Crash Takes Big Part of Restaurant Tradition

Published Aug. 1, 2007 by Colorado Springs Gazette.

A family legacy began on a summer night in 1951 with chicken-fried steak and baked ham on the menu. Part of it ended Tuesday with the death of Sydney Dickey, a fixture of the landmark Juniper Valley Ranch Dining Room southwest of Colorado Springs.

Sydney and her husband, Jim Dickey, were on their way to their grandson’s baseball game when a Jeep crossed the double-yellow center line Tuesday evening on Colorado Highway 115, causing a head-on collision, the Colorado State Patrol said.

Sydney Dickey, 64, died at the scene, while Jim, 65, was airlifted to Memorial Hospital, where he remains in serious condition.

The driver of the Jeep, Linda Kapler, 64, of Silvercliff, died soon after being taken to a hospital. Five generations of the Dickey family have lived just five miles south of milepost 34, where the crash happened.

Sydney Dickey’s mother, Ethel Shirola, and aunt, Evelyn Ellis, opened the Juniper Valley Ranch Dining Room in 1951. Since then, the roadside restaurant has maintained a reputation for down-home cooking in an atmosphere more like a home than a restaurant. Sydney Dickey cooked the restaurant’s homemade desserts and whipped up the salads and dressings.

“It’s funny,” said Greg Dickey, her second oldest child. “She was gone a week ago on a golfing trip and I had to make the salads and desserts myself and she was kind of teasing like, ‘Did you miss me?’ I said, ‘God yeah,’ but now I’m not sure what I’m going to do.”

Greg Dickey owns and runs the family restaurant and said it will be open today as usual, the way his mother would have wanted it.

“She was a very remarkable woman. None that are made like that nowadays,” he said. Chris Dickey, the youngest of Sydney and Jim Dickey’s five children, said his brother Greg will most likely take over the desserts and salads.

“Mom taught him how to do the desserts — not all of them though — he probably won’t be too comfortable. Greg will have to use the recipe cards. But all the family will be around here. We’ll make sure Juniper Valley will be open.” he said.

Chris Dickey said his was “the quintessential mother.”

“She lived in the house that her mother and father built. My sister is living in the house that we grew up in as a family.” he said. “Family was everything. Without a doubt, it was her top priority. Her grandkids are going to miss her.”

Chris Dickey said his parents were sweethearts at St. Mary’s High School and three years shy of their 50th wedding anniversary. Of his mother’s cooking talents, he said he will best remember her spaghetti and meatballs, chicken cacciatore and German chocolate cake.

“This family is like an Italian family, and we’re not Italian,” said Rhonda Nichols, cousin of Sydney Dickey. “We’re all close.”

Sydney lived across the highway from the restaurant and along the same dirt road where Nichols lives. They were both raised on the family’s 300-acre ranch, homesteaded by their grandfather, Guy Parker, in the 1880s. The restaurant began as El Sombrero around 1940, selling sandwiches to workers building the highway in Cañon City, and was renamed in 1951 and given its signature menu.

“She worked there since she was a little girl. That’s what all of our jobs were as young kids,” Nichols said.

Nichols was driving home Tuesday night on Highway 115 when she got stuck in traffic, unaware it was her cousin’s collision that closed the highway for about three hours and made her take the long way home through Pueblo.

“I said, ‘I’m not going to sit up here and watch this awful scene. Death isn’t something I enjoy,’” she said. “It’s a good thing I didn’t notice because I probably would’ve lost it.”

Sydney Dickey also is survived by 11 grandchildren. Services will be at Swan Law Funeral Home once the family knows more about the condition of James Dickey.

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