There was an unmistakable edge to longtime Denverite Ida Uchill, who passed away late last week in Maryland.
A respected historian, she was never willing to tolerate shoddy research and seldom hesitated to call those who practiced it — particularly historians — to task.
Likewise, as a veteran teacher of English among other subjects, Uchill never brooked poor spelling, grammar, syntax or sentence structure. Members of the IJN staff who chose to spell certain words certain ways often heard from her, speaking in the tone of a demanding teacher, red pen in hand.
Despite these manifestations of exactitude, and an ironic sense of humor that could sometimes be cutting, Uchill was one of the best friends one could hope to have.
She was a comprehensive historian, capable not only of seeking out elusive information but of intelligently analyzing it. She was also a brilliant conversationalist, and someone who carefully measured what she said and wrote.
While her landmark Colorado Jewish history, Pioneers Peddlers and Tsadikim (published in 1957, republished in 2000) was far from a feel-good, everything-is-rosy account of Colorado Jewry, Uchill was judicious with what went into the book and what didn’t.
She wasn’t afraid of scandal or shanda — the book records any number of stories that could be considered either or both — but Uchill was distrustful of rumor, legend and gossip, the bugaboos of all historians. If she couldn’t reliably confirm something — no matter how fascinating or titillating it might be — it was relegated to her legendary historical files, not released to the public.
As a newspaper that often delves into historical matters, the IJN considered Uchill an invaluable ally, knowing that we could count on the exacting nature of her scholarship. She assisted us in any number of historical features and never was the information she provided challenged, let alone discredited.
Her book remains the gold standard of regional Jewish history, nearly 60 years after its original publication. That and the overall body of research she gathered constitutes a rich and unique resource for future historians and writers.
The amazing photographs she took and filed away — many of long-gone synagogues and other seminal sites from Denver’s West Side Jewish community — are likewise important parts of our collective history.
We hope that all these materials will find a fitting home somewhere where the public can access and use them. They are the legacy of a dedicated and careful historian who made it her mission to record the history of her community at a time when very few others thought of doing so.
We’ll miss Ida Uchill, not only because of her significant work, but for her personality and loyal friendship, and wish her family well in these trying times.
Copyright © 2014 by the Intermountain Jewish News