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  • Laura Armstrong

The Heart-J Experience: The Sicklers

Updated: Sep 29

In early June 1946, Maurice and Tillie Jessup arrived at Sylvan Dale, with 5-year-old David and 2-year-old Susan in tow. They’d purchased 125 acres along the Big Thompson River with the dream of started a children’s summer camp, but the summer of '46 brought the polio epidemic and summer camps across the country were closed.


Maurice and Tillie Jessup in the early days of Sylvan Dale

Maurice and Tillie remembered that Sylvan Dale had once been a guest ranch. A previous owner, Frend Neville, had built cabins to host guests from St. Louis who came to fish the abundant waters of the Big Thompson.

Maurice hand-lettered a sign “Guest Ranch” with an arrow pointing off of Highway 34 to the entrance of Sylvan Dale.

Harry and Lois Sickler, of Corning, Iowa, had been vacationing in Estes Park with their 7-year-old son, Doug. Harry was the Chevrolet dealer in Corning and each year, the family took a road trip vacation in one of the new cars from the dealership.


A 1946 Chevy Fleetmaster 4-door ~ from Iowa to Colorado in style!

At the end of their stay in Estes, the family headed back down Big Thompson Canyon to make their way home to Corning. As they rounded the corner at the mouth of Big Thompson Canyon, young Doug shouted from the back seat of the dark blue Chevy Fleetmaster, “Dad, look! It’s a guest ranch! Let’s stay there tonight!”

Having left Estes Park not more than an hour before and with the long drive to Iowa ahead, Harry ignored Doug’s suggestion and drove on through Loveland. Doug was not to be deterred. He talked about the guest ranch non-stop all the way through Loveland and Harry gave in. He swung a wide U-turn in the large Chevy sedan and made the way back to the foothills, where the Sickler family became the Jessup Family's very first guests.

After their first stay on the banks of the Big Thompson, the Sicklers were hooked. Harry, Lois, and Doug returned to Sylvan Dale nearly every year of Doug’s childhood. And when Doug married Bev, they continued the tradition, bringing their kids, Eric and Kristin, to the Ranch each summer. Now in his 80s, Doug maintains friendships with people he met at Sylvan Dale when he was a boy.

Harry, Lois, and Doug Sickler at Sylvan Dale in 1951

During a recent visit to the Ranch, Doug described his "utopia in vacations" and what the Heart-J Experience at Sylvan Dale means to him and his family. Watch this video to hear Doug's story in his own words:



Bev, son Eric, and Doug during a recent visit to Sylvan Dale.


Looking Towards the Future

Sylvan Dale is a place with incredible history that includes the stories of the thousands of people who have spent time as guests of the Jessup Family. Honoring these connections to the past is vital as we think about the Ranch's future.


As Sylvan Dale plans for its 75th Anniversary Season in 2021 and we continue to design the vision for the future of this incredible place, we invite you to share YOUR Heart-J Experience.


Click this link to fill out a short survey to let us know what Sylvan Dale means to you.




Want to be part of the vision for the future of Sylvan Dale?

Click here to make your tax-deductible gift today.


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Heart-J Center for Experiential Learning
PO Box 150, Masonville, CO 80541
Tax ID#: 46-4993961
HJC is a 501(c)3 charitable organization