Glenwood native Embry also a community pillar
Barb Embry is living proof that strong and powerful things can come in small packages.
The Glenwood Springs native is petite in stature but big on giving back to her community. Embry retired last January from the Glenwood Springs Fire Department, where she worked as a volunteer firefighter and EMT for 17 years.
“She’s a lot of energy packed into a small frame,” said Glenwood Springs Fire Department chief Mike Piper.
Along the way, she worked many of the region’s disasters. The Rocky Mountain Natural Gas Fire in December 1985 was Embry’s first fire. Twelve people died, including a woman who took an aerobics class from Embry.
“My job was to not let one of the building’s walls fall down,” she said quietly. “I stayed there 48 hours.”
Embry made a point of being the first on the scene whenever she could. She’d even sleep at the station some nights to be first in line when a call came. It didn’t matter that volunteer firefighters were paid minuscule wages. Now, the department is operated on a paid staff.
“Back when the department was all volunteer, the fastest people to respond got to drive the truck and get on the fire,” she said. “I’d leave birthday parties and the movies to get there first. It was first come first served for things like wildfires and car accidents.”
At the Storm King Fire in 1994, Embry was part of the medical team, and drove an ambulance to and from a helipad near the blaze.
She was on the scene in 1995 when a giant rock dislodged from Glenwood Canyon’s walls, killing Roaring Fork Valley local Kathy Krieger Daily and her two young sons.
She’s been at many horrific and traumatic events like these, but she doesn’t talk about it. She was there because she cared. There’s not much more to say.
“She does it because she wants to,” said fire chief Piper. “That’s the nicest part about her.”
Quite a history
Embry’s great-grandmother came to Colorado from Pennsylvania in a covered wagon. At first the family settled in Purdy Mesa, near Grand Junction. Soon, they moved to the Glenwood Springs area where they settled in the downtown building now occupied by the Watersweeper and the Dwarf.
“It was a rooming house, and my great-grandmother was a seamstress,” she said.
Embry’s father was born and raised in Glenwood. He worked for the railroad as a signal maintainer for 25 years. Her uncle Lee Blain was the Garfield county assessor and lived in No Name.
Embry’s mother and Aunt Melba were from Wyoming. They were cheerleaders at Glenwood High School, and Mom wrote for the first school newspaper.
Embry was born downtown in what is now the US Bank Building. Legendary physician Dr. Burtis Nutting delivered her. Her family lived in the building that is now the karate studio on Cooper Avenue. They sold used furniture downstairs and lived upstairs. There were rental apartments out back.
Embry remembers a Glenwood not many do.
“I had a cocker spaniel named Nancy,” she said, “and she used to sleep right on the center line of Grand Avenue. Everybody knew she was there, and they watched out for her. She’d wake up and go visit businesses, like Berthod Motors, which was in the Tamarack Mall.”
On Sundays, Embry said, it was rare to see a car driving down the street. Sayre Park, near what is now the Caravan Inn, was the city limits.
“There was only sagebrush out there, and a row of cottonwoods,” she said.
She remembers picnicking up at the land that’s now covered by Ruedi Reservoir up the Frying Pan River near Basalt. And she remembers driving through Glenwood Canyon before the tunnels were installed.
“To get to No Name to see my uncle, we’d have to go around Horseshoe Curve,” she said.
`God gave me Glenwood’
Embry graduated from Glenwood Springs High School, and attended Colorado Mountain College.
“I dropped out,” she said, laughing. “I dropped out to be a ski bum.”
Embry said she skied at Sunlight, where she met her former husband, Ken Wilson, who worked at the Sunlight Ski Shop. They married and had two children, Cole, now 31, and Alicia, now 27.
“While my kids were growing up, I volunteered at school and was a Cub Scout leader,” she said. “I did all that sort of stuff.”
All along, Embry has been into fitness and outdoor recreation. Besides skiing, she’s been a runner for 22 years, and has lifted weights for 20. She’s taught aerobics. She snowshoes and hikes. She goes caving and she rock climbs.
When Embry and Wilson divorced, and the kids got out of school, a whole new world opened up to Embry. She started to travel.
“I’ve traveled all over the world,” she said. “I backpacked through Britain by myself on a Brit Rail pass. I’ve been through York and Loch Ness. I went with a girlfriend to Guatemala and Belize where we taped our money to our bodies. I’ve been to the West Indies and Barbados. I’ve been to Rome and Israel, to the Bahamas and Mexico.”
But Embry’s always come back to Glenwood.
“I’ve been all over the world, but God gave me Glenwood,” she said.
Embry has a habit of sticking with things. Besides volunteering at the Smith’s – since 1986. Along the way, she received an award for outstanding customer service.
“I started working for Smith’s when it first came to town from Utah,” she said, “and I’ve been working in that building ever since it was bought by Safeway. I’ve done everything from checker to bookkeeper trainer.”
For the past year, Embry’s been the manager at the Starbuck’s located inside Safeway.
Now, she’s making a move to WestStar Bank, the recently renovated building across the street from where Embry was born.
“I’m ready to try something new,” she said.
Embry has obviously had her share of new experiences. Seven years ago, she had an experience no one wants. She was diagnosed with cancer. She went through treatment that slowed down but didn’t stop this avid outdoorswoman.
“I was really mad at broccoli for awhile,” said the loyal vegetable consumer, with a smile, alluding that her healthy diet didn’t stave off the disease.
“And it was hard giving up exercise for awhile,” she said.
Since then, Embry has had to fight another bout of cancer.
“What I’ve learned is how fragile life is,” said the diminutive former firefighter. “Life is very precious.”
Embry’s life is now filled with her dog Tabor (“my house is actually belongs to him; he just lets me stay there,” she said, laughing) and with choice moments.
“Earlier this year, I saved a baby at Safeway,” she said. The baby’s parents, customers at Safeway, panicked when their baby stopped breathing, but Embry performed CPR on the little one and brought him back to life.
And this summer, even though she has retired from firefighting, she grabbed her gear and headed up to Mitchell Creek during the Coal Seam Fire. There, she entered longtime Glenwood Springs resident Emmy Neil’s house and saved her cat, which was trapped inside.
“The house was on fire, but I got ahold of that one-eyed blind cat,” she said. “It was the neatest thing.”
“She is amazing,” fire chief Piper said. “She has a good heart, and that’s something that you can’t buy or find in people.”
fire department for 17 years, she’s also been working for Safeway – formerly known as
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Grace Wesseling is an animal lover, a cheerleader of seven years and another soon-to-be graduate of Bridges High School, class of 2021.