What Comes Around, Goes Around
Lake County Receives El Pomar Funds
By Kathy Bedell © Leadville Today
A gold miner. A flamboyant carouser. A heavy-drinking playboy. These words were often used to describe Spencer Penrose, a 19th century rags-to-riches Colorado gold-rusher.
A generous philanthropist. A business visionary. The founder of the largest and oldest private foundation in Colorado. This is likely the list of adjectives that would be presented today as Penrose’s story plays out through the lens of history.
It’s a rough-and-tumble mining camp, meets politically correct non-profits news story for the 21st-century, as the El Pomar Foundation announces its recent grant recipients. Congratulations to all, but especially to the local organizations and programs, all of which can be found with full descriptions in the links provided below.
However, if you’re looking for that special Leadville Connection, that common thread that seemingly runs through many Colorado success stories, then please, read past the links. Discover a genuine “What Comes Around Goes Around” story for Leadville Today and its special connection to Spencer Penrose and the El Pomar Foundation.
El Pomar Grant Recepients 2020
- June 2020 – El Pomar announces immediate assistance to High Country via its Colorado Assistance Fund.
- August 2020 – High Country grants awarded to non-profits.
- October 2020 – El Pomar releases more funding to High Country.
- December 2020 – El Pomar announces another round of funding to assist High Country via its Colorado Assistance Fund.
What Comes Around, Goes Around
There’s something truly full-circle about the news that some of Spencer Penrose’s fortune, harvested from the dark, dank mining pits of 19th century Colorado, has returned to Leadville. Afterall, some of that motherlode was extracted right here on the city’s eastside.
“We called it the wedding cake,” says 5th generation Leadvillite and respected local historian Howard Tritz. “And it was a playground for the eastside kids during the 1950’s.”
In many ways it’s difficult to comprehend just how big The Penrose Mine was, dominating acres above – and below ground – and so close to town! Yet the remnants of one of Spencer’s treasures can still be seen in Leadville Today, even after the untidy “mine dump” cleanup of the 1950s.
“The Penrose dump extended from Hazel Street to Orange Street on the south side of East Fourth Street,” explained Tritz. However, pictures from his personal collection tell the tale of an enormous above-ground processing area with underground operations that bore deep, spewing the dregs back up upon the earth. Today, the last tier of Spencer’s “wedding cake” is still used for sledding by neighborhood children on snowy winter days.
During its research on The Penrose Mine, LT discovered many interesting stories about this seed that became a tree in the philanthropist’s El Pomar, which means “The Apple Orchard,” in Spanish. One such tale regales an underground banquet for guests held in 1900. The group was treated to a multi-course meal, each portion revealed as they were lowered one level at a time, deep into the depths of The Penrose, deep underground on Leadville’s east side. The evening’s guide was a 350-pound master mining mechanic by the name of Mr. Big Smith. It’s a classic Leadville story!
Spencer remained a free-spirited, bachelor businessman well into his 40s. And in a town like Leadville, during the boom of the 1890s, be assured there are accounts of some Wild West behavior. But his true riches, the big strike that would contribute to earning him – along with his brother Alfred – an induction into the National Mining Hall of Fame, alas would not be found in Leadville.
Spencer Penrose’s huge fortune was eventually discovered down in Cripple Creek. Yes, this born-and-raised Philadelphian, the black sheep of his family, more commonly known in his youth for being able to down a gallon of beer in 37 seconds, would find his motherlode – and his lovely wife Julie – a bit further south, close to Colorado Springs, the eventual home to El Pomar Foundation.
Remnants of The Penrose Mine
The Foundation: El Pomar
The philanthropic organization, El Pomar (The Apple Orchard) derives its name from its tucked-away location, in the shadows of Colorado Spring’s lofty Broadmor Hotel which Spencer built with his immense wealth. In the midst of an apple orchard, the couple built their private residence, which is now the present-day home to the foundation’s executive offices, the Penrose House.
The seeds from The Apple Orchard’s carefully managed assets have grown from $21 million in 1937 to more than $1.2 billion for the state of Colorado. It is significant, to say the least; thank you! In the end, it’s nice to know that Leadville has a little part in the Spencer Penrose story. It’s important to keep that part of history alive, for locals to understand that special connection.
While Penrose’s Leadville visits became less frequent in later years, stories of his free-spirited antics down in the Springs would find their way up the mountain. Like the time he put seals into the lake of his beloved Broadmor Hotel, or when he arrived with an elephant for a caddy at his private golf club.
Spencer Penrose’s character was best described in his obituary on December 15, 1939: “He was more than a capitalist, community builder and philanthropist . . . he was a personality, a spirit, a being such as the Pikes Peak region had never seen before and will never see again.”
In honor of that one-of-a-kind man with a special Leadville Connection, LT is more committed than ever in making sure that the El Pomar message reaches EVERYONE in Lake County. There are MANY worthwhile nonprofits eligible for El Pomar funds from Leadville, a city that helped put a little seed money into The Apple Orchard.
If your organization is interested, please follow the links provided to connect directly with the El Pomar Foundation. In addition to its grant funding, the foundation operates community stewardship programs, including Awards for Excellence, Regional Partnerships, and a two-year Fellowship for young leaders, a great opportunity for ANY local student.
What Comes Around, Goes Around
Thank you, Spencer. Thanks for being part of the permanent Leadville landscape with The Penrose Mine. Thanks for demonstrating that you DO NOT need to conform, especially in a place like Leadville, to live a genuine life. And thanks for continuing to give back to Leadville, making sure that the apple doesn’t fall too far from the orchard.
Publisher’s Note: Many thanks to Leadville historian Howard Tritz for his knowledgeable contributions to this story. You can find the park named in his honor at the corner of Poplar (aka Highway 24 ) and E. 12th Street, along the Mineral Belt Trail. Colorado journalist Kathy Bedell owns The Great Pumpkin, a digital media company that publishes Leadville Today and Saguache Today. She may be reached at email@example.com.
Colorado Experience: Spencer & Julie Penrose
The Spencer & Julie Penrose story is a colorful one wonderfully captured in this Colorado Experience video. It was a true later-in-life love account that has continued to give back to Leadville and Lake County for years. Thanks to Spencer & Julie Penrose and the El Pomar (The Apple Orchard) Foundation.