TELLURIDE – As the last class of high school graduates make their way out into the workforce, fresh-off-the-campus college graduates are faced with the question of where to land first after their adventures in higher education. How many of them will be returning back home to Telluride?
Studies show that a year after graduation, nationally more than half of graduates opt to live in their hometowns, citing the advantages of living in familiar territory when faced with sometimes challenging work prospects and paying off student loans.
Empirical observations suggest that here in Telluride, that number is at least half – and that many Telluride High School graduates who return to the nest are staying, becoming involved with the community and raising families as second- and even third- and fourth-generation Telluride locals.
“I guess once Telluride gets in your blood it is impossible to get out,” says Jim Mahoney, whose grandfather Senior Mahoney moved to Telluride as a toddler and is largely credited with helping to build the Telluride Ski Area. While he left Telluride to attend college and then law school, Jim returned after passing the bar exam in 2004 and has been here ever since, and is now raising fourth-generation Telluride natives Lillyann and Magnolia with his wife Lorrie.
Kailey Ranta Grady is a fourth-generation Telluride local, who graduated THS in 1999 and says her dream was always to have a profession where she could move back to Telluride and live. Her father Alan and aunt Vicki were also born and raised in Telluride and still live in Telluride as well. Kailey and husband Dr. Ryan Grady are now raising one of the town’s only fifth-generation Telluride kids, Declan.
Many Telluride returnees say that it wasn’t job prospects or the ability to live at home while paying off education debt that drove them back to Telluride; in fact, many say they returned to Telluride because it was, and always will be, their home.
“Although it is small sometimes and I get cabin fever every March and say I want to move, in reality I can't think of a better place to call home,” says Amy [Dodge] Tice, who married her high school crush, fellow Telluride native Todd Tice, in 2000. Todd’s uncle owned Telluride Trappings and Toggery for many years, and now the Tices co-own the store. “Our kids have so many opportunities here – even more than we had,” Amy says.
Ashley Palamar Deppen says she returned home to Telluride after college graduation, mainly to spend time with her much younger brother. In the meantime, she met and married husband Ryan and now has two young boys, and is the president of the board of Rainbow Preschool and on the board of directors of the Lone Tree Cemetery.
“I find fulfillment in doing the best I can to give back to this community that I seem to fall more in love with everyday,” Deppen says.
Growing up in Telluride makes it difficult to move elsewhere, many Telluride returnees say. Locals like Sara Doehrman have discovered avenues to both follow their passions and live in the place they love; early Telluride Academy theatre programs during her youth compelled Doehrman to return to Telluride and start a theater program with the arts community education program, of which she is now a member of the board. Doehrman has also discovered a niche making and selling fairy wings and teaching arts and crafts at her weekly booth at the Telluride Farmer’s Market.
“Everything that I'm passionate about I do and find a way to make things happen. Growing up in Telluride helped me learn if you want something you can find a way to do it,” she says.
But not everyone who has returned to Telluride to put down roots says they always knew they wanted to come back here. Darcie Gordon, whose family moved to Telluride in the early 1970s (her father Bill became Ophir’s first town mayor in close to 40 years) and now own and operate two popular Telluride businesses, says growing up here wasn’t all bread and roses: As she explains, it was a small town with an often suffocating small-town feel.
“All I ever dreamed of was leaving to experience the big city. I thought things and people would be better or different somehow,” she says. But when things didn’t work out professionally for Gordon, she returned home “with my tail between my legs feeling like a failure.” That’s when she says she realized Telluride wasn’t too bad after all.
“Only then did I realize that home wasn’t too bad after all. My family was all here and some friends as well had come back too. I started to make a life and besides a few attempts to try to find something better I always return to these gorgeous mountain of which I crave when I leave. There is nothing better than waking up in the morning to mountains and blue sky versus building and freeways,” she says – as sentiment that no doubt will keep many more Telluride kids coming back to make a life in their small hometown.