Peggy Fitzgerald Coppom was in her youth when, in the small town of Haxtun on Colorado’s eastern plains, she first heard the sounds of Colorado Buffaloes football through the family radio.
Men like Kayo Lam and Byron “Whizzer” White were among the Buffaloes’ stars in those days.
Growing up in a sports-loving family, Peggy and her twin sister, Betty Fitzgerald Hoover, began a life-long love of the Buffaloes, which led to them becoming beloved, local celebrities, known as the “CU Twins.”
After the family moved to Longmont in 1939 and Boulder in 1940, they often attended CU games and the twins have been regular attendees for decades, befriending players and their families.
“We did our best to try to get acquainted with them,” Peggy said. “And it’s all just been a lot of fun for us and something we really have enjoyed through the years. And if we got known for that, I guess it’s frosting on the cake.”
The twins have been so well known among CU fans, in fact, that when Betty died on Wednesday morning at the age of 95 after a battle with pancreatic cancer, there was an outpouring of emotion and support from fans, as well as CU players and coaches past and present.
“Very humbling,” Peggy said. “I thought, ‘Well, those kids don’t know how much fun they’ve given us. They’ve given us a lot, too.’”
Buff Nation has mourned the loss of one of their greatest fans, while Peggy has mourned the loss of her sister and best friend.
“It’s been extremely hard,” Peggy said as she sat on her shaded back porch in North Boulder on Friday, just two days after Betty’s death. “But I keep saying, ‘Get over this now. Think what Betty would be doing and what I’d want her to be doing.’”
Betty, she said, would be more capable of holding in the tears.
At one during the past couple of weeks, Peggy was getting ready to go home after a visit with Betty.
“She could tell my voice was crackling and she said, ‘Now don’t cry!’” Peggy said. “I didn’t until I got outside, but I sure had a flood afterwards. But that’s a part of life, too. God made tears along with laughter.”
The twins have had a lot of both, with a heavier dose of laughter.
Born Nov. 19, 1924, in Walsenburg, Betty and Peggy grew up in Haxtun. Their parents, Maple and Lester Fitzgerald, created a loving, religious-centered home. That served as the foundation for long, healthy lives for the girls.
“We couldn’t have had better parents,” Peggy said. “I didn’t realize it until I got to be an adult, I guess, that everybody doesn’t have a family like that. We never heard a cross word between our parents, ever.”
Growing up in the Great Depression and then during the time of World War II, the family didn’t have a lot of money, but the girls were happy. They slept in the same bed until Peggy got married at 19.
“We wanted to be married and have families and we were going to have to separate,” Peggy said. “The parting then, in my mind, was difficult, but we knew we wanted to do that. We both knew we didn’t want to be old maids.”
They went on to separate lives with their own families, but were never far apart. Their husbands were good friends that they met while attending Longmont High School (the sisters eventually graduated from Boulder High in 1942). John Coppom and Harry Hoover were not only friends, but both were in the National Guard and became pilots during World War II. After the war, they both worked as pilots for United Airlines.
“When we were married, we’d naturally do different things,” Peggy said. “We had a lot of things together and a lot that were not, but we were always close.”
Peggy’s husband died in 1973 at the age of 52 and Betty’s husband died in 1990. For the past 30 years, they’ve been nearly inseparable. They dressed alike as kids and began doing so again after their husbands died.
“We felt very uncomfortable and self-conscious if we didn’t have on the same thing,” said Peggy, adding they’d take turn deciding what to wear. “I don’t understand that but that’s the way we felt.”
Devout Catholics, the sisters attended mass together on a daily basis until just a few months ago when Betty’s health wouldn’t allow it. In recent weeks, Peggy visited Betty every day and they’d pray the Rosary and read The Divine Mercy.
For 95 years, Betty and Peggy have been as close as sisters can be, and were “absolutely” best friends, Peggy said.
“What I’m going to miss the most is Betty and I could tell each other anything,” Peggy said. “We didn’t criticize people, but you do have annoyances now and then. … We could soothe each other a little bit over an annoyance or hurt or whatever, to get over it easier. I do miss that already.”
As CU fans know, the twins also shared a love of the Buffs.
They grew up in a sports-loving family, which included their father being a local boxing champion and their brother, Bill, a state champion in football and basketball at Boulder High School. Peggy’s son, Jack Coppom, was an All-Big 8 baseball player at CU, leading the Buffs in hitting in 1966. Peggy’s husband was also a boxing state champion.
Betty and Peggy started going to CU games when they moved to Boulder. After getting married, they bought “knothole tickets” for their kids. Between them, they had seven children and their husbands often took them to basketball games at Balch Fieldhouse.
Shortly after the CU Events Center opened in 1979, they got season tickets to basketball games.
For decades, the two have been going to football and basketball games together, almost always dressed alike. With both suffering from macular degeneration in recent years, Peggy said, “I haven’t seen the football for two years. … I could tell by the crowd whether he caught the ball or not.”
Despite some health issues, the twins kept going to games, and fans always loved seeing them at the stadium or arena.
Without Betty, Peggy said she’ll still go, if she can. Attendance may not be option this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. Even if football and basketball are played this year, there may not be fans allowed. But, she’ll go if she’s allowed.
“Yes, because she’d want me to and I would want her to,” Peggy said. “It wouldn’t be easy, but you can’t quit living. I’m still alive. I’m going to try to enjoy the rest of my life. Sadness is a part of life and I’ve got to endure that, too.”
After more than 95 years of enjoying life with Betty, Peggy is enduring sadness right now, but has a strong faith and close family lifting her up. She also cherishes the life she and her sister have led together.
“You know, people ask me that: How do you like being a twin?” she said. “I say, ‘Well, I’ve loved every minute of life and had a lot of fun and enjoyment – and I don’t know of any other way than being a twin with my sister, Betty.’
“It’s been a fun-loving, good, spiritual life.”