Huerfano County, Colorado
Oral Interviews

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John and Sophie Nigro

Scanned by Dick Chenault
Edited by Harriett Holly

The following is the history of John and Sophie Nigro which is composed for the archives of the Huerfano County Library.

John Nigro was born in Walsenburg, Colorado June 7th, 1909. His parents were Joe Nigro and Caterina Caratono. They came to Walsenburg from Vialfre, Piedmont, Italy. They were married on December 11, 1905 in Walsenburg. They had six sons, the first died in infancy, Dino and John were next, then Marco who died July 8, 1931, at the age of 21. He drowned while swimming in Martin Lake west of Walsenburg. Then there was Alex, and the sixth son died with his mother at his birth on February 23, 1916. At this writing Dino lives in Walsenburg, and Alex lives in Trinidad with his wife Katie (Dighera before marriage). The boys were all born in Walsenburg and lived here with the exception for a year and a half when they lived in Raton, New Mexico, where John's father was in partnership with Mr. Frank Donati in a garage, selling Pontiacs and serviced cars too. That is when I met John, they had sold a car to my Uncle. John was a mechanic.

I met John March 30, 1929, and we were married on June 7, 1930, on his 21st birthday, in Dawson, New Mexico in St. John The Baptist, Catholic Church. I was the daughter of Serafino Bergamo and Anna Bergamo. They came from Tyrol, (Austria before World War 1) now Italy. There were nine children in the family. The oldest, Primo, was born in Italy and came to America with my mother at 16 months old. He married a La Veta girl, Rose Luchino, cousin to John Nigro. He was killed in a mine accident on December 12, 1941 in Cameron, a camp near Walsenburg, I, Sophia was the second child. Three brothers followed, Fred, Ernest and Bruno, then three sisters, Minnie, Norma and Margie, and the ninth, a boy, Louis. All eight were born in Dawson, New Mexico. All were educated in Dawson Schools, graduated from High School except Primo. All lived in Dawson until the camp closed except myself and my sisters, Minnie and Norma, this happened in 1950. Dawson, New Mexico was a Branch of Phelps Dodge Corporation.

At the age of fourteen, John went to work at the Studebaker Sales and Service garage, owned by Mike Reviglio, at the noon hour and after school, so he could earn money to buy a bicycle. He continued to work for Mr. Reviglio until he went to Raton, New Mexico, to work in the garage for his father. John and Dino graduated from Huerfano County High School in 1927, Marco graduated in 1930, and Alex graduated in 1931. Their father never remarried. He had various businesses, one was a bar and recreation parlor, all on Main Street.

When I married John, we lived with his brothers and father. At this time John worked for the county for a while and for the city for a while. His father and brothers were in the Recreation Parlor, where the men played pool and cards. On March 14, 1936, John opened his own business, a package liquor store. The San Isabel Liquor Store. The first advertisement in the World Independent has wine fifty cents a quart and one quart of whisky for one dollar and a half. The store was at 511 Main Street. Several years later he moved his business to 526 Main Street. He operated the store until he retired 28 years later.

As for myself, I kept busy at home. We had three daughters, Catherine, Lorraine and Rose Marie. Catherine graduated from Huerfano County High School in May 1948. The class was saddened by the tragic death of a class member, Elmer Cannon, who was killed in a plane crash at the airport outside of Walsenburg. That same month we moved from our home on 622 Colorado Avenue to a house we bought from Mr. Everet Sears at 207 Walsen Avenue. Lorraine graduated from Huerfano County High School in 1950. Rose Marie graduated from St. Mary's High School in 1956. All three graduated as valedictorians of their class. They attended St. Mary's College of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Indiana, with degrees in education. Rose Marie went to the University of Toronto, in Canada for two years, and received a Masters Degree in Philosophy. All three married, Catherine to Michael Yuhas. They live in South Bend, Indiana. Lorraine married Elmer Lee Cervanyk and lives in Denver, Colorado and Rose Marie married John Groppe and lives in Renssalear, Indiana. We have 17 grandchildren and one great-grandson.

Catherine and Lorraine were members of the Girl Scouts. Rose Marie was a member of the Carnation Square Dance group that performed in may places, including Amarillo, Texas, where they placed third in a contest, and for a festival in Fort Sidney, Nebraska. The girls had music lessons and dance lessons. Catherine and Lorraine were in the school bands from the third grade through high school. At the age of ten, Rose Marie started to play the organ for Masses at the St. Mary Catholic Church and she was accompanist for many of the church and school programs. She was active in the 4-H programs and was Food Champion at the County Fair once. In 1956, she received the Betty Crocker Award for the city and for the state. For this she received a $1,500.00 Scholarship and a trip to Washington, D.C.

As for myself, I love to cook and collected many recipes, especially Italian. From my mother I learned to cook the Tyrolean foods. My favorites are polenta, a cornmeal ball eaten in place of bread, and stew, and sauerkraut spare ribs and sausage. Another favorite is canedelli, and dumpling made with stale bread, sausage and parsley, cooked in broth, and could be served with sauerkraut. Ravioli is my favorite Piamentese recipe. Of needlework, crochet was my favorite. In the past few years, I've crocheted 33 Afghans, gifts for daughters, grandchildren and great-grand son. Crocheted a number of table clothes, did embroidering and sewing. I loved to work in the flowerbeds but after John retired, I relinquished this hobby to him. Another of my hobbies was cake decoration. Some I decorated for my girls and raffle for their school and school projects. Some I donated to be raffled for church projects. Because I was the oldest girl of the family, I started to help my mother as soon as I could reach the dishpan by standing on a box to wash dishes. I was either watching the younger children or running to the store for groceries, or meat, being that there was no refrigeration in those days, shopping was an everyday chore.

I started to help John at his store when World War II started. When our girls were gone I decided to go to Mass daily. And so it happened that on a Sunday morning, when a priest overslept, on a snowy morning and the church was locked until Mass time, I was met the next morning at the door by Father Gallagher, our new pastor in 1967, with the key to the church. And so began the work for the church. Now I oversee that the sanctuary and the sacristy are cleaned, that there are candles, hot water, baptismal robes and altar breads. I am a member of the Tabernacle Society, which is a group of Catholic ladies who “work” solely for the needs of our church. We furnish the baptismal robes, which we make and the altar breads, of which I am the chairman. We make them every week, a little over a thousand besides the big ones for the priests, and they are also used in the mission churches in La Veta, Chama and Gardner. Very few churches make their own altar breads, and by making them we save our church over $500.00 a year. We, also, pay for the baptismal robe material. We make about 100 of these a year. We also purchase the flowers for Easter and Christmas and give a substantial donation to the church on these festive days.

Both of John's brothers, Dino and Alex, were in World War II, both were in the United States Air Force, Dino was in the Battle of the Bulge, and Alex was in the Italy invasion. I had three brothers in the service at the same time, Ernest and Bruno in the United States Air Force, Ernest in the Pacific Area and Bruno in Italy. My youngest brother was in the Navy, in the Pacific area on a Mine Sweeper. I would write to each of them twice a week and send them the daily comics, getting them from neighbor's papers.

John and his brother's interests are sports, especially baseball. When they were in the Recreation Parlor Business, named the “Rat Hole” they sponsored a softball team. After John retired, he learned to golf, and loves it!

I recall the dust storm of the 1930's when we didn't go out of the house for a number of days because the atmosphere was so black with the dust. There was fear of dust pneumonia. The first winter that I was in Walsenburg, there was a snowstorm that my brother-in-law, who worked for John Piava Meat Market, on Seventh Street, brought groceries to people who needed them, walking and carrying the stuff in a gunny sack. In 1946, another big snowstorm hit the day before election, had only a few voters at the polls, those who were brave enough to walk. The snowstorm in 1972, stranded my daughter from Denver here for four days, instead of the over-night visit she and her husband had planned. Two of the children were in Denver with all of the family gifts, and the other three here without gifts. Santa Claus left a few gifts in the stockings of the youngest grandson here in Walsenburg. In the middle of May in 1957, I was in Santa Fe, New Mexico to be near my mother who was in the hospital with a broken hip, I missed the big snowstorm that broke many trees and caved in roofs on some houses. On my return home on the bus, the driver commented on what a sight it was to drive through Walsenburg after the storm to see the deep snow and see so many broken trees branches, for that time of the year. He mentioned seeing many beautiful sunsets while driving through his area.

In my opinion, Colorado is a good state to live in for an all year decent climate. As for Walsenburg-- it is a paradise for comfortable living-small friendly, scenic, especially the Huajatolla--Spanish Peaks, so picturesque all year. Visible from my bedroom, as soon as I put up the shade I look at them, rarely finding them hidden behind clouds!

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