The Western World of Mary Harris
Wanted: Energetic, interested young person to learn ranching from the ground up. No experience necessary, but must be willing to tackle everything cheerfully. During trial month, fee is $30. If accepted, room and board will be provided. Apply at the Klondike Ranch in Buffalo, Wyoming.
Applicant: Mary Santee. Qualifications: New graduate of Brown University in Providence, RI, political science, 1945. Born in Hackensack, NJ. Loved summers on grandparents’ fruit farm. Passionate about the West. Willing to work hard and try anything.
With a railroad ticket in her hand, bag over her shoulder and stars in her eyes, Mary Santee departed the East for her first adventure out West. From day one, it was a match made in heaven, and she never looked back. Her first job as a college graduate found her working outdoors from dawn to dusk and loving every minute of it. After one summer under the wide Wyoming skies, Mary knew her life would never be the same.
After a brief return East and work with the Girl Scouts in Hartford, CT, she was homesick for the ranch, and followed her heart west again. She worked at several ranches during summers, and taught in a one-room, one-student schoolhouse. Her love of animals led her to her second bachelor’s degree, in animal science, at the University of Wyoming in Laramie. Soon Mary was working toward her master’s in journalism at Oklahoma State in Stillwater, OK.
“But my love of those Wyoming skies pulled me back,” she said, and she returned to the University of Wyoming to work in publications. She was appointed director of the university news service, and later served in the same role for the college of agriculture and extension service.
A man named Jim Harris came into her life at a church meeting in Denver, and they were married December 27, 1960. Another transplant from the East, Jim, too, loved the western land, and education as well. Jim earned bachelor’s, master’s and LLD degrees at the University of Wyoming and Colorado State University in education. He served as founder and principal of the Jefferson County Area Vocational School in Lakewood, Colorado until he retired.
Enjoying life in Golden, the Harrises still owned ten acres in Durango that Jim had purchased in the 1950s. In March, 1983, while here to sell the property, Jim and Mary said, “What are we doing? We love it here!” and retained three acres, moving here in September 1983.
Jim passed away in 1996, but Mary remained in Durango. Starting at the age of 70, Mary attended water aerobics classes at Trimble Hot Springs, rain, shine or snow, inspiring many others to do the same for over 20 years. Mary created a large following of friends, and her friendship with the instructor, Carol Bennett, turned into a long, caring relationship that lasted to her departure. In Carol‘s words, “Mary was the most
loved person I’ve ever known. When you met her, you instantly appreciated her, and her giving, lovable nature blessed many. I consider her family, and I believe many others would say the same.”
Perched on her trusty riding mower (“which turns on a dime and gives change”), Mary single-handedly mowed every inch of her lush, green acres each week for many years. A regular at the Bar D, she frequently entertained her out-of-town guests there, and has hosted the Bar D Wranglers for breakfast, serving her legendary Belgian waffles.
Since 2004, Mary has welcomed Durango Agility Dogs to use her property for meetings, classes, events and practices with their dogs. “I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it,” Mary said. “Here both the dogs and the people smile!” She calls her home Harris Dog Park, and created many lasting and endearing friendships with members of the group.
Even as a youngster, Mary was always drawn to cowboys, horses, the outdoors and ranch life. “I’ve had a good and long life,” she said. “I got to live my dream of coming West.”
Mary S. Harris
Born January 30, 1924
Died December 30, 2019
“Mary was the most giving person we have known. Selfishness was not part of her life. Her heart was always open to those in need, which includes not only people but our wonderful world of animals. Mary was precious and enlightening and filled with great, profound joy. We came to see her as the angel sitting on our shoulders. She came into our lives for a reason and we would have been less fortunate if she had not touched ours. We miss you dearly, Mom.”
Daughter Gayle Amato and son-in-law Jim Fitzpatrick of Grass Valley, CA.
Cremation has occurred.
While no services are planned a Remembrance Party will be held for all who loved her to share stories on January 18th, 1pm to 3pm at her home. Donations in honor of Mary can be sent to the Wild Animal Sanctuary, 1946 CR 53, Keenesburg, CO 80643.