The Saratoga Sun -

You may call her 'Nana'

Elvira Cerise celebrates 95 years of mountain life


Photo courtesy of Elvira Cerise

Elvira Cerise on her 95th birthday at her home in Saratoga. She was joined by her son, daughter, granddaughter and great grandchildren.

Everyone around Saratoga calls her "Nana" and she celebrated her 95th birthday on Nov. 11.

Elvira (pronounced Elveera) Cerise has a thick Italian accent, but was born in Florence, Colo., not Florence, Italy. "When I call people up I don't have to say this is Elvira."

Cerise's father was working as a miner in Florence when she was born. Her mother had moved from Italy to Snowmass, Colo. before ending up in Florence, Colo.

In the "Old Country", her parents families were from the farming valley of Aosta, not too far from the Swiss border in norther Italy. Aosta is high in the Alps.

Her parents were not fond of mining and their lifestyle in Florence, Colo., so they moved the family to Aosta when Elvira was only 5 years old.

Her family lived a farm-based life while in Aosta. While their home was not a true vineyard, her father sold wine without a license and her mother rented houses. Cerise has fond memories of climbing chestnut trees, picking grapes and helping with the farm animals at their home in the Alps.

At home, they spoke a mixture of Swiss and Italian. "With mommy and daddy we talked our own patois, our own language," Cerise said.

She spent about 10 years in Italy before moving in with her aunt and uncle in Leadville, Colo. Neither her two sisters, who were also born in Colorado, or her brother wanted to move to the United States, so she made the journey alone.

"I almost croaked when I saw Leadville. Not dirty, more rock, no tree, no fruit," Elvira said. She credits Leadville as the reason she is always buying fruit.

When she moved back to the United States, Cerise did not speak English and she was placed with the first grade class in Leadville to learn the language, even though she was a teenager.

Cerise married in 1939, to a man whose parents had known her parents before they moved back to Italy. She was initially attracted to her husband because he could speak the same patois of Swiss and Italian.

Her husband and her uncle both worked at the smelter in Leadville. Once the smelter closed her husband was without a job for a time until he began working at the Climax Molybdenum mine outside of Leadville. After he lost his job at the smelter Cerise decided to follow the example of her sisters in Italy and open her own business.

She took out a loan and built the Alps Motel in Leadville. A business she owned and operated until 1994 when she moved to Saratoga to get her husband to a lower elevation. While Saratoga is at 6,791feet, Leadville is at 10,152 feet.

Cerise's daughter, Betty McIlvaine, was already living in Saratoga and she found her parents a quaint house in the downtown area. Cerise said it took some getting used to since their house in Leadville was large, and the Saratoga house was a "little-tiny cracker house".

Cerise said she is quite happy with the house now and it is plenty big for her. Her husband died in 1995.

Over the years, Cerise has been back to Italy 20 times. She has taken her children, all of her grandchildren, and one of her great-grandchildren to their ancestral home.

As a comparison, Cerise noted that when her family returned to Italy in 1923 it took two weeks on a steam ship to get from New York to Genoa, Italy. When she returned to Italy in 1955 on the Queen Mary, the trip only took five days, but it cost $3,000 for the round trip for her and her daughter. It was so expensive she thought she may never make the trip again.

Cerise has enjoyed her time in Saratoga. "I'm happy here because it's small. In the Old Country we come from a small place. And Leadville it was 8,000," Cerise said. Even though she prefers to live in the United States over Italy, Cerise said, "The Old Country always stick to my heart, and I was only over there 10 years."

She also said she likes Saratoga because, "Saratoga is a quiet place, you don't have to lock your car, you don't have to lock your door. But I see people going to the store and they lock their door. Crazy people."

Throughout her years in Saratoga, Cerise has been focused on helping to raise her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She is an active member of St. Ann's Catholic Church and was a member of the Saratoga Catholic Women's group.


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