Copper’s Legacy Lives on in Leadville Today
Mary Jo Copper passed away one week ago on March 18 in her Leadville home surrounded by her family and loved ones. Notice of her death was posted several days ago and her family plans to have a memorial sometime this summer.
Copper lived most of her 91 years in Leadville, something you just can’t say about many people anymore. She lived a great life, raised a beautiful family and managed a business that still operates to this day. In honor of Mary Jo, Leadville Today is re-posting this interview with her from when she was the Grand Marshall of the Boom Days Parade in 2015. It’s a good thing she finally got to see Leadville’s biggest annual procession down Harrison Avenue, especially from the place of honor which she so much deserved. We’ll sure miss you, Grandma Jo!
Mary Jo Copper: Boom Days Parade Grand Marshall
It only seems appropriate that this year’s Grand Marshall for the Boom Days Parade should be Mary Jo Copper. After all, she should finally get to see Leadville’s biggest and grandest parade for herself!
“I never really got to see it, because I was always working,” explained Copper as she sat down recently with Leadville Today to discuss the upcoming honor. And while her family’s retail store – Bill’s Sport Shop – was always housed somewhere along Harrison Avenue, the busy, festive weekend, rarely offered Mary Jo time to stop working, and get a glimpse of the Cloud City’s longest, and most impressive parade.
Mary Jo Copper moved to Leadville in 1950, so this year will mark her 66th Boom Days. For those keeping track, this year also marks year 66 for the annual celebration; in other words, Copper was there from the start! How many can say that?!
And while her background includes a stint in healthcare and a real talent for the numbers that bookkeeping offers, many remember Mary Jo’s smiling face and sunny disposition that often greeted them at the family’s successful retail store. Known as a dedicated mother and wife, she was married to Bill Copper who, by the way, will be inducted into the Leadville/Lake County Sports Hall of Fame tomorrow, August 5.
It’s been six years since the popular sports shop closed its doors for good, but most long-time locals can still fondly recall the different locations it called home during its more than 60 years in business. From the historic Vendome (now the Tabor Grand Apartments), to its first spot directly across from the courthouse (where a portion of Leadville Community Threads is now housed), to their last mainstay at the corner of 3rd and Harrison (now Leadville Outdoors), until they closed their doors for good in 2010, you could say that Bill’s Sport Shop always had a good vantage point for Leadville’s grandest march.
And though the busy sports shop rarely afforded Mary Jo the luxury of leisurely viewing the Boom Days Parade, she did often hear it. So maybe that’s why Copper was a big advocate of the event finally including a marching band. If she couldn’t see the passersbys, at least she could hear the festive music!
“When they first started I was really disappointed because they didn’t have any music, no marching band” stated Copper reflecting on her 66 years of Boom Days celebrations. “Although it’s good to see that has improved over the years!”
But if she had to pick, it would be the mining events that Copper enjoyed the most when she was able to get out and enjoy the fun. Of course, today its Cooper’s grandkids (10 and counting) and great grandkids (17 and counting) who get out to enjoy all of the Boom Days competitions, reporting back to Grandma Jo on their placing in the pie-eating and costume contests.
When it comes to memorable Boom Days stories, it’s the burro race that rises to the top. Bill Copper, although not a regular racer on the circuit, actually won the Boom Days Burro Race back in 1951 with his trusty burro Bosco. But his return in 1952 to defend his crown saw a slightly different outcome. As is often the case, once the leading runner-and-beast team hit the pavement on historic Harrison Avenue, that stubborn beast had a different end in mind.
“Bosco just stopped; it was only about 39 feet from the finish line,” recalled Mary Jo. Seemingly there was nothing that Bill was going to do to get the burro motivated to complete the race, keeping his glorious victory crown in place.
In fact, it was only when the team in second place passed the Copper/Bosco team and continued on to the winner’s circle, that the stubborn ass finally got some renewed giddy-up-and go, dragging his teammate across the finish line in second place.
No doubt. Mary Jo’s venture down Harrison Avenue on Saturday as the Grand Marshall of the Boom Days Parade will be much smoother, where the only planned stop is for the National Anthem at the courthouse.
“I’m a bit anxious to be in the limelight,” concluded Copper, wondering aloud if a Victorian costume was required for the Grand Marshall stint, and if she should bring along a hat. Regardless, many will recognize this great lady as she rides in the wagon behind the color guard at the beginning of the 2016 Boom Days Parade.
So, be sure to give Mary Jo an enthusiastic parade wave and extra loud, good for you, from the sideline. After all, it’s one of the first parades after 66 years she’ll be able to see, from one of the best seats in the house. Enjoy every moment of it, Mary Jo! You deserve it!