Al Hoza, a devoted family man and stalwart member of the Eagle community, passed away Jan. 11 at his home in Eagle. He was 84 years old.
Hoza was born May 18, 1928, to Frank and Anna Hoza in Florence. He was raised on a farm in the small community of Westcliffe. His childhood on the farm taught him about the virtues of hard work and the value of a dollar. He applied both lessons throughout his life. His small-town upbringing also provided a template for his days in Eagle.
"He always talked about how he graduated at the top of his class, but he was the only one in it," said son Brian.
When it came time to attend college, Al enrolled in pharmacy school at the University of Colorado and his father, mother and two sisters followed him to the Boulder community. The Hozas built a home from logs they harvested and hewed themselves and set up a dairy business north of the city.
"Dad originally wanted to be a veterinarian, but when he went to check out the vet school, it was filled. But they had room in the pharmacy school," said daughter Annie Colby.
After earning his degree, Hoza moved to Craig to complete an internship. While delivering medication to the hospital, he met a lovely young nurse stationed there. He and his wife, Mary, were wed on June 7, 1952, and celebrated their 60th anniversary last summer.
The Hozas originally lived in Colorado Springs, where nine of their 11 children were born. But the couple was looking for a small pharmacy operation they could run themselves.
"We decided he wasn't getting anywhere and we decided we wanted to look for our own store," said Mary.
The search for the right opportunity took the family all over the state to look at possible locations - from Leadville to Castle Rock. But in 1966, they found what they were looking for in Eagle.
The Hoza children vividly remember piling out of the car and peeking in the front window of the closed store. The Hozas liked the business opportunity in Eagle, and better yet, they liked the community. For nearly half a century, Al devoted himself to the success of both.
But it was no small feat to move the large family to the new community. Al moved up to Eagle by himself in October and then the family followed in February. Finding a house large enough to meet their needs was a challenge. Eventually a handshake deal with the former owner found the Hozas settling at the family home at Howard and Third Street. Although they expanded the house to include additional bedrooms, Al and Mary raised their 11 children in a house where they all shared a single bathroom. Al said that experience taught them a lesson in compatibility.
When they weren't at home, the Hozas could most likely be found at the Eagle Pharmacy. The business has always been more than just a place to purchase prescriptions. As the years went by, Hoza expanded and refined the inventory to reflect what people in the community needed. Over time, the business earned its name "The Nearly Everything Store." Business hours were fluid.
"The sign at the front said, 'When the lights are on and the door swings freely' and that's the way he ran it," said daughter Lori Milner.
"It was all about service," said son Brian. "Dad wasn't a trained businessman, but he just figured out what people wanted and got it for them. That's why the store ended up with so many different things."
Al was also known for his willingness to go that extra step for his customers, whether that meant delivering medication for a sick child during late night hours or waiting at the shop long after closing time after a desperate call from an out-of-state hunter who needed to purchase a license but was delayed by weather.
Al's service to the community extended beyond running his business. He served as a member of the Eagle Town Board and contributed regular town board recap columns to the Eagle Valley Enterprise. He was also a member of the Eagle Clinic Board and St. Mary's Catholic Church.
But the heart of Al's life was his family. He was a dedicated father and the Eagle Pharmacy was a family business in the best sense of the word. All the children worked at the store while they were growing up.
"Growing up in the family, you graduated through various jobs," said Brian.
"Dad's theory was we all had to dust, because that was how we would know where everything was," said Annie Colby.
In a Father's Day story last June, Hoza said one of the joys of having his own business was what it meant for his family.
"We got to spend more time with them that way," he said. "And they all had to earn their own money. I may have only paid them 25 cents an hour, but it was all good."
"There was always something to do at the store," said daughter Linda Taylor.
"Our parents taught us all an awesome work ethic," said Lori Milner.
The thrifty ways that he learned on the farm during his childhood followed Al throughout his life. If a broken item was returned to the store, he would attempt to fix it. If something could be repurposed, that's what he did.
"If I never have to straighten another nail in my life, it will be too soon," said son Gary, recalling one of his childhood duties.
The kids all worked hard at the Pharmacy. But they played there, too. At night, when the shop was closed, Al would crank up the music and to the strains of Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass and the kids would play store. They would go "shopping" and ring up their cart contents on the cash register. Then Al would clear out their pretend purchases and everyone put everything back on the shelves. The loud music emanating from the store after business hours sometimes brought out police to make sure that everything was all right.
"Dad liked to crank up the music and it was top 40 music, not dad-type music," said Lori.
Sometimes the late evening hours inspired a bit of whimsy. One of the Hoza family jokes shared with the community at large involved the life-size, bikini-clad Coppertone girl. For several years, the cardboard cutout made a regular appearance outside the store, sporting a blaze orange fur bikini and a sign warning hunters that her outfit did not constitute 500 square-inches of displayed blaze orange (a Colorado hunting requirement at the time). Linda admits she was in on the joke, which evolved as part of the silliness that often accompanies very long work hours because Al would keep the store open extra late to accommodate out-of-state shoppers.
"There are still hunters who say they won't go any place else to buy their licenses because Dad met them at midnight one year," said Linda.
Even with the responsibilities and challenges that come with owning a small business, once a year Al and Mary would pack up everyone for a family vacation. The Hozas fondly remember camping out - the girls sleeping with mom in the touring car and the boys sleeping with dad in a tent. Those days showed another side of Al's personality - his natural curiosity and his love of history. The Hoza children remember their dad never passed by a historical marker.
"If you were on a car trip and even if you were asleep, when we got to a historical marker, dad would wake you up," said daughter Joan Hoza Rigoli.
Hoza retired from work at the Eagle Pharmacy five years ago, but until his heath prevented it, he made regular trips to the store. He was beloved by his employees and inspired strong loyalty among the Pharmacy workers with his kind, soft-spoken nature and his dry wit. While his duties at the Pharmacy involved filling prescriptions, his love was interacting with people and the work day often found Al out on the sales floor rather than behind the counter.
In remembering Al this week, a friend told Mary that when he spoke to you, you felt as though Al was totally with you in that moment. It was a rare quality that those knew him will always remember.
Al is survived by his wife of 60 years, Mary Hoza. He is also survived by his 11 children: David Hoza; Anna Marie Colby (Al) of Eagle; Tony Hoza (Ella) of Homer, Alaska; Linda Taylor (Jay) of Gypsum; Gary Hoza of Gypsum; Brian Hoza (Michelle) of Hayden; Lori Milner (Bill) of Buna, Texas; Alan Hoza (Joan) of North Pole, Alaska; Joan Hoza Rigoli of Grand Junction; Mark Hoza (Sarah) of Australia; and Paul Hoza (Amy) of Centennial. Additionally, he is survived by 26 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
A Rosary is planned at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Eagle on Tuesday, Jan. 15, at 8 p.m. A funeral Mass is planned Wednesday, Jan. 16, at 10 a.m. followed by a private burial. A Celebration of Al's Life will be held Wednesday, Jan. 16, at noon at St. Mary's Catholic Church.
In lieu of flowers, a charity benefit account has been set up in Al Hoza's memory at Alpine Bank.