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When George Smith walked into the Westminster History Center at the DeSpain Building on the corner of 72nd Avenue and Lowell Boulevard four years ago, no one knew just how much of a devoted history buff he was.
He loves history of all kinds and his passion is to share it with others — especially children. As a volunteer at the History Center, he does research, works along with the current core group of volunteers (myself, Phil Goedert, Steve Krajewski and Ron Hellbusch) who come each week. George is the key man - we’ll get into that later - as a well as jack of all trades handyman who loves to educate and entertain an audience.
A full life focusing on history
His passion for history started in high school and it became his focus in college, first at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota and finally at California State University at Hayward, where he received his BA degree in history and geography.
Upon graduating, Uncle Sam wanted him for Vietnam War, so he spent three years in the Army including 18 months in Okinawa where he worked with generals and other high-ranking officers on a special project— the treaty with Japan which returned Okinawa to Japan in 1972.
While there, he studied a lot about the Pacific Theatre of War in World War II. After completing his military duty, he returned to Minnesota where he worked in the transportation insurance business for 26 years. In 1996, George, his wife Judy and daughter Sara moved to Colorado where he worked for Loomis Armored Inc., the armored vehicle service, for 12 years before retiring.
Then he found the Westminster History Center and he’s volunteered there almost four years.
Sergeant Samuel Poppleton in the flesh
One of his main interests is to participate in the Longs Peak Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR). That is where Sergeant George Smith comes into play.
He puts on his green Continental Army uniform and morphs into his patriot ancestor Sergeant Samuel Poppleton of the Green Mountain Boys, an eastern New York regiment in the Continental Army (they were considered to be from eastern New York because Vermont was not a colony yet).
He loves to march in parades carrying his 62-inch black powder musket which weighs 14 pounds without the bayonet. He has marched various times in the Louisville Labor Day parade, Longmont Veteran’s Day parade and the July 4th Firestone parade.
His SAR group has 41 color guard or marching members who participate throughout Colorado. Sons of the American Revolution also has a wonderful educational program called the Patriot’s Chest which was started in 2011. On an average of 35 presentations per year encompassing 2,000 attendees, George has educated and entertained school kids, church groups and senior citizen audiences all over Colorado about the American Revolutionary War. Another activity which George enjoys is presenting ROTC medals to high school JROTC and college ROTC students. He is signed up to start volunteering one day a week at Crown Pointe Academy working with the history department.
History could use a little help
The Westminster Historical Society considers the History Center to be an important piece of their organization. The building where it is housed is a part of the Westminster Public School District. George is the man entrusted with a key to the building. Previously, one of the WHS board members was required to come open the building.
History may not everyone’s cup of tea, but for those who enjoy local history I would encourage you to check out the center. I must say that it has a lot of potential.
It is open on Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and will be adding Thursdays as of the New Year with the same hours.
A short list of major completed projects includes a display of “Growing Westminster from 1859”, development of transportation from the Cherokee Trail to the new commuter rail line and the critical partnership of water resources to city growth. The current major project involves how land was annexed in Westminster since 1911.
The center is seeking more volunteers to do research, since they have a To Do List of about 20 projects. The list is varied and sure to attract the interest of folks interested in Westminster area history.
If you like genealogy, you would enjoy doing research on people who came to Westminster in the early days. If you prefer checking out why something happened and who did it, local history is the right place to be.
Why not give George a call at 303 428-3993?
How the center started
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t express credit where credit is due regarding the birth of the history center.
Marilyn Flachman had the idea for a number of years. She and her husband Wilbur raised the money to start the center with a paid professional archivist in about 2013. She took the initiative to secure a home for the center, obtaining a lease for the DeSpain building from the Westminster Public School District while she was on the school board.
The school district has been most supportive with computers, telephones, carpentry and more at the center.
After a strong start, the center needs funding to return to its key mission and expand its hours open to the public. Let’s hope Westminster and other interested history buffs will be able to enjoy a viable history center in the future. Preservation of history is a key to the future.
Bill Christopher is a former Westminster city manager and RTD board member. His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media.
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