Judy Brunson remembers life in Red River

For the 2009 Summer Enchantment magazine I asked to interview longtime Red River residents Johnny and Judy Brunson. Johnny declined. He never liked the limelight. In light of Johnny’s death on Aug. 18, this is a reprint of the article that resulted from an interview with Judy.

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(Chronicle file photo by Ellen Miller-Goins)

It’s a sunny day, coming, as spring days so often do in Red River, on the heels of an April snowstorm that dropped 6 inches of snow in town. As the snow melts on Judy Brunson’s deck, and birds, chipmunks and deer munch at her bird feeder.

“We had wild turkeys all winter, too,” Judy says. “Seven of them came Thanksgiving Day and they spent all winter at our feeder. The turkeys and deer ate together.”

Judy curls up in her jeans and T-shirt and chats with characteristic good humor and ease, her eyes always smiling, her face always open and friendly. She admits that with April snow still on the ground, she is looking forward to spending a little time with friends in Florida — then working in her garden in between caring for 15-month old granddaughter Scarlet. “I started doing that the day after I retired. I keep Scarlet 5 days a week. That keeps me busy!”

Scarlet, the daughter of Jeff and Alli Brunson, is the fourth generation to live in Red River — on both sides of the family. “Johnny and (Alli’s mom) Pooh were friends when they were 13, 14 years old,” Judy says. “It’s always been a close-knit valley. There were just a few of us who lived here year-’round so we were real close. I think that carries on now. When we talk to Jeff and Alli, they feel the same way.”

This view of Red River is one Judy has always had, and it’s one she adopted soon after coming to town. “Johnny’s parents (the late Roy and Mae Brunson) honeymooned here in 1928 and they just fell in love with it. They always vacationed here and when Johnny graduated from high school, they moved here. They lived here almost 20 years.”

Judy and Johnny followed his folks, arriving from Texas Tech in Lubbock for a summer visit that never ended. Newlyweds Judy and Johnny came to Red River in 1968 and Judy says they stayed because “we just enjoyed it so much.”

Johnny, who generally prefers to be out of the spotlight when it comes to interviews, quips, “”Because we came with $600 and never got enough to leave!”

That first summer Johnny went to work as a Jeep tour driver. In an earlier Chronicle interview, he noted, “By September I was 3 months behind in rent and rent was only $35 a month. We had an old trailer. In 1968, the heater came on Thanksgiving and stayed on every day all winter. Our propane bill got as high as $1 a day. I thought we were going to have to leave town.”

Added Judy, “We literally lived on trout. It took years before I could eat fish again. But we were so in love we didn’t care.”

For two winters Johnny managed Powder Puff Mountain Ski Area for Lester Lewis (before John and Judy Miller bought it with Fran and Gray Starbuck in 1970), while Judy worked at Big Chief, a ski rental and curio shop also owned by the Lewises.

Judy recalled taking lessons from Gary Starbuck at Powder Puff but added Jeannine Ray Mutz, “is the one who really taught me how to ski. We would try to be like (Taos Ski Valley founder) Ernie Blake and drink Martinis ’cause she told me I was too stiff!”

Later, Judy says, Jeff learned to ski at Powder Puff, too. “Once a week, all the young women would get together and all our kids would ski.”

Johnny went to work at the Moly Mine and Judy went to work as an office manager at Red River Ski Area, a time she still remembers fondly. “It was great. We were all really close. It was more like a family. We had so much fun!”

Judy recalls a time when the Christmas holiday meant one get-together after another. “The minute the ski area closed, we’d go over to someone’s house or condo and have wine and cheese. Then we’d go to a restaurant or to someone’s house to eat, then we’d be having 11 o’clock omelets. I think the best parties were given by Hank and Johnnie Mutz and Johnny and Rosie Brandenburg (both the Mutz and Brandenburg families have been in the area since the late 1800s). And all the houses were decorated. It was just a festive time. And snow.… We had so much snow then!”

In an earlier interview, Judy recalled a Halloween party that got a bit carried away when the men dared the women to steal a huge cannon from Cliffside Cabins (also owned by a member of the Lewis family). If the women succeeded, the men said they’d put the cannon on the roof of the Red River Community House. “All the girls and J.D. (John David Brandenburg) borrowed Harold Young’s pickup without telling him. We roped that cannon behind the truck and headed down the street. We got it on the porch. We all swore to secrecy but a bartender Tommy McFarland took credit for putting that cannon on the porch. Eventually, the cannon fell through the porch so Tommy had to pay for the damage ’cause he had bragged about doing it!”

If Judy sounds like her life in Red River is one long love affair, the thing is, the love is mutual. Few can imagine a Red River without Judy (or Johnny). Judy has been involved in Red River’s civic life almost as soon as she arrived. Even before the town was officially incorporated, she and Lottie Tweed, another longtime local, and others took on the task of beautifying Red River by planting flowers around town — a task she and Lottie continued doing for almost 40 years. “This year we’re not doing it,” Judy says. “We’re going to try to work in our own yards!”

Judy was also a co-founder of the Red River Historical Society and Friends of the Red River Library; she has served on the Red River Community House board and has been an integral of Red River’s government for years. Judy also served on the town council from 1988 to 1990 before going to work as an assistant clerk in 1990. Judy stepped up as municipal clerk in 1993. Among her many honors that included being named 1998 Clerk of the Year, Judy — along with Jake Pierce who also recently retired as town manager — has been recognized statewide for her vast knowledge of, and respect for, municipal law, Robert’s Rules and open government.

“Of all the years I worked there, I could probably count 5 days that I didn’t enjoy it,” Judy says. “I miss the people I worked with, but that phase of my life is over. I walked out the door and that was it.”

These days, Judy enjoys spending time with Scarlet, and looks forward to spending more time on her art and photography — hobbies she enjoyed before work took so much of her time.

But most of all, Judy will head outdoors. “The mountains are our backyard. I hike, I fly fish and, now that I’m retired, I think I’ll snowshoe. I’m kind of a loner. I’ve never been afraid. I just head out. This has been a good life. I wouldn’t have traded it for anything!”

— reprinted from the 2009 Summer Enchantment magazine