‘Big-hearted soul’: Roaring Fork Valley community shares memories of beloved mountain man, cowboy Bud Gardner
Local cowboy. Skunk catcher. Trapper. Artist. Gardener. Wood worker. Hunter. Mountain man.
Perhaps more notable than any of his titles, Harold “Bud” Gardner was an all around gentle soul who often put others well before himself.
Glenwood Springs lost Gardner on Jan. 24. Though a man of many hats, he was known throughout the valley as the man in the tall cowboy hat with a matching tan Jeep — the one who always waved because that’s just what people did back in the day.
The nickname Bud started at a young age when his sister, only 10 months older, was unable to pronounce Harold and instead called him Bubby — a name that eventually became Bud and stuck for life.
A Glenwood Springs High School graduate, he grew up with four siblings; Paul, Kenny, Terry and Stacey. Gardner had one daughter, Amy Sue, and gained two sons, Taj and Shane, when he remarried in 1984 to Verna Tibbets, who passed away in 2017.
Gardner worked for the city of Glenwood Springs in the water department for 28 years and was well known as the man behind the wheel of the big vector truck.
His wingman and partner in crime was Ralph “PeeWee” Coryell, who worked alongside Gardner for all 28 of those years as a utility coordinator.
“He had a good sense of humor,” Coryell said of Gardner. “We were out one night and it was maybe 10 (degrees) below zero on a water break and he was in the hole. The water was spraying him in the face and he looked up at me and had ice in his whiskers. I looked at him and said, ‘You think it’s going to get a little cold tonight?’ And, well, the answer to that you can’t print.”
After retirement the two friends stayed in touch as Gardner would stop by Coryell’s house to warm up by the wood-burning stove each morning while he was out checking his trap lines. A common occurrence for many households, whether it was for Gardner to check in on friends or quietly drop off a newspaper.
“He’d always check in every morning,” Coryell said. “He took good care of all of his friends.”
Gardner’s days often started at 3 a.m. as a federally licensed animal trapper that caught “pest animals” for Colorado Parks and Wildlife and private homeowners.
“He was at my grandfather’s house by 4 o’clock in the morning, every morning,” Laura Ward said of her uncle.
A quiet but ornery man with a mischievous smile and a gentle demeanor, people and kids were often drawn to him.
“You never saw him get mean. … All the kids in the family were so drawn to him because he was so gentle with them and so loving,” Ward said. “And from what everybody is saying, it wasn’t just our family, it was everybody’s.”
A Roaring Fork Valley native who grew up on the Union 76 ranch on Cattle Creek between Carbondale and Glenwood, the news of Gardner’s passing at the age of 70 stunned many as they took to social media to share stories; whether they knew him personally or only in passing.
The sentiment was the same in each comment: a friendly face who made the busy streets of Glenwood that much more enjoyable.
Lori Bennett had known Gardner since 1974.
“We both grew up in Glenwood, and he was the fun, loving cowboy with sparkling eyes and mischievous laugh,” she said. “Bud always cared for me and checked in on me and the kids, caught skunks if we needed and genuinely cared about how we were.”
Bob and Sue Saathoff went to school with Gardner and were lifelong friends. Bob’s mother lived on Hyland Park Drive near Sayre Park.
“When Bud worked for the city driving the sewer pump truck, he always drove past her house in that truck and would see her outside shoveling, raking or just sitting in her yard,” Saathoff said. “He would toot that big truck horn and in her words, ‘scare the heck out of her.’ She would in turn, shake her fist at him, smile and he would return the smile or laugh.”
Gardner would bring Bob’s mother fresh fish to fry up or stop and just visit with her.
“He had more knowledge of this valley related to the mountains, fisheries, hunting, plants, animals, you name it,” Saathoff said. “We loved Bud and will certainly miss his big-hearted soul that reached out to so many in this valley.”
Gardner was an active gardener who grew a wide variety of vegetables and often shared the fruits of his labor with others.
Gardner’s aunt, Kate Wagner, will miss the fresh garden vegetables her nephew would harvest and quietly place on her back porch steps for her to find.
“What a wonderful surprise to find beets, zucchinis and tomatoes waiting for me as I came out of the house in the early morning to go to work in town,” she said. “My nephew could grow the best beets ever.”
Belle Markham’s family lived next to Gardner in New Castle and considered him as part of the family; enough so that they called him “Papa.” Markham’s 14-year-old daughter grew up spending time with and learning from Gardner and his wife.
“Bud taught her how to set a trap for squirrels, skunks and bobcats. She also learned how to use power tools in that same garage,” Markham said. “She loved tinkering with him.”
Gardner was also known for going to the schools in New Castle each year to teach the kids about hunting and fishing. Outside of the classroom he was the go-to guy for any bike repair needs, and kids would regularly bring their bikes by his house for a tune up.
The bond between Gardner and the Markhams grew even stronger after the passing of Verna, and the family would often go sledding and spend holidays together.
“When my son was born, I remember Bud stopping by after I got home from the hospital to check out the new one,” Markham said. “I will never forget placing Jack in his arms and his face just lighting up underneath that big white beard of his.”
From then on Gardner would stop by and check on the kids and bring them Barbies, trucks and other goodies. Christmas Eve was especially fun for the family as they would open presents together, and Gardner would stick around to help the kids with their new toys.
“His kindness didn’t stop at my children,” Markham said. “A few years ago, my oldest asked him to help her with a Girl Scout project, and our troop went to his garage, and he taught them all how to build bird houses. Every one of the girls were calling him Papa, and you could see and feel the love after the first interaction with him.”
Richard Todd first met Gardner 20 years ago when his house was being built on Cowdin Drive in Glenwood Springs. Gardner and Coryell showed up to help with sewer line work.
“Later, Bud was commissioned to catch some of the raccoons that were eating vegetables and fruit from our garden,” Todd said. “I lost count of how many he caught, and we came to an arrangement that I would set the trap and Bud would check each morning, usually about 3 a.m. I casually mentioned that with all those raccoon skins I should get a Davy Crockett hat. Several months later I found a fully lined Davy Crockett raccoon hat at my doorstep.”
The quiet acts of kindness continued through the years after casual conversations between Gardner and the Todds.
“Bud would go hunting and mentioned this to my late wife, who was going through chemotherapy treatments. She told him how she liked both deer and elk meat. A day later a large box of frozen deer and elk meat turned up on our doorstep,” Todd mentioned.
“I’m sure that many other people have similar stories,” Todd continued. “This world would be a better place if there were more Bud Gardners about.”
Gardner’s wishes were to be cremated with ashes spread on the Flat Tops, a place he considered his second home.
Flowers, cards and pictures can be sent to Gardner’s father, Harry, at 1113 Cooper Ave., Glenwood Springs, CO 81601.
Friends and family of Gardner are hoping to make Nov. 11 the “everybody wave for Bud day,” inviting everyone to wave to one another like Gardner did.
The memorial service for Bud Gardner is planned for May 14 at the Jolley Ranch in New Castle. Details will be announced at a later date.
Visual Journalist Chelsea Self can be reached at 970-384-9108 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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