Left Hand Valley Courier - All Local, All The Time

Familiar Faces: Otto and Tiny Ahlgrim

That's a wrap

Series: Familiar Faces | Story 9

Vicki Maurer

Otto and Tiny Ahlgrim are retiring after 23 years of delivering the Left Hand Valley Courier.

Arlene "Tiny" Ahlgrim (née Obrecht) can recall with perfect clarity the day in the late 1950s when the dashing 18-year old Otto Ahlgrim showed up at her family's north Longmont farm to ask her out to the movies. She was helping her father tend to the cows, and, dressed in overalls and boots, definitely not in a state to go out on the town. But Ahlgrim was, and his stylish outfit struck an incongruous note in the Obrecht's muddy barn.

"He had on a white shirt, white pants, and white shoes," said Tiny, then a student at Mead High school, which closed in 1961 and reopened in 2009. "You don't just go into a cow pen looking like that, but he had a pack of cigarettes rolled up in his sleeve."

While Otto looked "pretty good" in Tiny's estimation, he came off poorly in her protective father's. The Obrecht patriarch denied permission for the date, and then used some off-color language to express his suspicion of the young man's intentions.

"I asked 'Dad, why don't you like Otto?,' and my dad said 'He's got the same d*** look on his face that I had with your mother'."

Ahlgrim was willing to be patient for the captivating brunette he first met at Longmont's Roll-a-Rena, so he kept going back to the Obrecht farm and "nearly broke my neck, trying to get close to her." Finally, after a couple of years and some chaperoned dates, Tiny's father consented to the match, and the two lovebirds have been more or less inseparable ever since.

"We just love and enjoy each other so much," Tiny said. "We enjoy spending time together on trips, working together, and all the things like that."

Now, more than six decades later, Tiny and Otto Ahlgrim are preparing to ease into retirement together. On Feb. 26, they completed their final route as carriers for the Left Hand Valley Courier, a part-time job they've held since the paper's inception in 1997.

"Otto and Tiny are an institution with the Courier," managing editor and co-owner Biff Warren said. "For 23 years they delivered the newspaper, and were the face of the paper to so many people on their route. They have been simply indispensable, covering other routes as well when needed. And always with a smile."

That's because they have so much to smile about, as Otto and Tiny will gladly tell you. The closely supervised romance that blossomed between the teenagers on that north Longmont farm matured into a peaceful, happy marriage, mostly spent in a mid-century ranch in Southmoor Park, purchased in 1966. The Ahlgrims raised two children-Vicki, who has earned laurels of her own around these parts, and Todd, who now lives in Texline, Texas. They are also close to their four grandchildren-Alex, Kirsten, Alan, and Zachariah-and maintain close ties with extended family, whom they see often. Over the years, the pair has also traveled widely, volunteered for a number of worthy causes, and cultivated a sizable social circle of friends, many of whom they have known since their earliest days together.

"It's been a wonderful life," Tiny said.

"Yes, we've been blessed," Otto added. "Very blessed."

The Ahlgrims admitted that their new lives of leisure may take some getting used to, but they are looking forward to spending their golden years off the clock. Both spent most of their lives working, when they weren't taking care of their kid or grandkids. Otto, who is nearly 81, spent most of his career as a security officer at the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant in Arvada. In May 1969, he was one of the first responders on the scene of a major fire in the plutonium processing facility, an event he still has difficulty talking about without becoming emotional.

"One of my best friends and I went in there together. We looked at each other and I told him, 'We've got to have God on our side.' Neither one of us thought we were going to come out of that building.

"There were 33 of us who fought that fire that night," he continued. "If we hadn't contained it to that building, Arvada, Westminster, and Broomfield would not be here today. It would have been our Chernobyl."

Otto retired from Rocky Flats after 31 years of service, but not before the plant was raided by officials from the FBI and Department of Energy over unsafe working conditions and violations of environmental laws. Otto has since developed a myriad of health problems linked to his time there, most worryingly, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), which requires oxygen therapy. He has also been plagued by repeated bouts of skin cancer and degenerating joints. He eventually filed suit with the Department of Labor, and has had Tiny declared his full-time caretaker.

"We were lied to so much about working out there," he said, a hint of bitterness in his voice. "And a lot of us are paying for it now."

Tiny, who recently turned 78, has held a wide range of jobs, including seven years as a bus driver for St. Vrain Valley schools and a stint as a clerk for Longmont Police Department. On special occasions, she decorated fanciful cakes for friends and family, a skill she picked up by watching her grandmother. Eventually word got around about the "Longmont Cake Lady," and before she knew it, Tiny's artful confections were in high demand at events even outside her home state.

"We went to Las Vegas with one," she said, recalling adventures with Otto as they delivered cakes to weddings far and wide. "We went to Nebraska several times; we've been to Kansas."

Tiny's cake decorating career spanned nearly 40 years, and served as a lucrative outlet for her creative temperament. Over the years, her client list included well-known Colorado politicians, athletes and entertainers, and a portfolio of her elaborate creations fills up more than five photo albums.

Through it all, Otto and Tiny have had each other. Their enduring love story is at the heart of everything that has come since-the family, the careers, the trove of treasured memories. Both will tell you that it hasn't been perfect, but their obvious esteem and admiration for one another makes you think they came pretty close.

"I like to give her roses," Otto said. "A white one, a yellow one, and a red one. The white is for the love I have for her, red is the passion I have in my heart for her, and yellow is the sunshine she brings into my life every day."

The "secret" to their success isn't very secret, according to the pair. Part of it is spiritual, Otto said, and the two faithful Lutherans take their vow to "love, honor, and obey" seriously. But mostly it's just basic manners, according to Tiny.

"Respect each other. If you get into an argument, walk away and think about it. If you stay there, you're going to say things you don't want to say."

And thoughtful gestures, no matter how small, also go a long way.

"I still open the car door for her," Otto said. "Sometimes, I can hardly walk, I still make sure the door's open. And I go in the house first, because I don't want anything to happen to her. To me, that's just part of the respect I have for her."

The pair doesn't have many grand plans for their retirement. There are still a few destinations to cross off their travel bucket list, including Otto's home state of Indiana, and a long list of hobbies-painting and drawing for Tiny, and reading and woodworking for Otto. If anything else comes their way, they have each other, and they haven't needed much more than that for the past 63 years.

"I'm not going to make any life changes except to stay with him," Tiny said.


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