The world became a little brighter on September 3, 1933 when Polly Blanche Collins made her arrival in Fort Collins, Colorado. Her proud parents were Don and Blanche Collins. The family initially lived at Chico, a simple cottage west of Kit Carson before moving into town in a house on a corner of Main Street. Catty corner from their home was the Schneider girls’ house. There were five Schneider sisters, six if you included Polly. Marilyn Schneider and Polly were lifelong best friends. She also adored the Fell sisters. Lifelong friendships and adventures were forged, and Polly found the adoptive siblings that she always longed for.
Polly was a child of the prairie, a rancher’s daughter, and a small town girl. She spent her days on the family ranch–the Collins Ranch. Polly said that her mother Blanche didn’t have a chance having a daughter to help in the kitchen or doing household work, because Don treated Polly as the son he never had, and he took her everywhere with him while working on the ranch. As a young girl, she would often ride horseback with her Grandpa Charlie Collins and his dog Snappy. She also spent many hours working beside the ranch cowboys and was so fond of them. They all took great care and pride in Polly. She had a lifelong relationship with Red Craven which began when she was a young girl and carried on the rest of Red’s life. Red broke Polly’s horse PoCo for her, and PoCo was the horse Polly’s children learned to ride on years later. Much of her common sense, grit, and knowledge was developed on the back of a horse, taking instruction from a cowboy, fixing fence, or flanking calves at branding time.
Polly attended school in Kit Carson. When her dad Don was serving in the State Legislature, Polly attended school at Kent Country Day in Denver. She missed her friends and Kit Carson when she was away from them, and that feeling never left throughout the rest of her life. Kit Carson remained home in her heart her entire life. In school, Polly was involved in band, played the piano, and had all kinds of fun as a teenager. She graduated from Kit Carson High School in 1951.
That fall Polly began courses at Colorado A & M (now Colorado State University) in Fort Collins. She moved into Rockwell Hall and met her roommate Virginia (Ginny) Montgomery from Akron and a lifelong friendship was sealed. Following her mother Blanche’s path, Polly (and also Ginny) pledged Tri Delta Sorority and the love of all things Tri Delta began. The nickname Pol Col was given to Polly, and it was what she was known as in the Tri Delt circles the rest of her life. True to her rancher roots, Polly majored in Animal Husbandry and was the first female to become a member of the Colorado A & M Livestock Judging Team and also competed on the Wool and Meats Judging Team. She was known to have a natural eye for quality livestock. Polly was also involved in the student government, and as a senior, received the highest honor given at Colorado A & M–The Pacemaker Award which was awarded to the top 10 seniors. Polly would bring out a posse of girlfriends to the ranch for the brandings each summer which they all looked forward to. In 1955, she became the first third generation female to graduate from Colorado A & M behind grandmother, Addie Bristol Brown and mother, Blanche Brown Collins
Following graduation, Polly was hired by the Arizona National Livestock Show in Phoenix as the executive secretary. She along with her friend Jeanne Galvin rented an apartment in the only apartment building at the time in Phoenix. There happened to be a bachelor from Marblehead MA working for General Electric who also lived in the same building at the time. Polly and the New England bachelor and Bowdoin College graduate Rogers Johnson met, and within weeks were in love and engaged. The prairie girl and son of the sea became a lifelong team. In true Polly form once again seeking a little adventure before the wedding, she and some girlfriends drove through Europe on a jaunt weeks before the wedding while Blanche was planning the nuptials back at the ranch. Polly and Rogers were married August 1, 1959 at the Collins Ranch. They honeymooned at the Broadmoor and drove through the West before moving into their new home at 1214 W. Hayward Avenue in Phoenix.
They settled into young married life and their first born son Scott Collins was born in 1960. Don Harold followed in 1961; Jody Christina in 1964; and Toby Rogers in 1969. Their years in Phoenix were full of friends, PEO, Bridge Club, Indian Scouts, sunshine, and love. They had a wide circle of friends and love, laughter, and many memories were made. Rogers earned his Masters at Arizona State University and later went on to work for Arizona Colorado Land Company. The family would summer at the ranch in Kit Carson to escape the Phoenix heat. Polly acquired her pilot’s license during these times and loved flying her dad’s plane over the prairie. In 1970 Don Collins’ health began to suffer, and Polly and Rogers made the decision to relocate to the ranch to help Don and Blanche and eventually take over management of Collins Ranch.
All the kids attended school at Kit Carson, and Polly and Rogers settled into rural Colorado life. They were extensively involved in the schools and community. Polly served on the St. Joseph’s Hospital later known as Keefe Memorial Hospital Board, was a member of the Kit Carson United Methodist Church, served in many capacities for the Cheyenne County Republicans, served on the Kit Carson Museum Board, Kit Carson School Accountability Committee, and was a lifelong member of Cowbells.
Faith in God was of upmost importance to her. Her Bible was worn and the pages dotted with handwritten notes and favorite verses. She prayed endlessly for those she loved. Polly attended church every Sunday sitting in the same pew second from the front on the east. She helped teach Sunday School and was president and involved in the Wray United Methodist Women (UMW) fixing plates for shut ins, funeral dinners, and ladies’ programs. She was our go to for grace and blessings at family dinners, holidays, and wedding celebrations.
Our lives growing up evolved around ranch work and the Kit Carson community activities. Polly and Rogers never missed a concert, meeting, spaghetti supper, or game whether in Kit Carson or away. They were loyal fans. Polly was still attending games until Covid struck and shut down the world. She particularly loved the basketball season. She studied the offenses, could report on who had a hot hand that night, knew the margin of victory, if the refs were biased, who fouled out, how many rebounds, etc. She lived for the next Kit Carson game, and nothing made her more proud than watching her children and grandchildren compete. Some very proud moments in her life included the success and State Championships of her grandchildren and their teams, and their success in the livestock showring, golf course, Knowledge Bowl competitions, Honor Band, and other achievements. Polly also never missed a community bridal or baby shower, loved sitting at the Museum as a volunteer, relished the once a year “Polly Party”–Kit Carson Day which fell on her birthday weekend, and her favorite The Kit Carson Alumni Reunion which occurred every 5 years.
Polly was the financial officer for Collins Ranch, managed any logistics necessary, and was a lifelong ranching partner to Rogers. They were lifetime members of the National Western Stock Show, active in CCA and NCBA, and Polly became a Colorado Cattlemen’s Association Lifetime Gold Member. Preparing for branding required days of menu planning, and no one could pull off a feast on the prairie like Polly along with help from Blanche and Glaida Craven. She would spread out tables complete with tablecloths and a hot full meal for the up to 50 people helping with branding. She was always last to eat and made time for each and every cowboy and kid helping that day. She loved touring family and friends on the ranch and kept track of the daily activities and the cycles of life on the ranch. One of her many highlights in life was the centennial celebration of the Collins Ranch in 2007 when the family hosted a ranch party for past and present employees, family members, and friends.
Polly’s love of travel never waned, Polly and Rogers believed in education at all levels and that included seeing the world for a few weeks in the summer when the rest of the year was spent in rural Colorado. The Johnson family would take a big vacation every summer when the brandings were over. We have many memories of loading up the car with 13 pieces of luggage and 7 people–6 Johnsons plus Blanche, trekking to Stapleton Airport, and flying to all corners of the world. Lots of adventures and mishaps occurred on our travels and so many special moments were made. They spent many summer vacations in Maine as well. As an only child, Polly treasured Rog’s extensive family of New England cousins. She enjoyed the Johnson family reunions on Great Diamond Island and never missed a great lobster meal with the relatives.
All the kids graduated from Kit Carson High School and went on to their respective colleges. It was never questioned that we would get our education. The kids got married, and the rollout of grandchildren began. Polly and Rog’s life was full and happy. Then it hit a speed bump when Rogers was diagnosed with lymphoma cancer. The next couple of years were spent in doctor’s appointments and treatments. Rogers passed away November 1993 when Polly and Rog were driving out to Branson for business. Despite her great loss, Polly carried on, remaining busy and active and filling her moments with ranch work and management, helping others, community involvement, time with grandchildren, trips with family, Borsch Sister adventures, CSU Alumni Board, and Tri Delta reunions. A particular point of pride for her was establishing the Rogers W. Johnson Scholarship granting Kit Carson graduates funds to help them finish and achieve their college degrees.
Before you knew it, there were 13 grandchildren. The growing family set aside time each year to take a vacation together where many shenanigans occurred between the cousins and more memories were made. Somehow everyone survived and maintained the standards of Polly. Grandkids spread out seeking their education in colleges across the country. The grandchildren went to Ivy League, State, and private colleges, and three of the grandchildren are Boettcher Scholars. Polly was so proud of each and every one, but most likely having two grandchildren become CSU Rams and continuing the Ram tradition becoming 5th generation graduates made her very happy. She kept up with all the grandkids, delighting in stories of their college experiences, encouraging them to “go Greek”, was proud of their grades and activities, and sympathized with their setbacks, and mild brushes with authorities or a liberal professor.
Family weddings were such a joy to her, and she tried to make each one when her health allowed. The great grandkids were such a source of joy and pride for her. She loved it when each one was born and treasured holding the new babies, watching them grow, and all their antics gave her many laughs and happy moments these past few years. She loved her dogs, She loved her family, she loved to laugh, the ranch, Kit Carson, common sense, talking on the phone, her many friends, March Madness, the ranch, conservative politicians, a good rare, tender steak, Chinese food, nice clothes, the ranch, hosting friends, going places, parties, the Kit Carson Day Melodrama, sending postcards and cards, buying gifts for others, good shoes that fit her size 11AAAA feet, holiday celebrations, and visits over coffee or tea.
Her gift and specialty later in life was keeping track of the comings and goings of the 39 and counting family members. On any given day, Polly could pretty much tell you where every single family member was, when they would get home, what flight they were on or hotel they were staying at, what project they were working on, the last score of Tess’s basketball game, what the calves weighed, what her friends’ grandkids were doing last week, the exact directions to the restaurant in Denver that she had a good meal at once 15 years ago. She was honest to a fault, polite, exact in her high expectations, faithful to God, her family, Kit Carson, CSU, the Republican Party, and the ranch. The bar was set very high for all family members, and we were expected to clear it maybe with a few bruises but without any scrapes.
Polly received several awards in her life. Although they were an honor for her, her true rewards were family and friends. She received the CSU Jim and Nadine Henry Distinguished Alumni Award in 1998; the Kit Carson Good Scout Award in 2002; The CSU Livestock Leader Award in 2008; and was the Cheyenne County Fair Parade Grand Marshall in 2017. When asked, her favorite possessions were her family, faith, ranch, memories, and America.
She always thought of others before herself. If you are here today or watching this somewhere please know that she thought of you often…if you were a recipient of the Rogers W. Johnson or ever worked on the Collins Ranch….. if you ever received a card, phone call, or gift from Polly,….. if Polly ever watched you play a game, graduate, or attended your wedding/shower, or a party for you…..Thank you! You made her day! You were a part of her very full life. It was well lived, well played and well done.
Polly passed away peacefully at Cheyenne Wells Hospital on March 19, 2022. Her last days were filled with family, smiles, photos, Colorado State Basketball and March Madness games. In classic Polly fashion she was still trying to introduce people to one another just shortly before she passed. She was so appreciative of Tara Gaynor, Doris Gibbs, Amy Gibbs, Danette Waggoner, Tracie Ball, Dr. Papenfaus, and so many others for their loving care. We rejoice that she is together again with Rogers and so many treasured family and friends in Heaven. We can only imagine the joy, laughter, and celebrating going on. Now she will be home again in Kit Carson beside Dad with a beautiful view of the prairie sunsets. Mom had a lovely way of saying so long…..Whenever we would drive away from the ranch, rain or shine, Polly would stand on her porch with a smile on her face and wave until our car was out of sight. I would like to think that she is giving us all a happy wave.
Polly is preceded in death by her husband Rogers Winfield Johnson, parents Don Carlos and Blanche Brown Collins, and aunts Pauline Stewart, Georgia McWhirter and uncle Jack Stewart. In laws Harold and Priscilla Johnson. Sister-in-law Christina Johnson. Carrying on Polly’s legacy are her beloved children, grand children, and great grand children- son Scott and Jean Johnson of Colorado Springs and their children and grandchildren Jen and Jay Livsey, Collins and Clint of Lakewood; Will and Lauren Johnson, Henry and Jack of Kit Carson; Myles and Katie Johnson, Stella, Dabo, and Porter of Idalia Colorado; Charlie and Kaitlin Johnson, Sofia, Quinn, and Hagan of Kit Carson. Son Don Johnson and daughters Christi Johnson and fiancé Drew Weaver and Taylor Johnson of Litiz, PA. Daughter Jody and Rex Buck of Wray Colorado, Brady and Jordan Buck and Brooks of Wray; Molly Buck and fiancé Justin Lange of Arvada Colorado; Coby Buck and wife Darcey Carr of Palo Alto, California; Baylor Buck of Wray. Son Toby and Amy Johnson, Haley and Tess of Kit Carson; Brad and Marilyn Johnson of Denver. Special friends Donna Eaton, Shirley Smythe, Jaryl Everist, and Ruby Gibbs among many many others.
Funeral services will be held on Wednesday, April 13, 2022 at 1:00 p.m. at the Kit Carson High School. Burial will follow in the Kit Carson Cemetery. Memorial contributions can be made to the Polly Johnson Memorial Fund in c/o the Eastern Colorado Bank; Box 175; Kit Carson, CO 80825. Friends and family can register online condolences and sign the guestbook at www.brownfuneraldirectors.com. Funeral services have been entrusted to the care of the Brown Funeral Home.