis, along with his two eldest sons, set out next to build the Black Diamond coal mine. Times were tough so the mine brought much needed jobs to the area.

Today, the Yellico family is well known throughout the valley, from Wetmore to Cañon City.

Across the states in Ohio, Silvio sent for his childhood sweetheart, Maria Yellico. They were married in 1914, at the beginning of World War I, and had four children. With the stock market crash of 1929 and the onset of the Great Depression, work in Ohio became scarce. Since New York City was clamoring for miners to build a subway system, Silvio, highly skilled at setting timbers, moved his family to New York.  The work wasn’t enough to support the family, so the eldest son, 15-year-old Charles, quit school to help. Working together as a family in hard times, soon they were able to buy a brownstone in Brooklyn and rent out two of the apartments. They found opportunity and prospered.

Charles and Edna Dalpiaz with son Butch

Charles and Edna Dalpiaz with son Butch

Around 1938, Silvio took his family on vacation to visit Maria’s relatives in Wetmore.  Dances were social gatherings and the dance at the Wetmore schoolhouse was no exception. Charles, now a debonair ‘city’ gentleman of 22, saw a beautiful country girl and asked her to dance. So smitten was he that he began to sing “your eyes are like diamonds…” as they were dancing. Before the vacation ended he asked Edna Morlan to marry him. 

The Morlan family had come to Colorado seeking opportunity for a new life, and they lived just north of the Yellico farm along the creek. Ed and Beulah Morlan married in 1917 and had moved to Wetmore from the coal fields of Trinidad. They had six children, and to support them Ed worked in the surrounding coal mines. He continued to increase his farm size by buying up land owned by New York speculators who, sight unseen, had bought “a piece of Colorado.” Ed saw an opportunity and took it.

August Dalpiaz working in a Brooklyn, New York grocery store during the Depression. Note the prices.

August Dalpiaz working in a Brooklyn, New York grocery store during the Depression. Note the prices.

In October of 1938, their daughter, Edna, married Charles Dalpiaz, the young man who had serenaded her at the Wetmore dance.  In 1939, at the beginning of WWII, it was hard for a young married couple to make ends meet. Charles worked and lived at the Black Diamond coal mine until the early 1950’s. They made a home and raised their family in the Arkansas Valley where four of their five children were born in Cañon City. A daughter, Silvia Dalpiaz Hagan, as well as grandchildren and great-grandchildren, still live in the valley. Louis Yellico stayed in Wetmore, but the other opportunity seekers - Guido Yellico and Silvio Dalpiaz - eventually ended up in New York City. 

“These families came from different places - even countries - to find opportunity in this area,” said Silvia. “They achieved their portion of the American dream. They had to make due in hard times, but they prospered because of their hope and their willingness to take advantage of opportunity when it arose.”

 

Some of these memoirs come from Tilda
Yellico Bareli, daughter of Louis and Mary, and Edna
Morlan Dalpiaz. Photos Courtesy of Silvia Hagan.

HOPE: I'd like to buy the world a coke

HOPE: I'd like to buy the world a coke

ENCOURAGE: have you filled a bucket today?

ENCOURAGE: have you filled a bucket today?