Obituary: Bruce Davison Church, Oct. 25, 1936 – March 30, 2020
Bruce D. Church was born on Long Island in a small community of Hempstead New York; the son of Mary E. and Frank E. Church.
Bruce was unexpectedly and abruptly taken from his family and friends as a result of the COVID-19 virus, which has been extremely difficult for many to accept. Bruce was a superhero with a passion for nature, skiing, biking and all forms of art. In the summer you would find him biking over 50 miles a day, enjoying orchestras, ballets, operas, and all the arts in the evenings the Vail Valley offered.
During the winter, he wouldn’t miss a day of skiing, pushing 1.5 million vertical feet at a minimum a ski season, including helicopter skiing. He still perfectly carved through those double black mogul runs with ease, found all the fresh powder in his favorite Back Bowls of Vail, and all side by side with his grandkids and best buddies. He would ride his road bike over 50 miles in high altitude, five times a week in the summer. It’s heartbreaking seeing a man of such health at 83 years old be suddenly gone when he had so much more living to do.
Bruce graduated from the prestigious Manlius Military Academy, he was a United States Navy veteran who served on the USS Hazelwood (DD531) and later went on to graduate from the University of Denver with a BA in English and minor in History.
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Bruce was one of the first Ski Patrol/Mountain Rescue to be hired on at Arapahoe Basin. He and another patroller oversaw securing the mountain to ensure safety for skiers. Bruce would pack dynamite in his pack while his partner would pack the white caps that ignited the dynamite. Then it was “connect the white cap to the dynamite, lay the fuse out and get the hell out of there.”
While Bruce was one of the first hired, he was also one of the first fired. He used to tell us his story, “I refused to carry the 5-gallon tubs of concrete up the Poma lift one day, and I was fired on the spot. I skied down the hill and ran into the Head of Ski School, told him what happened and was hired on the spot for Ski Instruction.” His passion for skiing never dissipated. Vail and Beaver Creek School Ski embraced Bruce and his talent for many years, as did his clients.
Bruce made sure his passion for skiing was a trait his children and grandchildren inherited. He spent countless hours teaching them the art of gliding down the hill. He made it look effortless, even to this day. He would yell, “Lean a little to the left, imagine you are holding a tray in front of you, hands in front, lean a bit forward, lean a little more downhill, carve your edges,” and many more classic details of a passionate man and a great teacher. Pizza and French Fries have a different meaning in this family.
Up until the day the Vail Resorts had to close the mountain due to COVID-19, Bruce was up on the hill. Nothing stopped him from hitting the slopes, as evidenced by a ruptured Achilles tendon on the closing day of 2018, and a serious cervical vertebrae break from helicopter skiing in Whistler in 2013. When asked by his kids why he did this he simply replied, “It was on my bucket list.”
His stubbornness and determination to do what he loved made him who he was, and there was no holding him back. Bruce would ride the lifts with locals/vacationers and with his captive audience, strike up a conversation and by the time they off-loaded, his chairlift companions knew the lay of the Vail Valley, all about his family, his history of living in Vail, best places to eat, but most importantly, he always managed to make lifelong friends.
The most important element in Bruce’s life and that of which he was most passionate about, was his family. Bruce is survived by his daughter, Kelley Church Bontempo (Frank Bontempo) and his son, Chad Church (Dorothea Church); his grandchildren, Devyn N. Kohl (Steven Kohl) Nicholas Bontempo (Katherine Sayre); Jordyn, McKenzy, Kennedy and Brody Church; great-grandchildren, Harlowe and Hendrix Church, and soon to arrive, great grand-daughter Baby Kohl. His two Nephews, Lee Beck (Will, Cole and Jake) and Jay Beck (Melissa).
Bruce has two amazing black labs he adored more than life, Jake and Hollis, now residing with his daughter Kelley and Frank. They are full of life and adjusting well. Bruce has an amazing circle of friends in the Vail Valley and they too are devastated by his unprecedented departure. The outpouring of support, the stories, the pictures, the personal notes have touched our hearts and will not be forgotten.
This virus is so unpredictable. Our dad/papa had strong vitals the day he received the positive test, he was sent home stable, and the next morning we had to call 911. Kelley watched the paramedics suit up in hazmat gear, bring our dad out from his home, he waved to her as he went into the ambulance, and that was the last she saw of him. It was the most excruciating pain she has ever felt. This wasn’t our dad, our family’s “Papa,” or our community’s superhero. We all have a huge hole in our hearts.
Bruce will be laid to rest with military honors at Fort Logan National Cemetery, Denver, Colorado.
The Bontempo, Kohl, and Church Family would like to thank the Vail Valley/Eagle Community for the outpouring of compassion and support. We also would like to voice a special thank you to our first responders. Our world will be forever changed, but our family will be guided by his extraordinary example of how to live life to the fullest.
We will be having a celebration of life later this year when we can all gather, relive memories, and pay tribute to a wonderful, kind human being that left this world too soon. For now, let’s honor him through nature, tell his stories, share his passions, and be sure to follow behind the fresh tracks he leaves after a big powder day in the Back Bowls.
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When a crowd of around 500 people showed up in Vail on Tuesday night to join a protest march in support of Black Lives Matter, the gathering plainly violated Eagle County’s current COVID-19 recommendations.