›› After eight years as Colorado’s first lady, longtime Aurora resident Frances Owens is tackling a new job as community relations director for ARC Thrift Stores. We sat down with her to discuss her time in Aurora’s Mission Viejo neighborhood, ARC, and being first lady.
Actually Lloyd Lewis, who is our president, came to me and he said, “Let’s talk.” I never thought about it, but the mission of what they do is right up my alley. We have the 22 stores throughout the state, and the money from those stores goes back to 12 different chapters. … They take that money and they help people with disabilities, be that for advocacy, whether it has to do with helping them find jobs or housing or helping with their education — all the money that we get from our ARC stores goes back to them.
Before you took the job, did you know much about what ARC does?
I knew they had people work there with disabilities, I always knew that. I didn’t know they employed so many individuals. … I think without ARC a lot of the developmentally disabled community wouldn’t have jobs, I don’t know what they would be doing. What we help them do by giving them employment and friendships, it makes their life seem pretty normal.
You lived in Aurora’s Mission Viejo neighborhood for more than 30 years. What was it about that neighborhood that you liked when you moved in?
We had looked way off of Arapahoe Road in Homestead and then we went out to Mission and we really liked the housing, liked the area. And since we didn’t have kids yet (when we moved in 1977), we figured, “Well, when we have young kids, there will be lots of families.” Rather than buying in a well-established area, this was all pretty new and we thought that would be great for our kids. As it turned out we were in Mission for a long time, and really liked it.
Looking back on your eight years as Colorado’s first lady, would you do anything different?
No, I don’t think so. I loved it. You just really had a lot of wonderful opportunities. I think the political tenor now is a little different, so I think it would be more challenging. But when we were there, I loved it, I did. I did a lot with literacy and a lot with the developmentally disabled community and early intervention, so I think that was more my niche. … You can pick something that’s of interest to you and hope you can make a little bit of a mark there. There are a lot of great opportunities. Sometimes I wish I would had been better about keeping a journal. You kind of forget all these wonderful things you got to do and be a part of. Maybe I’ll go back and try to remember a lot of it.
What was living in the Governor’s Mansion like?
There wasn’t anything set up really to take care of the mansion so it was always a challenge. When the Boettchers donated it to the state, they donated, I think, $15,000 for three years. It was difficult for every governor. When we came in — because Bill was the first Republican in 24 years — we raised a lot of money. From that first inaugural I think it was about $1 million and we took $800,000 or so and renovated the main part of the house — that was painting and carpet and recovering furniture. It really brought it more up to date. Then I raised about $3 million from nonprofits and foundations and individuals to renovate the lower gardens. … Then we ran out of time. Then Jeannie (Ritter) came in, which was great and she put together the Governor’s Residence Preservation Fund. I’m on the board and we help to raise money so we will always have finances coming in to maintain the house.