Vail Valley icon Gerald Gallegos dies | VailDaily.com

Vail Valley icon Gerald Gallegos dies

Special to the DailyGerald Gallegos, lifelong Eagle County resident, founder of The Gallegos Corporation and local philanthropist, died Wednesday in a Denver hospital.

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – Pride and humility lived side by side in Gerald Gallegos.

The founder of The Gallegos Corporation was fiercely proud of his family, his company and its success and the community he lived in. But he never sought the limelight. He let the professional and philanthropic projects he was involved in speak for themselves.

Gallegos, born in 1949, died in a Denver hospital late Wednesday. That made Thursday a tough day for a host of people around the valley, and at Gallegos shops in Colorado, California and Montana.

“He treated all the employees like family,” company chief operating officer Gary Woodworth said. “He empowered people to create and be the best they could be in their trades.”

Gallegos also encouraged creativity in his philanthropic efforts, which ranged from the Vail Valley Foundation to the Youth Foundation to the Minturn Community Fund and Roundup River Ranch.

“You could never tell him a story about a kid in need without him saying, ‘What are we going to do about it?’,” said Kathy Brendza, who worked with Gallegos on Youth Foundation projects.

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After graduating from Battle Mountain High School and spending time on construction crews as a hod carrier, Gallegos started his masonry company in 1970. At the time, the company was one of the few in the valley that worked year ’round.

And, longtime friend George Shaeffer said that Gallegos set the tone for a lot of fledgling construction companies in the valley.

“He was really an inspiration to all of us,” Shaeffer said. “He really grasped – along with (his brother) Bob – that they had a big opportunity here, and to rise to that occasion they needed to act professionally and have a professional organization.”

That professionalism started landing the company jobs in the still-developing resort town of Vail and the fledgling Beaver Creek resort.

In a 2002 story, Gerald said that contractors at first wanted to use European stone workers, but that his company’s work soon convinced builders to use the home-grown masons.

Those first jobs built a lasting relationship with the valley’s builders.

“The first project we did with them was Jim and Daphne Slevin’s house on the Vail golf course,” Frank Payne of Beck Building Company. “We’ve had a relationship with them ever since.

“There are a lot of masons in the valley and we try to spread the work around,” Payne added. “But for quality, no one else could bring what they do.”

The company’s standards came straight from Gerald, who had a vast knowledge of stonework and style.

“When he talked rocks, he wasn’t kidding around,” Youth Foundation Director and friend Susie Davis said. “I remember after he came back from a trip to Europe, he talked about the stones and stonework he’d seen there. He just loved it.”

That love for the craft was passed down through the company.

In the mid-1990s Gallegos and Shaeffer worked on a project at the top of Lake Creek that included a main house and several guest cabins. The cabins were all done in different architectural styles to reflect the history of the valley.

“That was a wonderful project,” Shaeffer said. “It was a special project for Gerald. He took a personal interest and we both worked closely with (the clients), who challenged him to be creative.”

Those who worked with him said the standards set by an exacting client were nothing new for Gallegos.

“He made sure it was done right, the first time, and if it wasn’t, it would be re-done until it was,” R.A. Nelson and Associates founder Chupa Nelson said.

But Gallegos set those standards quietly.

“We’ve been doing business together for 31 years,” Shaeffer said. “We’ve had our hiccups along the way, but it always got worked out, and I can never remember him raising his voice. And when things got worked out, everybody felt better.”

Nelson said that quiet leadership style has paid off.

“He had a tremendous respect for his employees,” Nelson said. “And they loved him for it.”

As The Gallegos Corporation became more successful, Gallegos became committed to helping the community – especially its kids – in any way he could.

He and Richard DeClark struck up a longtime friendship because of their interest in kids – including their own, of course. Several years ago, both men were chaperones on their kids’ school camping trip to Mesa Verde National Park.

“I had my kids all organized at the campsite,” DeClark said. “I looked over at Gerald’s kids and they were just going nuts. He called over, ‘Can you help me with these tents? Otherwise these kids are never going to sleep!’ We just became friends after that.”

Gallegos was never shy about asking others for help in a good cause; nor was he shy about pitching in himself.

“It was more than him just giving money,” Nelson said. “He played an active part in all those boards.”

Davis said Gallegos could always be counted on to provide perspective about Youth Foundation projects when its board of directors would meet. Many times, that perspective came from his own experiences growing up in the valley.

Davis recalled a time when Gallegos and Nelson both sent crews to help with a Youth Foundation-sponsored park cleanup in Red Cliff.

“After we were done, and everybody had gone to Mango’s, Gerald said to me, ‘I want to show you something’,” Davis said. “He took me up the street a little and pointed, ‘I grew up in that house.’ Those were humble roots he didn’t let go of.”

Those who knew him all said that Gallegos took his greatest pleasure in his family, followed closely by the fact that his success allowed him to help local kids.

“He’d just relish their passion and glee,” Nelson said. “That really made him happy. And it didn’t matter what race, gender or creed the kids are.

“He really had a childlike joy in helping kids.”

And Gallegos could sometimes be encouraged to get more personally involved in making a kid’s day.

One day Brendza and Gallegos were in the Youth Foundation’s bookmobile, headed to Dotsero. It was Easter season, and there was a giant pink bunny suit in the van.

“I asked Gerald, and he said ‘no, no, no,'” Brendza said. “Then I said, ‘Gerald, it’s for the kids.’ He said, ‘Don’t you ever tell anyone about this,’ but then he did it.”

Brendza kept her silence until she was interviewed for this story. It was the first time Gallegos’ closest friend, DeClark had heard about it, and he roared with laughter.

But the fact no one knew the story reflected his desire to help, but quietly.

“He was a hero to a lot of people,” longtime friend Cliff Thompson said. “He walked the talk and he did it with a smile.”

Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or smiller@vaildaily.com.