Dave Ortiz: A life well lived
EAGLE — Dave Ortiz’s life was well lived. Truly, well lived.
As a husband, father, teacher, coach and friend, Dave’s days were populated with people he loved and who, in return, treasured him. He was a steadfastly kind man with a humble nature. He didn’t tout his successes, even though he had plenty to brag about. During his 82 years, he touched countless lives and this valley is a bit diminished now that he is gone.
Dave passed away on July 8.
“I think he was the most kind, honest man I have ever been around,” said his son Mike Ortiz. “He was humble and he wanted us to be humble, too.”
Rooted in Colorado
Dave was born in the southern Colorado town of Del Agua.
“It wasn’t a town. It was mining camp,” said Joy Ortiz, his wife of nearly 60 years. “He was very poor, growing up so he was always grateful for everything we had.”
His mother died when Dave was just 5 years old and he was raised by his grandmother. She was a formidable woman.
“She never learned to speak English and she ran her ranch all by herself,” Joy said.
When he started school, Dave attended a one-room schoolhouse, but his grandmother later moved to Aguilar so Dave could attend classes in town. His athletic abilities provided his early opportunities.
“Dave never had to work in the mines,” said Joy. “He got a scholarship to play football at Adams State.”
In college, he was a three sport athlete. He was an offensive end for the football team and he also played basketball and ran track for Adams State. He studied education, with the goal of becoming a high school coach.
He was a senior when he met a friend’s sister-in-law. The buddies were on their way out to play a round of golf, and Dave’s jokester friend had introduced 19-year-old Joy as “the new maid.” Apparently while they were out on the links, Dave got the real info — Joy was not a maid, she was a freshman who also wanted to be a teacher.
“After he finished golfing, he asked if I wanted to go get a Coke,” Joy recalled. That date was the start of more than six decades together.
“All the other boys I had dated were just boys. He was already a man,” she said.
Shortly after he graduated from college, Dave and Joy were married and shortly after that, he was drafted into the Army. The year was 1958.
Dave started at Fort Carson and he had earned a spot in the honor guard at Fort Dix. But when his Army superiors learned he was bilingual, he was sent to Puerto Rico where he taught English for 2 1/2 years.
When he returned home, the Ortizes were ready to launch their teaching and coaching careers. Their first stop was in Blanca, Colorado.
“I taught first grade and Dave taught everything. It was a small high school so he taught biology, P.E. and woodshop and he coached all the sports and drove the bus,” Joy said.
Along with their careers, Dave and Joy started their family in Blanca. Their first son was born in 1960 and the Ortiz clan would eventually grow to include five children — Mike, Kirk, Greg, Susan and Russ.
“We weren’t making very much money there in Blanca,” Joy said. So when a superintendent from California came to the area in search of teachers, they were intrigued by the opportunity and submitted applications.
“We got lots of offers but neither one of us had ever been to California and we couldn’t afford to go check it out,” Joy said. “Lake Elsinore was the furthest place from Los Angeles so that’s what we choose.”
The Ortiz family spent 15 years in California. “We liked it. It was a small town with a lake in the middle,” Joy said.
Whether it was because of their swimming pool or the playhouse that Dave built, the Ortiz house was the neighborhood kid magnet.
“I remember my brother’s friends were always at our house and I am not talking about just a few kids,” Susan said.
Joy was always willing to feed everyone and Dave always had a kid entourage.
“It seemed like there were some kids who were living at our house for years,” Russ said.
Because he worked at the local high school, Dave knew if a kid was struggling at home. Those kids often found a place at the Ortiz family dinning table.
“We fed a lot of people over the years,” Joy said. “We had a lot of extra kids around, that’s what we did.”
While in Lake Elsinore, the Ortizes adopted two girls — Kitty and Davie — from an Indian reservation in South Dakota.
“We were all gym rats,” Susan said, noting that her dad had to be at the school a lot of the time, so the Ortiz kids and their friends often went along.
Dave was always busy coaching and during his time off he would take his kids as well as others on hiking and fishing trips.
“He was a mountain goat. He could leave us all in the dust,” Susan said.
His generosity wasn’t restricted to kids. For years, every Sunday he took a slight detour to pick up Mary Lynch on the way to church.
Family was always Dave’s priority, but he also enjoyed a lot of professional success. While at Lake Elsinore he was twice named Southern California basketball coach of the year.
“He took a team to the state championships. They lost, but they made it all the way there,” Mike said. “Being named Southern California coach of the year is a big deal, but nobody here knows about it.”
While they enjoyed their time in California, the Ortizes always thought of Colorado as home. Then a change in Lake Elsinore convinced them it was time to move away.
“The freeway came through and within a year, all of the schools were overcrowded and on double sessions,” Joy said. “Dave said it was time to come home to Colorado.”
Vail Valley institution
In the fall of 1977, Dave began work at Battle Mountain High School. It was Mike’s senior year of high school.
Dave remained with Eagle County Schools until 1999 as a teacher, coach, assistant principal and athletic director. He was glad he was able to work with so may teachers and students in the valley and he was glad he brought the family back to Colorado. He worked at BMHS, Minturn Middle School and Edwards Elementary School and wherever he went and whatever age group he worked with, in the end, what he really did was mentor hundreds of kids.
“He saw potential in people that they did not see in themselves,” Susan said. She learned that first hand when she was playing high school volleyball. She was just a freshman and she was a starter, but she felt like she didn’t deserve that place on the team. In fact, she was frustrated by her play and by the responsibility.
“He told me that since the coach had decided to play me, what was I going to do about it. He told me it was a great opportunity,” Susan said. “I wasn’t thinking about the situation from the optimistic perspective until he said that.”
“He also told her to quit being a lady and go out there and hit the ball,” added Joy.
Since his passing, dozens of Dave’s former students have reached out to the family.
“We heard from so many people, stories about how they graduated because of our dad or how he turned their lives around,” Russ said.
Service in retirement
While Dave retired from teaching, he never gave up working with kids. As he had with his children, Dave coached his grandkids’ sports.
He was a doting grandfather.
“He really lived for his family. He didn’t do anything for himself,” said Russ.
“He loved his family and he loved our mom,” Susan added.
Dave volunteered with community organizations such as the Eagle Lions Club.
He liked to build furniture and restore antiques and he was a master gardener.
While his health declined in recent years, his sense of humor didn’t wane.
“He always liked to joke and play with people,” said Mike.
Joy recalled that during a recent hospital stay, Dave had lost his appetite, but he agreed to order a steak for dinner.
When it arrived, he asked “What did they do with the rest of the shoe?”
“They had good food, he was just teasing,” Joy noted.
Dave spent his final days at home, surrounded by the family he loved. That meant there were a lot of people under a single roof.
“But there was a really special sense of everyone being here together. It was a really loving time when everyone pulled together to help Papa walk on peacefully,” Susan said. “That says a lot about our dad and our mom and what they taught us.”
Dave is survived by his loving wife, his five children, 19 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
His legacy is found within the family and in all the kids and adults he helped through the years, and the example he set for anyone lucky enough to have known him.
“He taught us to serve others,” Mike said.
Reconstruction work that was initially slated for completion in 2018 should be done by October 2019