Ella Moon, who died on Sunday, may not have been famous in the conventional sense. But generations of people share fond memories of this astonishing woman, whose namesake home -- Moon Farm, located in the Western Slope community of Fruita -- was a popular day camp for more than thirty years, and continues to stand as a monument to her love of kids, her love of life, and her love of an equally remarkable man with whom she built a place that encapsulates everything that's best about Colorado.
Ella was born in Utah ninety-some years ago; no doubt she would have told me how old she was, but I never got up the nerve to ask. During her early years, life wasn't too far removed from the pioneer era -- but the primitive circumstances couldn't put a dent in her indefatigable nature. She grew up tough and sassy, with a moral compass that didn't waver from true north during all the decades that followed.
She met her match in Wallace Moon, a farmer in the traditional sense of the term: His was the roughest hand I've ever shaken, and its texture was earned the old-fashioned way. They were married in the Mormon church -- her tales of the big day, and those special garments she wore, are the stuff of legend -- and set out to start a family as big as their hearts.
Fate tried to prevent that from happening, but the Moons never encountered an obstacle they couldn't overcome. In the end, they adopted seven children, raising them with firmness, resolve and the understanding that if they did something wrong, they'd know about it. If Ella was angry at someone, she'd turn his or her photo to the wall. Eventually, though, they'd all be facing forward again.
As outlined in the Moon Farm website's history section, Ella and Wallace moved from the Utah community of Jensen to Fruita in 1954, purchasing an eighty-acre parcel that would be whittled down to twenty during the next twenty years -- and along the way, the couple stumbled onto an alternative career.
How? A treehouse built by Wallace and his eldest son, Mike, led to the construction of multiple playhouses on the property -- elaborate structures that came to include a pyramid, Mother Hubbard's shoe, a spaceship and many more, all large enough for kids to climb inside.
Check out the Moon Farm castle.
By 1976, random field trips had escalated into a full-scale day camp, complete with horse rides and more, that provided wholesome fun and excitement for literally thousands of kids from Fruita, nearby Grand Junction and other communities across the Western Slope.
Wallace was in charge of construction (a new building was added every year for quite some time), while Ella was the (usually) benevolent dictator, coming up with new concepts and stocking the buildings with the sort of toys, dolls and costumes that probably should have been in antique stores instead of being used as kids' playthings. She also passed along her version of loving but strict discipline to teen counselors, many of whom have continued to spread her gospel. My wife, a principal in the Denver area, is one of them.
Wallace and Ella Moon with a couple of their grandkids.
Finally, in 2007, with Wallace gone many years and Ella's age advancing, the daily day camp closed. But today, Moon Farm's gates are still open for parties and special events -- not that any day there is ever anything less than special. And until recently, Ella could still be found riding around the grounds on her golf cart, her beloved son David (who lives on the property) by her side as she kept everyone in line as only she could.
Over the years, the Moons had a few brushes with celebrity: I still remember the story of Wallace driving the wedding carriage for an incredibly snockered Jimmy Buffett. But they specialized in making the ordinary extraordinary -- a skill that crossed over into their family life, too. Each year, for instance, they staged Christmas pageants, complete with animals allowed into the main house for a reenactment of the moment when the Three Wise Men first beheld the baby Jesus. Ella's grandson Connor is only now getting over having outgrown the latter role.
No doubt things will change without Ella around to oversee the show. But her influence will last for many years to come, as will a spirit even more remarkable than the odd but endearing wonderland she and Wallace created on a plot of soil they nourished and enriched for more than half a century. She is already missed.
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