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Bowed But Unbeaten, Julie Rose Bowed doesn’t let a brain tumor curtail her efforts for the Central City Opera Guild. Julie Rose has a hard time remembering dates.  Not the romantic kind. Numbers and words often have her guessing. When I went to meet her, she had placed neatly before her on her desktop a page with specific months and years scribbled on it in red ink.  They were important numbers she knew she would have to talk about in our interview, dates she couldn’t recall on her own. One of those was the year she got her brain tumor (2002). Another reminded her how many years she’s been married to her husband, Richard (22). It’s the tumor’s fault. Scar tissue has built up on the outside of her lower brain from the surgery. “They only shaved half of my head for the surgery, which is really cool,” she says. Her hair’s grown back, and Rose lives with her disability, dealing with memory loss by writing everything down and asking questions. I ask a question too. Is the tumor gone? “Recurrent means it comes back … right?” she asks. “I have to look that up. It may be re-recur … (Darn it, I can’t get that word out), come back … but there’s no way to know unless they operate.”

“When Julie had her brain tumor, she didn’t tell anyone she was sick,” says her friend, Margaret Baker, who credits Rose for bringing her into the Central City Opera Guild. “She works so hard for the Opera, and you want to work hard for her. You don’t want to let somebody like that down.” Julie Wham, the co-chair of the Opera’s Denver Antiques Show and Sale, agrees that Rose’s passion for the arts is contagious. “No one works harder or sacrifices more for events in this town,” she comments. The daughter of a World War II medic, Rose is not sure exactly how much money she’s raised for charities through the years, but she figures she’s rounded up tens of thousands of dollars. Her struggle with word retention has never stopped her from the important work of fund raising for such organizations as Childrens’ Hospital, the Gathering House, the Denver Ballet and her most intense love: the Central City Opera.

The CCO holds a special place in her heart because her mother was a vocalist and used to sing a trill as she did her housework. She’s also passionate about the settlers’ story behind the songs that drift from the restored old building. It was the Cornish and Welsh miners who came to the Rocky Mountains looking for gold who built the Opera House. “The miners who migrated to Colorado from the East Coast couldn’t live without their music, and so they built (the opera house) in 1878. I so love the history,” says Rose. Big names like Lillian Gish, Jerome Hines and Beverly Sills have performed in the mountain opera house. Through the years, the Opera has gone through different phases. Without volunteers like Rose, it would not have survived. Next to her daughters and the arts, Rose has a yen for politics. And she’s not afraid to show her true color, which is blue. She’s one of only a few liberal Democrats in her mostly conservative Cherry Hills neighborhood just a stone’s throw from Kent Day School.  

As she tells it, “Let’s just say I got three Obama signs and a couple of Udall signs, and I’d hide them in my shrubs at night so no one could steal them. Then I’d put them back out in the morning. Some of my committee friends would drive by during the day and say, ‘I saw your signs,’ and I’d say, ‘Well, I hope you did!’” These days, with her children grown, she has more time than she used to. And she keeps some pretty unusual hours.  Rose works from her home office when the rest of us are asleep. Sometimes, at 5 o’clock in the morning after a long night of work, she’ll be going up the stairs to bed as her husband, Richard, is stepping down to go to his job heading Denver’s Mercer office.

rolemodel2Sarah Scott Gillis She laughs in her stocking feet as we talk on her sidewalk about their encounters as the sun comes up: “He’ll say to me: ‘Are you just finishing your day?’ My life is all turned around. It’s topsy-turvy.” The quiet of the night is good for Rose. She works extra hours because she says it takes her three times as long to complete an assignment as it does for the rest of us. If she gets a business e-mail, she has to print it out and file it so she doesn’t forget about it. Sometimes, she lays correspondence all over her desk, word-side up, so that reminders of this or that are floating all around her. Besides being the advisor for different fund-raisers, it’s her job to handle all of the print, including poster design, tickets and invitations. “It takes me a while, but I get it done,” she says. Thanks to a couple of four-pawed friends, Rose is not alone as she works through the night. Her Himalayan cat, Pashtet, and her fuzzy, floppy-eared dog, Kelsey, roam in and around her chair at all times. On the wall over her desk where she can see it: a pen and ink of the Central City Opera House.

The artwork provides inspiration as she plans for one of the Opera’s biggest fund-raisers of the year: The 27th annual Antiques Show and Sale is April 17-19.  
Despite the continuing poor economy, Rose is going to go ahead with this year’s show. “It’s a ‘go’. There are lots of organizations that have decided to skip the year 2009 entirely, but we are not going to do that. We’ve got wonderful china, furniture, rugs and jewelry, and there are going to be lots of great bargains. These vendors are ready to deal,” she explains. She’s too busy to worry about what she’ll wear to the sale or to the cocktail parties that can be such a high-fashion extravaganza. “I don’t have time to think about it. I’ll probably wear something I already have,” she says. In the fall, Rose helps run another Central City Opera benefit — L’ Esprit de Noel Home Tour and Boutique, which showcases elegant local houses during the holidays. “It’s such a beautiful event, and everyone looks forward to it to get in the mood for the holidays,” says fellow volunteer Baker. ”Julie is no wallflower when it comes to raising money for the Opera. If a potential sponsor says ‘no,’ she’ll camp out on their doorstep until they say ‘yes.’ And if it weren’t for her encouraging me to get a leg up and get involved, I probably would have just paid my dues, and that would’ve been it for me.”

For a dozen years, Rose has been wheeling and dealing behind the charity scenes, mostly raising money for the arts, and has never taken a paycheck. She doesn’t want one. “I don’t like to get up early. I don’t want a boss. How can they pay me for the hours I do? I’d rather do it because I love this organization,” she says. She reaches up to a cubby in the armoire over the television and brings down a heavy silver Nambé bowl. It’s so heavy she has to wrap it in her arms to keep it balanced. Inscribed on the front: Julie Rose L’Esprit de Noel Chairman Extraordinaire 2008. She remarks, “Isn’t this beautiful? Last year we presented the Central City Opera with the largest check they had ever had in the 32 years of the L’Esprit.” This was an admirable accomplishment in the face of one of the worst economies in three decades. “It’s so much harder to convince people to give to the arts,” she says. “But to have a really great city, you have to have the ballet, you have to have the opera and the symphony. And I believe Denver is a great city. And I’m committed to keeping the arts here alive.”

She is hoping to reach out to a different audience this year to get new blood supporting the Central City Opera. She’s aiming for the 30- to 40-year-old audience, which she feels has been ignored in the past. One of her daughters, Sarah, is in that age group and has just started collecting antiques:  “She’s got unique old pieces of furniture, and if she needs to sell something to make money, she’ll get value back out of it.  You can’t do that with a knock-off.” Sarah works for the New Orleans Times-Picayune in advertising sales. It was in her daughter’s office three and a half years ago that Rose and her husband rode out Hurricane Katrina.
 The Rose family was in New Orleans to move their youngest daughter, Ashley, into the dorms at Newcomb-Tulane College. When the rain started and the winds began to blow, Ashley was bused to Jackson, Mississippi, with the other students while her mom, dad and big sister rode out the first days as the waters rose. The Roses made it out of New Orleans in a newspaper delivery truck.

“There were dead bodies everywhere. And they were mostly black. It was heartbreaking. It could have been your family. It could have been my family,” she says. A silver medal Julie Rose wears around her neck twirls to show the city’s fleur-de-lis symbol on one side and the date the hurricane struck on the other. It’s a Katrina survivor necklace. Katrina was frightening, and having brain surgery is sobering, but Rose says, “It’s all in your attitude. A lot of people say, ‘But you’ve got your brain tumor,’ and I say, ‘Do you see anything wrong?’ They’ll say, ‘But you’ve got this thing in your head.’ I say, ’So what?’ You just keep going.

”I only think of what I can do. Absolutely what I can do and not what I can’t. The final effort is so worth it.”

Written by Carol McKinley
Photography by Kimberly Dawn