December 30,2010

Asking a lot
Barbara Jerome Behl answers

Debra Orecchio

Editor's Note: This is the second column of "Asking a lot," a new feature to be in the last Flume of each month. The interview is condensed and edited.

At the Shawnee tea room Barbara Jerome Behl, owner of the Shawnee Tea Room, sits among some of the many antiques she has on display there. (Photo by Debra Orecchio/The Flume)

Barbara Jerome Behl, owner of Deer Creek Realty in Bailey, started her real estate career working for her uncle, George Jerome, owner of Jerome Realty in Bailey, in the late '70s. She was one of five people who started Choice Property Brokers in 1986 in Pine. She took a hiatus from Choice in 1989 to take a position with Lifespring, a nationwide company that offered personal effectiveness training; she was a business manager for an office it opened in Houston. Lifespring had a foundation that offered trainings in the Soviet Union, so she volunteered to conduct some training there in the early '90s.

When she returned to Colorado in 1993, she began working for Deer Creek Realty. When the original owner, Florence Rohloff, passed away in 1996, Behl negotiated to purchase the business. Just this past year, she purchased the Shawnee Tea Room. On Dec. 21, she hosted a tea party at the Tea Room for the second-grade classes at Deer Creek Elementary. In addition to running the two businesses, she has served on the board of the Mountain Peace Shelter, and she now serves on the board of the Bailey-based "I Love U Guys" Foundation.

DO: Where did you grow up?

Behl: I am a native of Colorado; I grew up in Westminster, kind of the old Westminster at the time. It's all changed now. Then it was a place where we could walk to school. We used to come up here to the mountains a lot as kids; we had a lot of family that lived up in the mountains, and my parents would bring us up here.

DO: When you were a kid, what did you want to grow up to be?

Behl: That's a great question, because I still ask myself that all the time. I wanted to be important. I think I wanted to do something that was important, someone that takes care of people or makes a big splash and makes a difference in some way.

DO: What do you not like about real estate?

Behl: I really don't like disappointing people. I think that having to really lay down the facts of what's going on, especially in these turbulent times; in these last two years it's been tough to really face up to results. I tend to really be an optimist and believe in miracles. But I think letting them down, like if something doesn't close if an inspection failed or just all the tough stuff - stuff you don't want to have to tell somebody.

DO: Did you go to college?

Behl: I went to CSU in Fort Collins. I wanted to go to [the University of California] Berkeley. I studied psychology and art; I have a bachelor's degree in psychology. My path took a turn during my last year of college; I was diagnosed with melanoma, so I got my bachelor's, but I did not go on to graduate school.

DO: What did you do after graduation?

Behl: I did some traveling around the United States, and then I decided to land in Shawnee. I had an opportunity to rent a little cabin there. And I thought, what could I do? I had a degree in psychology; I loved being outside; I had some art/craft skills. There was an arts and crafts summer recreation program that was offered by Park County at one time; this was back in 1977-78. I applied for the job; it didn't pay very much. I'd work the whole summer conducting this arts and crafts summer program. I loved living in the mountains, and I thought what could I do to stay here. So I got my real estate license in 1978.

My uncle, George Jerome, owned Jerome Realty in Bailey, where O'Malley's is now. A lot of people think he's my dad, but he's my uncle. I started with him. Then I ended up moving on to other companies. I used to commute from my little cabin in Shawnee to downtown [Denver].

I was one of five people that started Choice Property Brokers in 1986. We all had a stake in it, and it was a tough market then, too. So I have to kind of giggle when I hear about all these tough markets. I never knew any differently. We were dealing with high interest rates then and high gas prices. It was always a challenging market to get people to want to make their home up here in the mountains, with all the obstacles people had for commuting and the lack of services we had up here. So that's always been important to me, that we could have a community that would really work, not just such a getaway, but that people could really choose to live and work here without having to drive four hours a day.

In 1989, I did some personal effectiveness training with Lifespring, and out of that I ended up being offered a job as a business manager to open up a center for Lifespring in Houston. I took a hiatus from Choice. Lifespring had a foundation that offered training in the Soviet Union, so I ended up doing some volunteer work and did two one-month intervals and did trainings in the Soviet Union.

That was extraordinary, really, seeing the other side of the world and not being afraid to travel there. It was what I call playing it big, where it really mattered. You really felt like whether it was just a smile [from a Russian], it was not political, it was not religious. Out of it came just a connection where we're people. They were no longer an enemy; these people cared about their goals, they cared about raising their kids, they had their own belief system. Those are things that mattered to them, just like they mattered to us.

I came back in 1993, met my husband [Larry Behl], and started to work at Deer Creek Realty.

Deer Creek Realty has been in existence since the '70s; it was owned by Florence Rohloff, who was also a huge pillar in our community. She died in 1996. That's when I took over as owner.

That little log cabin has been a real estate office since the 1950s. AJ Messer was a guy who used to sell little log cabins, just like the office. You'll see them spread out around the county. Some people have built on to them and made extraordinary places, and some are still the same old little 480-square-foot cabin.

DO: How much time do you now spend on real estate?

Behl: My real estate career is really my primary source of income. We also have a heavy hauling business; Larry runs that. Those are our primary income businesses. The Tea Room is really more of a gift, a place to play and a labor of love as part of the picture of restoring and honoring this community. This is kind of a dream I've had to do something in Shawnee some day, maybe a museum. This came sooner than I had planned. Susan and Caitlin Frazier offered this opportunity to me when they had to leave. I'm grateful for what they started, and I appreciated the work they did. And I'm thankful for those who come [to the Tea Room]. It's totally different in a lot of ways from real estate; it allows me to be creative. At the same time, there are so many similarities. It's about serving people still; it's about talking about the area, the history, the services. It's really about being available and being of service.

DO: What do you like about real estate?

Behl: I love it when people are so happy, when they're excited and happy, and of course, that's usually at the closing. It's fun to see when someone's really accomplished their goal, no matter what it was, whether it was selling land so they could put their daughter through college, or finally getting their dream home in the mountains.

DO: What do you like about the Tea Room?

Behl: I like the people that come in here, the different people. I have had many Europeans stop here; it's almost like a magnet. I had no idea that many were traveling through here. I've had a lot of people from South Africa, of course England, Ireland, and Germany. And lots of wonderful people from Colorado and people just driving through. But I've been amazed by the number of Europeans and people from other countries that come here. I think it's the tea thing, the Tea Room that attracts them.

DO: What's something that you don't like?

Behl: The fact that I am pulled in so many directions in my life. I wish I just didn't have to make a living, or that I have to leave [the Tea Room]. I don't like that I have to work so many different roles to make this work right now.

DO: What is your favorite thing to eat?

Behl: I love food, I love food pairing. I love cheese; I hate to pick one because I love all. I love good, healthy food. I love good fresh food, and I love good old moldy food, evidently.

DO: What's your idea of happiness?

Behl: Tough questions. I think really finding inner peace, just really experiencing inner peace and enjoying the day. It's something really to strive for. I hear it, I read it, I'll say it, just really being present with the moment there.

DO: When and where do you think you were the happiest?

Behl: I think I am now, really, as much as I am. I think it's a continual process. I can be happy drinking a glass of wine, I can be happy lying on the beach, but I think really it has to be within me all the time. I think that's one of the beauties for me of getting older is I'm learning more and more how I can allow that happiness or that inner peace to be with me.

DO: What is one thing you hate?

Behl: I hate to hate. I mean there's certainly things that are annoying to me.

DO: What's your greatest fear?

Behl: Not experiencing that peace or accomplishing a purpose or giving back in some way, just thinking of regrets, that I would regret my life. I feel that I struggle with that now. I feel that if I face things then I'm not as afraid. Maybe the biggest fear is that I would be closed up and not be open to things in my life that are coming my way, that I would close down. I think that would be the biggest fear.

DO: Is there anything that you regret?

Behl: I would love to say no, there's nothing I regret, but in reflection I'm just saddened by people that I've missed, that I miss in my life that are no longer with me. I don't really have any specific regrets; I just kind of miss them.

DO: Is there a living person that you admire?

Behl: Oh yeah, lots of them. I think of my mother [Alma Jerome]; my mother is so extraordinary. She always just has a great attitude towards life no matter what's come her way. And just truly her giving; she's just a giver. My sister, Kathleen, she passed on in 2002; she was my hero. And teachers that I've met. But a lot of the really powerful people that have come my way have passed, and I still look forward to the others that are going to come through.

DO: What about books? Do you read a lot of books?

Behl: I love books; I think they're like little special friends. It's really a luxury to me now to be able to read a book, and to sit down and relax and be in that calming mode. I tend to choose books that help with my "beingness" and how I can be better. I'm reading "The Tea Enthusiast" right now, just because it's fun and I learn a lot from it.

I love children's books; I think my favorite book in the whole world is "The Little Prince;" we took a quote from that book for our marriage vows: "It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye." And then as we see that repeated all the time, like in [the movie] "Avatar," it's just a wonderful, beautiful message, and I like to try to live by that.

DO: Favorite movie?

Behl: I love good movies. I'm still stuck on that "Wizard of Oz." I think I feel like it's very trite when I say these things, but to me it's so symbolic of so much more. And I meet the characters; it's like my husband; I married the scarecrow.

DO: What about TV?

Behl: We don't watch a lot of TV; we'll watch some of the HBO things. I like to watch educational things when I do. I like to laugh, and I like dancing, so I try to catch some of that stuff, but I'm not a steady watcher of TV just because I'm not home. It's something that I fantasize about, staying home in my jammies and watching TV. Does anyone get to do that anymore and still have a life?

DO: What talent would you like to have?

Behl: I would love to speak foreign languages. I've studied a little Russian, a little Spanish, Italian, but I still struggle. When I was in Italy a couple years ago, my Russian started coming out. I just have to laugh, somewhere it's in there. But I just find it really challenging, and I have the utmost respect of people that can speak multiple languages.

DO: What do you think is your greatest achievement?

Behl: I think for me personally is finally connecting with my life partner, my husband.

DO: What is your most treasured possession?

Behl: It would be my little animal children, and I'd hate to pick one of them. They'd get mad; they might have a protest poo or something when I get home. We have two daschunds that we adopted, we have a long-hair and a short- hair, and we have three cats. I love cats. The thing that's so fun is all these animals were shelter or adopted. But the daschund factor is I love animals - I always have - but they were the only dogs I didn't care for growing up, the only dog that ever bit me. And yet when I met my husband, he had a daschund that he had adopted. I realized all my judgments, so my daschunds in my life are there to remind me of my judgments and my closed-mindedness. Because I love them so much; they bring total joy in our busy world.

DO: What do you drive?

Behl: A 2002 Trailblazer. And I also have a 2005 Volvo. I got that to celebrate my 50th birthday. I got that because I had one in college that was always breaking down, and that was my measure of a level of success for me - to get a new Volvo. But I tend to drive my clunker, my truck. I don't care about fancy cars that much, especially living up here. I always wanted a Mercedes, so maybe I'll get one someday, but that doesn't matter to me anymore. It's interesting how that stuff just doesn't matter.

DO: What's your favorite thing to do?

Behl: As you're asking me today, it would be to take some time off and stay home, just be at my own property. I love piano, I love to listen to music, or just playing. I play the piano a little; I have very limited talent, lot of love of talent but very limited abilities.

DO: What's your most remarkable characteristic?

Behl: I think probably my endurance and possibly connecting, being able to talk to people when I want to.

DO: Anything that you dislike about yourself?

Behl: Oh yeah. I struggle with some anger at times, and forgiveness and misunderstandings. Probably just being too controlling.

DO: What do you not like in other people?

Behl: I want to go back to that on me, probably my lack of listening carefully. It's something I don't like about myself and, therefore, that's what I notice what I don't like in myself I'll notice in other people as well. I think that would be also the lack of forgiving. Maybe that's all part of the unwillingness and stubbornness, maybe if it's just one word, it's all kind of stubborn. Basically, what I notice that I don't like in people are usually the same traits that I don't like in myself.

DO: If money were no object and you could go anywhere you wanted to go, where would that be?

Behl: I really have a desire to see the whole world. One of the places that I did really enjoy was in the Mediterranean, in Malta. I still want to go to Egypt, the Holy Lands, and things like that.

DO: Any instance in which you would lie?

Behl: That's really an interesting question because I've thought if it was a matter of life or death, I would probably lie. It would depend on the situation. I would want to think that I would never lie, because I think honesty is really valuable and important. I think it would just be a matter of life or death for family, or for me or for whatever, if it was really a life-or-death situation.

I think of Christians in early times, would I really have said, I knew him [Jesus], if I was Peter, one of the apostles, and I was going to be killed right then, would I have said yes. I might consider it then, but if I really believed in life ever after in another world, it wouldn't matter that I said it. It all comes down to faith.