Glenwood business leader Dick Gilstrap dies at 77
Look around West Glenwood – and up and down the Roaring Fork and Colorado River valleys, for that matter – and you’ll see the impact of Richard “Dick” Gilstrap’s life. Dick, who died at age 77 on Aug. 3 at Valley View Hospital, was one of the area’s most instrumental business leaders.A good chunk of West Glenwood, including the Glenwood Mall, used to be the Gilstrap family ranch: the area west of Mel Ray Road, south of Donegan Road, and east of Mitchell Creek Road. The ranch also extended south where the Glenwood Meadows shopping center sits today. In addition, the family owned another parcel up South Canyon, known as the Cardinal Ranch. Dick eventually sold the family’s West Glenwood ranch to real estate developer Pat Bell, who turned it into one of the largest commercial centers in the area.
Gilstrap Court, just south of the Interstate 70 West Glenwood exit, was named for Dick, and denotes an area that was once part of the Gilstrap family’s ranch. It’s now home to a Kum & Go/Conoco, Dairy Queen, the Riverside Professional Building, Quality Inn, Elk Mountain Motors, Glenwood Canyon Rafting, and a base for three other raft companies. The Gilstrap Court moniker aside, it was unlike Dick Gilstrap to bring attention to himself.”He was humble,” said his son, Keith Gilstrap. “He didn’t brag about his actions.”Dick’s generosity and good heart are what Keith and his sister Kathleen remember most about their dad. Kathleen said a childhood friend just reminded her about a conversation she had with Kathleen and her father years ago.”She told me she never forgot when her father left her and her family,” Kathleen said. “She asked me and my dad, ‘Can I share your dad?’ Dad said to her, ‘Of course. We can all share.’ She always remembered him for that.”Keith said since his father’s death, employees and friends have been recalling what Dick meant to them. “They want me to know what a great guy he was to work for,” Keith said. “They tell me how much he influenced them, and how giving he was.”
Born in Burns in 1928, Dick and his family moved to Glenwood Springs when Dick was 10 years old. His father, John Kelso Gilstrap, also known as J.K. and Kelly, and his mother, Helen, harvested hay and operated an outfitting and hunting-guide business.The Gilstrap kids – Dick, his two sisters, Lucylle and Shirley, and his brother, John – graduated from Garfield County High School in Glenwood.Dick played baseball for what’s now called Mesa State College in Grand Junction – becoming the school’s first left-handed pitcher – which led to him being drafted by the Chicago White Sox’s triple A ball club. But on the way, Dick was drafted yet again – this time by the U.S. Army. He served two years before returning to Glenwood after his father died unexpectedly at age 49.Dick worked the family ranches and was even a soda-pop delivery driver for a time. “That’s when he met my mother,” said Keith of Cecyl Bea Snyder Gilstrap, who passed away from cancer when Keith was just 6. Dick also custom cut hay for ranches, from the Eagle area to Aspen.
Making a living from ranching was tough.”I remember Dad said about ranching, ‘It’s not if we’re going to starve, it’s when,'” Keith said with a small smile. That’s when Dick started supplying ranchers with gasoline. “He knew the ranchers, and he knew their business,” said Keith, “so when he’d come out, he’d sell them gas, too.” The construction of I-70 and the realignment of the railway in the early ’60s changed everything, eventually cutting off access to the Gilstraps’ Cardinal Ranch. Dick knew it was the dawning of a new automobile era. He stepped up his burgeoning gasoline supply business, and began buying up property at the new highway’s on- and off-ramps. That included the block off of Glenwood’s main I-70 exit, at Sixth and Laurel streets. He built a service station where the Glenwood Conoco still sits, and a tire shop where the Volvo dealership is located today. As Glenwood grew, Realtor Pat Bell commercially developed the Gilstrap family ranch land, while Dick became more involved in the gasoline business, owning gas stations from Aspen to Rifle.It wasn’t all about gasoline and real estate, though. Dick also quietly gave back to his community through the years, without accolades or public recognition. When he and a group of Glenwood businessmen decided to develop Glenwood’s golf course, Dick deeded his water rights from Mitchell Creek to the course. To this day, Keith said he thinks it’s one of the only parcels in the city of Glenwood that doesn’t rely on the city water supply for irrigation and watering.
As with any close relatives, Dick’s death is hard on this multi-layered family. Gilstrap’s daughter, Kathleen, is Keith’s half-sister, from Gilstrap’s marriage to Lois Beals Gilstrap. Gilstrap has been married to Evelyn Gilstrap since 1981. The family also includes sisters, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews and grandkids. Just last August, the family experienced the loss of Gilstrap’s oldest son, Kelly, in a car accident. Now, Gilstrap’s widow, Evelyn, with Keith and Kathleen, intend to carry Dick Gilstrap’s legacy forward. All three Gilstraps work at Gilco Inc. and are in the midst of constructing a 15,000-square-foot warehouse and storage facility in west Rifle. The company continues to own gas stations and to supply fuel and chemicals to the region’s natural gas industry and other commercial outlets. “Dad has been such an influence on my life,” Keith said. “He’s the thread that binds all of us together. He was the common thread.”Contact Carrie Click625-3245, ext. firstname.lastname@example.org
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