Gary Hollandsworth never met a stranger
COVID-19 claims former Gypsum mayor, Eagle Valley High teacher and local builder who made a lifelong practice of collecting friends
COVID-19 claimed the life of our friend Gary Hollandsworth on Jan. 29.
For anyone who never had the chance to meet Gary and is therefore wondering how he could be counted as a friend, the answer is simple: He wasn’t your personal friend — yet.
“Gary really never met a stranger,” offered Mike Gass, one of his longtime compadres. “He would drive you nuts talking to everyone he met, but that was what was so special about him.”
“If you didn’t like Dad, the problem was with you,” offered his son Brad Hollandsworth.
“This will be a hard one to get over,” said John Ramunno, another longtime friend and co-worker. “Gary never lost his patience, never lost his cool and he always had a smile. He was a good time.”
Some locals remember Gary as a math and building trades teacher at Eagle Valley High School and later as a respected local home builder. Others worked with him during his tenure as Gypsum mayor. Still others knew him from his recreational interests that ranged from piloting model aircraft to navigating Jeep trails. And then there are the people who were introduced in a chance meeting and remained friends for life.
“You could never go anywhere with the guy where he wouldn’t end up talking to people,” said Gass. “It could be in the middle of the desert and you met up with some people from Tennessee and before you knew it Gary was making a deal to trade some moonshine for some 10th Mountain Whiskey. He was always up for an adventure.”
Western Slope native son
Gary was born in 1947 in Grand Junction. His father worked for the railroad and also built the family home. Gary helped his dad with the project and that’s when he discovered his passion for construction.
One of Gary’s earliest friends shaped the course of his entire life.
“Gary was best friends with my cousin, Terry. They lived across the alley from one another,” said Pat Hollandsworth, Gary’s wife of 52 years. “I don’t even remember when I met him. He was just always around.”
The couple married on Aug. 24, 1968, when Gary was 21 and Pat was 19. At the time he was studying math at Mesa College but the newlyweds then moved to Greeley to attend the University of Northern Colorado as education students.
The Vietnam draft was in full force during that time and Gary’s draft number was 33. Gary obtained a deferment when he and Pat joined the Peace Corps following graduation. But the Peace Corps gig just didn’t work out, primarily because the organization wanted to send the couple to Jamaica — Gary to one side of the island and Pat to the other side.
“So we came back home and Gary fulfilled his service as a conscientious objector,” Pat said.
He worked at Denver General Hospital in the medical records department for two years. “He never took a vacation so they chopped that time off the end of his service. He wanted to get out of there as soon as possible,” Pat said.
“He started looking for a teaching job,” she continued. “He interviewed with a district somewhere in the Denver area and they wanted him to also be the swimming coach. He said ‘Sure, I can do that,’ but he had hardly ever been in a pool in his life.”
Ultimately, Gary didn’t have to test his swim coaching abilities. Instead, he accepted a position in Burlington where he took over as the girls’ basketball coach. He also drove a school bus to make a little extra money.
While in Burlington, the Hollandsworth family grew to include daughter, Amy, and son Brad. They stayed in the eastern Colorado community for five years, until the death of Gary’s father convinced the Hollandsworths to move a bit closer to their home town.
“We wanted to live closer to the family, but not right there in Grand Junction,” said Pat. The year was 1978 and Eagle Valley Junior/Senior High School had an opening for a math teacher. Gary interviewed with former principal Wally Birlew and the family moved to Eagle, where they welcomed son Kevin in October of their first year in town.
Always a Devil
As a member of the Eagle Valley faculty, Gary taught math in the mornings and building trades in the afternoon.
“He would gather up his students and take them in his truck to construction sites in town,” Pat continued.
Under his guidance, kids in the building trades program built a duplex located on Second Street, just north of the intersection with Eagle Street in Gypsum. They also built a single family home across the street and remodeled school district housing in town.
“It would take them two years to do a project. They drew up the plans and everything,” said Amy Hollandsworth Moreno.
Part of Gary’s legacy is quite literally at work today. Many of his students — including locals Scott Green, Bob Ross and Jeff Myers — went on to make careers in the construction industry.
“He always thought he kind of gave them a start,” Brad said.
“If you talked to those guys today they would say they loved those afternoons in school,” Amy said.
Her dad also loved those days, she continued. “He wanted to build and he want to be outside and he didn’t want to be stuck to a schedule.”
When summer rolled around, Gary would shift to full-time building and his crew members were often fellow teachers.
“He was such a good teacher and he just did that when you were working with him,” Ramunno said. “He made work fun and you learned something every day.”
During the school year, it was all about the kids, especially the ones named Hollandsworth.
“We were beyond blessed to have teachers as parents because they had the same schedule we did,” Kevin said.
“Of course, that also meant they always knew everything you did,” Amy said.
Gary and Pat were always in the stands or on the sidelines to watch their kids play sports. When the boys played football, Gary would pile all the football gear in the bed of his pickup to help out because he was, of course, headed to the game.
Brad and Kevin learned many of their wrestling moves on the floor of the family living room.
“When we were little, we would jump on Dad and he would pin us right away,” Brad said. “But about ninth or 10th grade, the wrestling matches started to drag on so Dad would start to pull hair. He got to be kind of a dirty fighter when we were older and things were dragging on.”
Gary’s home instruction wasn’t limited to sports. “Dad taught me how to drive a stick shift in a VW bug in Mexico. It ran out of gas and we had to push it to a gas station,” Brad said.
Kevin recalled how Gary taught him to maximize his aluminum can collection profits by driving over them to crush them. Amy remembered how she destroyed a garage refrigerator when her dad was ‘helping’ her navigate the driveway at the family home. As a novice motorist, Amy said she was nervous about the making it up the steep pitch to bring the truck into the garage.
“I was driving and Dad was riding shotgun and he reached over with his foot and hit the gas. Boom… we shot up the driveway and crashed into the refrigerator that was sitting at the side of the garage,” she said. “Dad was like “We have to get rid of this.” And they did.
“We had that refrigerator in the truck before mom even got home,” said Kevin.
All three kids noted their dad wasn’t angry about the situation, but he was anxious to remove all evidence of what was obviously an ill-advised move.
Out on his own
As time when on, Gary found more and more demand for his side gig. In 1995, he quit teaching to devote all his time to ABK — as in Amy, Brad and Kevin — Builders.
“It was a running joke for the last three years of his teaching career — because his construction business was taking off, he was going to have to quit his job,” Kevin said.
Amy designed the company logo and both boys worked with their dad. Gass was one of the teachers who found regular summertime employment, punctuated with laughter and memories.
“The other day I saw a guy using a man lift and it made me laugh, thinking about how we once drove a man lift nine miles down Gypsum Creek road because we were too cheap to pay the delivery fee,” Gass said.
“When I retired from teaching, I didn’t know what direction I was going to head and Gary called me up,” Ramunno said. For the past five years, Ramunno worked for ABK Builders and one of his favorite chores was building stairs.
“Being a math teacher, Gary applied math to everything. It was cool to see him do that. His stairs would always come out perfect.”
With a laugh, Ramunno recalled another time when things didn’t line up so well. Gary’s crew was working on a home in Gypsum that featured a 26-foot tall cathedral ceiling wall with trapezoid windows. The guys on the site thought they could lift the wall into place from the ground. They were mistaken.
“It slipped on us and fell and it was a crazy thing, but nobody got hurt,” Ramunno recalled. “All Gary said was ‘Lets go ahead and break for lunch.’ He never flipped out or got mad.”
Man of many interests
Gary had a curious and enthusiastic nature that led him to varied interests. In the 1980s, he served on the Gypsum Town Council and in 1986, he was elected mayor.
“Dad was always proud of being elected mayor on the same day that Clint Eastwood was elected mayor of Carmel,” Brad said.
In those days, Gypsum was a bootstrap community and when things went array, the mayor got the phone call.
Brad particularly remembers one call his dad fielded. A horse had died and fallen into the Eagle River, eventually floating down to Gypsum. “Somehow, someone thought it was his job to deal with that.”
Gary was an enthusiastic supporter of Bonsai Airfield — a dirt patch located north of I-70 in Gypsum where people flew remote control model airplanes.
“He built lots of model airplanes and then crashed lots of them,” Amy said.
In his later years, Gary loved off-roading in his Jeep that he named “Alternate Route.”
But his enduring passion was his family — which eventually expanded to include daughter-in-law Tara and grandchildren Amber, Isaac, Avery, Karoline and Kalob. Tara recalled her unforgettable introduction to the man who would become her father-in-law.
“I was meeting all the family and I thought Gary was coming in for a hug when he grabbed me by the eyelashes. He wanted to see if they were real,” she said. “I fell in love with him immediately.”
Gary officiated at Brad and Tara’s wedding.
“He didn’t know anything about doing weddings, but he said he would figure it out,” Brad said.
“When Brad proposed, I said ‘Your dad has to do our wedding,’” Tara said. “It was hilarious. It was the best wedding ceremony I have ever seen.”
It’s hard to talk about Gary Hollandsworth without laughing. But his family and friends are laughing through tears after his sudden death last month from complications related to COVID-19. They share stories about chairlift mishaps and “Dance Pilgrim” paintball games and torque wrenching on the Jeep, rounding out a picture of a well-lived life.
“Gary was always in a good mood and always willing to help,” Gass said. “He never forgot about what really matters — family, friends and community.
“If we all go out after making the impact he did, we can say we did a good job.”
In honor of Gary Hollandsworth, a memorial fund has been established at Alpine Bank in Eagle to fund a scholarship program for EVHS graduates interested in vocational careers. To make a donation, send a check to the EVHS Foundation c/o Alpine Bank, POB 70, Eagle, Colorado 81631 and write “Gary Hollandsworth memorial” in the memo line.