Saddle Tramps

Page 4 of 4

Miller coveted a piece of Colorado Saddlery the minute he saw it, on a foraging expedition for supplies he intended to use for his rustic-furniture-making hobby. At first, Van Scoyk told him he didn't want to be a landlord. "But one night about three years ago I was driving around with a truck full of rocking chairs I'd made," Miller recalls, "and I cruised by Colorado Saddlery, and there was old Van standing out on the sidewalk with his hands in his pockets looking up at the sky. I said, 'Van, are you ever going to retire? Because if you do, you'll need a rocking chair.' And I gave him one."

A few months later Van Scoyk agreed to lease Miller a floor of his warehouse--a space Miller refers to as his office, but a space that looks more like the fascinating assortment of taxidermy, rustic furniture and exercise equipment it is. Not that Mr. Van objects. "No," says Miller, "he is just the best guy--the grandfather you never had. Working here, I feel like somebody has invited me into their family for a couple, three years. And it's a wonderful family. No backstabbing. No bickering. None of that."

Susan Van Scoyk, at 47 Mr. Van's oldest child, is in a unique position to discuss her family. Not only is she part of it, but in a development due in no small part to her inherited talent for careful listening, she is a licensed psychiatrist. As such, she is qualified to discuss the early influences that made her father the man he is.

There is nothing complex about them.
"He had a rough time with his own dad, but he came through," she says proudly. "He wanted to be a wonderful dad, and he was."

When pressed, Susan reveals more of her father's psychological profile: His mother was an early devotee of health food, which he still can't bear to eat. "Thank God there were so many Italians around north Denver," Susan says, "or my Dad would have had nothing to eat but wheat germ and yogurt."

Susan Van Scoyk spent her teenage summers doing various odd jobs at the saddlery and walking with her father around the neighborhood. "We couldn't make it two blocks before he fell into a conversation with a stranger," she recalls. This was true not only at home, but also on the family's first real vacation, in 1957.

"We went to Galveston, Texas, at the beginning or end of the hurricane season," Susan recalls. "Just the wrong time, but we went to the beach anyway. Also at the beach, in winter garb, was another family. A black family. And before you knew it, their dad and my dad were just chatting away. Later that day, my dad told me, 'You know, people make such a big deal about skin color. It actually means nothing.'"

His position on this and other timely subjects was never lost on Susan, who became a "polite young socialist" at Barnard College and brought her radical boyfriends home to discuss the plight of the proletariat with her successful, capitalist father. "My father had instituted health benefits and profit-sharing, it turned out," she laughs. "He was one of the first. It kind of took the wind out of the sails of the young socialists."

Susan came back to Colorado in 1974, not just for medical school, but to be near her parents--and the hot meals they provided. Three years ago, with nearly two decades of professional psychiatry under her belt, she decided to take a part-time job at Colorado Saddlery, "doing what needs to be done," she says. "I did this to get a sense of the history. I figured I would either like it here or not."

Well, she likes it. Her eleven-year-old daughter, Vanessa, and fifteen-year-old son, Jason, often accompany her to work. Sometimes the three of them will fan out over the floors of the building, packing saddles, answering phones, sweeping the front stoop.

But just as often, you can find all three generations shoehorned into P.R. Van Scoyk's office, listening raptly to whoever has dropped by.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Robin Chotzinoff
Contact: Robin Chotzinoff

Latest Stories