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Ike-Witness to History

When retired reporter Dolores Plested says "I'm cracking up," she means it physically, not mentally. By last summer, she had fully recovered from a broken hip suffered several years previously, but then she sustained a stress fracture in one ankle due to the effects of osteoporosis. The injury slowed her down again, which irritated her plenty. Since her birth back in 1908, she's never liked staying still.

Although Plested is moving better now, thanks to the occasional use of a walker or a wheelchair, she initially turned down a request to speak at an upcoming event: the October 25 grand opening of the restored Fitzsimons Army Hospital suite where President Dwight Eisenhower stayed following his 1955 heart attack. It wasn't that she objected to sharing memories from her time as a member of the White House media contingent -- far from it. Likewise, she understood that the gala's organizers had few options when it came to journalists who'd been on this specific beat. Aside from Masterpiece Theatre host Russell Baker, a onetime Baltimore Sun and New York Times scribe who declined an invitation, "most of the other reporters are dead," Plested points out. Nonetheless, she had an awfully good reason for being reluctant. "I'm 95 years old!" she declares.

In the end, Plested reconsidered; she's on the bill for a 2 p.m. symposium at the University of Colorado Hospital's Anschutz Centers for Advanced Medicine, 1665 North Ursula Street. (For more information about the panel and tours that begin at 10 a.m., call 303-724-5430 or visit www.uch.edu.) But with the bash fast approaching, she continues to emphasize that bad weather or other unforeseen circumstances might prevent her from appearing -- and at her age, any excuse for missing the festivities would undoubtedly be a good one. Besides, she's already done her part to guarantee that information about the Eisenhower period, as well as word of other important happenings that took place during her career, is documented for future generations. She's a recipient of the Colorado Historical Society's Stephen H. Hart Award for distinguished service in the field of historic preservation and has donated stacks of photos and other material to CHS's books and manuscripts collection. "It's wonderful to be able to work with a donor like Dolores," says Keith Schrum, the society's associate curator of manuscripts. "She can give insight into what she did and how she did it. And she's sharp as a tack."

Plested has also been active with the historical society in Trinidad, her home town; among other accomplishments, she helped save at least two threatened landmark buildings, the Baca House and the Bloom Mansion. To acknowledge these contributions, elected officials in Trinidad designated this past July 17 Dolores Plested Day and gave her the key to the city. The ceremonial doodad is framed and mounted on a wall in her modest Denver home next to a reproduction of a painting completed by Eisenhower while he was convalescing at Fitzsimons and a personal letter from the old general himself.

In Some Reminiscences Along the Way, a loosely organized autobiography Plested self-published last year, Eisenhower-related matters are juxtaposed with Zelig-like personal observations about nearly a century's worth of political and cultural figures who crossed her path. Yet the first trails she cut were in Trinidad, where she and her four siblings grew up in the vicinity of a mine their father owned. (The details of this enterprise are documented in Life and Death of a Coal Mine: The Story of One Man's Battle for Its Life, another tome penned by Plested.) She subsequently enrolled at the University of Colorado at Boulder, emerging in 1931 with a journalism degree that didn't come with guaranteed employment. "It was the Depression, and the only job I could get was selling Christmas cards," she recalls. Fortunately, her sister Evelyn, who worked at the Trinidad Chronicle, got pregnant, opening a position for Dolores. She stayed at the Chronicle for four years before deciding that she wanted to be a fashion reporter in New York City. Today she laughingly calls this goal "stupid," but fashion represented one of the few areas of specialization where women reporters of the day were allowed to practice.

After earning a master's of science degree in retailing from New York University, Plested worked in a variety of capacities for outfits such as the Retail Reporting Bureau, which she describes as "a service to stores all over the country to tell them what was selling and where. It was a terrible job; I hated it." Far more intriguing was her gig at The Midtowner, a paper circulated on the west side of Manhattan that often featured profiles of prominent residents. Her roster of interviews was highlighted by chats with vocalist Carmen Miranda -- "You know, the one who wore all the fruit on her head," Plested says -- and Fannie Hurst, author of such filmable potboilers as Imitation of Life.

Clearly, New York in the '30s was an interesting place, and Plested took advantage of it, regularly attending Broadway plays, receiving a personal tour of a Georgia O'Keeffe exhibit from photographer Alfred Stieglitz, hobnobbing with Glenn Miller (her brother, Bill, was a Miller pal), and even watching the Hindenburg float past en route to its fiery fate. She finally broke into the world of big-time journalism, too, as a food writer for the New York Times. Money remained tight, however, and it got tighter in 1941 when her sister and roommate, Alice, decided to resign as a typist at Time magazine and leave the island. Plested didn't think she could cover the rent alone, and she was feeling a bit homesick for Colorado, so she followed Alice's lead and hit the highway.

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