Obituary: Richard (Dick) Gustafson |

Obituary: Richard (Dick) Gustafson

Dick Gustafson opened Vail's first hardware store and served as an Eagle County commissioner. He made the first commercial air service possible into the Eagle County Regional Airport, as well as the Colorado National Guard's helicopter base, the High Altitude Aviation Training Site (HAATS).
Daily file photo

“I flunked retirement,” Dick Gustafson was fond of saying. 

When Dick’s friends at his retirement community would stop by for a visit or the staff would come to administer medication, they would, more often than not, find his door open but the apartment empty. 

They would find him either in the theatre hosting Movie Night for his fellow residents or at the control panel of HCRK Radio Holly Creek, the radio station he started when he and his wife Wendy moved into the community from Vail six years ago. 

Dick was always careful to give Wendy credit for coming up with the idea for HCRK. “She was my muse,” he said. 

Central to his retirement life, Dick was at the radio station sorting music for his Big Band Show when he learned of the death of Wendy last August, and when his own life ended last Sunday, many of the residents at Holly Creek learned of his passing from the radio. 

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The enthusiasm Dick put toward HCRK during his retirement years was typical of the energy he put into life. Born in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, on May 9, 1935, Dick spent part of his boyhood homeschooled in the back of the family’s 1941 Chevy Coupe during a series of 35 mile-per-hour cross-country road trips that followed his father’s assignments in the United States Army Air Corps during World War II.

When his father shipped out to Europe prior to the D-Day invasions, Dick and his mother, Estelle, returned to Scottsbluff where he immersed himself in myriad activities ranging from the International Trustee of Key Club, basketball, baseball and track. He earned his Eagle Scout, a Silver Award Explorer Scout, and represented Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, Missouri and Iowa as a “Report to the Nation Scout,” giving the annual report to a congressional breakfast and to President Harry S. Truman in the White House.  

After graduating from high school, he attended Stanford University, received a BA from the University of Nebraska, an MBA from the University of Missouri, a Trust Banking degree from Northwestern University, and a GRI in real estate from the University of Colorado.

In 1959, he married Wendy Makepeace, and his career in finance took the new family initially to California and later to Kansas City. In the late ’60s, the family discovered the beauty of Colorado’s mountains and, inspired by Wendy’s suggestion that he should open a much-needed hardware store in the Vail Valley, the family sold their house in Prairie Village and opened The Hardware Store in West Vail in 1973.

Nine years after opening The Hardware Store, Dick sold the business and moved on to local politics. He was elected to two four-year terms as Eagle County Commissioner starting in 1982.

During his two terms as a county commissioner, Dick was instrumental in the development of the Eagle Regional County Airport. He lobbied for approximately $25 million of funding for taxiways and improved navigation aids; paved the way for the first scheduled commercial jet service from Los Angeles and Phoenix; and with the assistance of President Ford, negotiated the terms for an Army National Guard site that later became the Colorado Army National Guard High-Altitude Aviation Training Site (HAATS). The facility began training National Guard helicopter pilots in 1985 and today trains over 400 aircrews each year from militaries around the world.

Following his service as county commissioner, Dick continued to pour his energy into the Vail community. He was active with Vail Rotary Club and the Rotary Foundation. He was a local activist, public speaker, actor, writer, sculptor and a teacher of children’s theatre. He also was active in the Eagle River Presbyterian Church and served as a Liaison Officer to the U.S. Congress for the Civil Air Patrol.

Dick’s dreams carried him from one adventure to another and he was motivated by his love for the community and the friends he made throughout his life.

Dick is survived by his daughter Lynda, her husband Peter Sampson, by his son Rick Gustafson, Rick’s wife Shelie Gustafson, and his grandsons: Cooper and Garrett Sampson. He was preceded in death by Wendy Makepeace Gustafson.

The service for Dick is Saturday, March 30, at the Eagle River Presbyterian Church (455 Nottingham Ranch Road, Avon) at 3 p.m., with a reception at the church to follow. In lieu of flowers, donations made in Dick’s name to the Eagle River Presbyterian Church or the Vail Memorial Park would be appreciated.

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