Stars align for fitting send-off to Ron Diest
Ron Diest’s horoscope couldn’t have been more fitting on the day he died last week, longtime friend and Mountain Valley Developmental Services caregiver Barb Donily observed at his memorial Thursday.
Nov. 10, 2016 — Aquarius: “As you show appreciation for the solid people and felicitous circumstances of the day, a joy ignites in your heart, radiates through your body and rings out through the atmosphere. You are happiness, ground zero.”
That’s just how the stars always seemed to align for Diest, who was well-known in Glenwood Springs for his many years working as a dishwasher at the 19th Street Diner and the Loft restaurant, and for his Special Olympics exploits on the ski slopes and at the bowling alley.
Diest, who had been in declining health in recent years and had been unable to continue doing the things he loved, died at the age of 72 on Nov. 10.
Donily opened the floor at the Glenwood Springs Community Center to the many friends he’d made in Glenwood Springs over the years, from the regular Diner patrons to his many Mountain Valley “family” members.
“I knew him for a long time, and I’m just going miss him so much. He was one of my best friends,” said roommate Joe Herrera, who sang an impromptu rendition of Amazing Grace for Diest at the urging his brother, Jimmy Herrera.
Special Olympics ski teammate Gary Anders said he’ll miss those days on the slopes with Diest. “We had a lot of fun times skiing in the Olympics. I’ll never forget that.”
Area Special Olympics coordinator Julie Fite said Diest lived the Special Olympics motto, which teammate David Hayes spontaneously joined in reciting: “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”
Hayes said he would dedicate his upcoming ski season to Diest.
Longtime friend and Glenwood Springs businessman Mike Deer said Diest became an unlikely confidant over the years.
“He taught me probably more than anybody about how to handle life, and I’ve had some pretty interesting mentors,” Deer said. “I ask God to let Ron’s spirit soar with the eagles, and let his breath be one with the wind.”
Deer said he saw an eagle perched above the Roaring Fork River on the way to the memorial service, and figured it had to be Ron.
Diest was a well-known fixture around town since arriving with his adopted family, the Cranks, in 1978. Diest had gone to work for Bill Crank at the family restaurant in Lawrence, Kansas, 55 years ago and later moved in with them.
“There was this skinny little guy, and I figured he couldn’t possibly wash dishes,” Bill Crank said at the memorial. “Of course, he ended up being a dishwashing machine, he could do it better than just about anybody.”
He told a story of Diest’s generous side after the Wichita State football team was in a tragic bus accident on Loveland Pass in Colorado that killed several players.
Diest had been keeping a wooden box full of coins and was working in a restaurant where there was a gathering in the aftermath, and someone said they needed to raise money to rebuild the team. Diest came out of the kitchen with his box of coins and handed it to the speaker, Crank related.
“He just gave a wave, and walked back to the kitchen to a standing ovation,” Crank said.
Diest could often be found at the counter at the 19th Street Diner after his shift, wearing his Yankees cap, Broncos jacket and having a cup of coffee.
One time, a couple of members of the Yankees were in Glenwood Springs for a hunting trip, and Diest got to shake their hands, recalled one of his former co-workers.
Current Diner co-owner Rick Wernsmann thanked Mountain Valley for encouraging its clients to integrate themselves in the community and contribute by working the many jobs that are available to them.
“We really believe they are as strong if not the strongest part of this community,” Wernsmann said.
Diest was also a big Elvis Presley fan, so the memorial fittingly ended with Elvis’s version of “Peace in the Valley.”
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