A life of selfless service and an uncanny knack to elicit support
GIANTS OF SAN JUAN
by Buckley Jensen
Dorothy Rasmussen Adams moved to San Juan County as a child in l915. With her father, mother and two brothers, they homesteaded in the Ucola area. Her mother died suddenly in 1920, when Dorothy was 13 years old. The family left everything and moved to Ephraim. She later moved to Salt Lake City and attended high school and the University of Utah, where she graduated with a degree in Education in l935.
Her first job was teaching in Grand County, where she met a Monticello boy named Donald Adams, who was an aspiring attorney.
One of the conditions of Donald’s proposal of marriage was that “city girl” Dorothy must be willing to live the rest of her life in Monticello. They were married in 1937. Little did the little town of 750 souls know that its greatest benefactor and most tireless worker had been recruited when Dorothy Rasmussen said “I do” to Donald Adams.
For more than 50 years, Dorothy Adams worked tirelessly for the growth, development and improvement of Monticello. Her service is legendary
She once said, “Despite always having a good job, my life has been involved in civic affairs. The development of Monticello was very important to me.” Her civic work started in l941, when she began to have nightmares about a child falling into one of the many open cesspools in the city. She and two friends took a survey and asked if people would support a new sewer system. Many thought Dorothy and her friends were crazy, especially old timers who had never known anything but cesspools. The city fathers thought she was crazy.
One prominent man said, “Dorothy, you are out of your head. It is unbelievable that you think this town needs a sewer system.” But Dorothy refused to give up and a few years later, Monticello was one of the first small towns in the state to have a modern sewer system.
Next came the city dump. Cleon Cooper, Alene Jones and Dorothy chose the site east of town. They painted signs and told everyone in town where to haul garbage. After the dump opened, most of the little home dumps were abandoned and buried. Dorothy said, “it made such an impression on us that it stimulated our activity.”
Improved medical care came next. Dorothy and her “committees” went after a hospital. They purchased the old Vanadium Mill’s staff house on Circle Drive. They remodeled it, got donations of furniture, beds and equipment and recruited Dr. Brooks from Atlanta, GA. From then on, Monticello’s children had a birthplace as Monticello instead of Moab.
One of the great questions in San Juan County in the 1960s was whether the new county hospital would be built in Monticello or Blanding. Again Dorothy led the charge. Her “soldiers” worked to get every vote for Monticello as the hospital’s location. Even though Blanding was larger than Monticello and the citizens of Blanding wanted the hospital as much as Monticello did, Monticello had Dorothy Adams in their camp and that helped make the difference.
For many years, Dorothy was the supervisor of teachers for the San Juan School District. She spent long days and lonely nights driving home from schools over primitive roads. She fell in love with the wild beauty of San Juan County and, to the end of her days, her idea of a great day was simply to get in a car and drive the highways and byways of her beloved deserts and mountains.
With few exceptions, virtually all the nice things Monticello built during the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s were a result of citizen support and participation. Many people donated equipment and labor and had a deep desire to improve the town. Dorothy was on the Golf committee that built the San Juan Golf Course in the early 1960’s. She was not a golfer and she says she did less on the golf course than anything else, but if it helped Monticello, you could bet Dorothy Adams was somewhere in the mix.
A swimming pool got her full attention. She worked for five years to see it built. Anywhere she passed a swimming pool she would stop and quiz the operators on every aspect of how it was heated, how the water was circulated, whether it operated in the red or the black and every other aspect of pool operations.
The community caught the spirit, with each family in town committed to a specific sum each year. Before they ever dug a shovel full of dirt the swimming pool committee had $30,000 in donations in the bank. That pool opened in the early 1960’s and still operates in the summers today.
Although not a skier, Dorothy supported the all-volunteer building of the Blue Mountain Ski Area. She noted that the Bronson family helped purchased the equipment but that everything associated with the project was done by scores of volunteers on many a Saturday. Dorothy did not play softball either, but she assisted on the installation of lighting at Monticello’s ball parks.
The toughest project she ever bit off, however, was the library in Monticello. Built in 1960, at the apex of the uranium and oil boom, when the County was assessed at $132 million, Dorothy thought it would be easy to get the money, since 96 percent of the local taxes were paid by big oil and uranium companies.
Getting the City Council and County Commissioners to support the idea met rock wall opposition in the early going. She got a financial expert to report to the stonewalling local leaders that the library would cost each home owner in Monticello less than $5 a year in additional property taxes.
Most of the old timers still saw no value in a library. But they had learned by now that Dorothy Adams would never give up on a worthy cause. They might as well let her have her library so they could get back to business as usual. The libraries in Monticello and Blanding and the Bookmobile are now some of San Juan County’s finest assets.
Dorothy endured many trials and sorrow. The early loss of her mother, the tragic death of her beloved brother (Cannon) who survived the Bataan Death March only to die of starvation and disease in a Japanese Prisoner of War Camp during World War II were crushing losses. But she never recovered from the death of her only son, (George) in an airplane crash in California in l973. For virtually the rest of her life, if George’s name was mentioned, Dorothy’s eyes would instantly moisten and her voice would start to quiver, especially if she was talking to someone who reminded her of George.
Perhaps Dorothy’s most remarkable achievement was bringing Community Concerts to Monticello. It is quite a story. She and Donald were in Switzerland riding a bus in the Alps. The man next to her was the head of Columbia Artists in New York City. In the conversation, she found out that Cortez was negotiating to have concerts. She asked if Monticello might be considered.
When told of Monticello’s size, the man was doubtful it could succeed in such a small market but agreed to send information upon his return to New York. Dorothy learned that not less than 1,500 prepaid tickets would need to be sold. For a town of less than 2,000, making that project fly took a gargantuan effort.
Another daunting requirement was the on-site availability of a concert grand piano. She found a wonderful used piano for $8,000. Grant Bronson, who was on her committee, agreed to pay for the piano if money from the annual rummage sale was used to repay the loan. It took 20 years to pay for the piano, but they did it.
The first Community Concert in Monticello was by world famous pianist, Grant Johannson. When he saw a piano of that quality in a place like Monticello, he was incredulous. After the concert he said he had played on some of the finest pianos in the world, but never had he played a finer piano than the one in Monticello.
Dorothy recalled, “Everyone nearly wept. It was so exciting. To me, that piano was like the Arches or Rainbow Bridge… solid and beautiful.”
The final obstacle for bringing the Community Concerts to Monticello was educating the audience. Most people in Monticello 50 years ago had never been to a formal “big city” concert. Every ticket holder had to agree to be in their seat five minutes early (because the doors would be locked) they had to agree not to wiggle their programs, they could not get out of their seats until intermission and most importantly, they had to leave babies home and teach older children how to behave. If parents/adults did not agree to those terms, they were politely but firmly invited to stay home.
Dorothy’s last concert (as chairman) was the Utah Symphony. After the concert, Maestro Abravanel told Dorothy he had never played to a finer audience than the one in Monticello. That was 15 years after the concert seasons began. After Dorothy relinquished the chairmanship, Monticello carried on the concerts for several more years. Monticello is likely the smallest community in the U. S. to have a contract with Columbia Artists and to keep it going continuously for 25 years was simply remarkable.
One of Dorothy’s last projects was building Pioneer Park on land north of her home on Main Street. She supervised building a replica of Monticello’s first log church, had several log cabins moved to the property and built a living history museum of life in early San Juan County. Pioneer Park is a gathering place for all kinds of community social events and a treat for tourists to this day. She left money in trust to maintain Pioneer Park after she was gone.
In 1973, when Dorothy did an interview for an oral history, she was asked what she loved most about Monticello. She said, “The thing I appreciated most about Monticello was that the people had the will to take on community projects and see them through. In Time magazine a year ago they did an article on communities free of juvenile delinquency. There were only six places in the nation free of it and Monticello was one of them. We have wonderful people here.”
Before Dorothy passed away in 1998, the City of Monticello instituted an annual “Citizen of the Year” award. She was not only awarded that honor the first year, but it was said by those who knew her well, that she should have been given the “Citizen of the Century Award while they were at it.”
There is simply not space to share the many other notable things Dorothy accomplished for others in her life. She restored the George A. Adams ranch south of Monticello just before her death. She often took young Jordan Jensen, a great grand nephew, in the evenings to sit on the porch of the old ranch house and watch the sun set behind the mountain. Jordan said her unfailing utterance after watching the sun sink was: “My soul is restored.”
Dorothy Adams left a legacy of selfless service for the people of San Juan County that may never be equaled. To those of us who knew and loved her, she will always be one of the “tallest” of the great Giants of San Juan.