Glenwood loses ex-fire chief, historian Zancanella

Friends, family and the greater Glenwood Springs community are mourning the loss of longtime former city worker, fire chief and Glenwood native and historian Lawrence “Buzz” Zancanella, who died unexpectedly Saturday after suffering a heart attack earlier in the week. He was 75.

“Buzz was just a really great guy who had a giving heart, and was an extremely hard worker who would never shy away from any task,” said Jim Mason, who succeeded Zancanella as fire chief in 1985.

All told, Zancanella put in 40 years with the fire department, including 12 years as chief and the rest as a volunteer firefighter. He went on to work another 18 years for the Glenwood Springs water department, retiring in 2003.

His many years with the fire department continued a family tradition. His father, “Bugo” Zancanella, the son of Italian immigrants whose father came to the area in the late 1800s to work in the coal mines, had also spent four decades as a firefighter in his native Glenwood Springs.

“We remained good friends over the years and would often have coffee or lunch together,” said Mason, who was assistant chief under Zancanella before taking the helm.

“He really loved this town, and his passing means we also lost a historian,” Mason said, recalling that Zancanella was one of those “go-to” people for any piece of city history and the keeper of a vast collection of historical photos.

“That will be a hard shoe to fill,” he said.

Among Zancanella’s survivors are his 101-year-old mother, Ruth (Gould) Zancanella; his wife, Gracie; and three daughters, Rosemary Preheim and Christy and Annie Zancanella.

Annie Zancanella said her father suffered a heart attack at home on Jan. 6 and was taken to Valley View Hospital before being transferred to St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction. He died there Saturday from complications while he was awaiting surgery.

His sudden death hit the family hard, she said.

“My dad was just such a wonderful father and he absolutely adored his family and his community,” Annie Zancanella said.

“His passion for Glenwood history and collecting memorabilia from the area helped with so many authors who wrote books on the valley and needed photos and his wealth of information,” she said.


Buzz Zancanella was interviewed in 2009 by Walter Gallacher for his ongoing Immigrant Stories series, which appears monthly in the Post Independent.

“My grandfather came to Glenwood from Italy in the late 1800s; he was 15,” Zancanella shared in that interview. “He came with his brother looking for work as a miner. They stopped in Leadville first, but Grandpa decided he didn’t like the gold mines so they came on over to work in the Spring Gulch Mine.”

Buzz was born and raised in Glenwood Springs, graduating from Garfield County High School in 1958 and going to work for the fire department the following year. He also spent five years in the Navy from 1961 to 1966.

“We were proud to be volunteers,” Zancanella said of him and his father in the 2009 interview. “When that siren went off, you dropped everything and ran for the fire station.”

Upon his retirement from the water department in 2003, Zancanella commented, “I am not done serving the community that has been so much a part of my life.”

He remained active with the St. Stephen’s parish and the Knights of Columbus, and also continued to work part time at Big John’s and True Value hardware stores after he had retired from the city.

He also became well-known in his Blake Avenue neighborhood, especially among the children, for the large soap bubbles he would make with big hoops, which became one of his hobbies.

A rosary will be held at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday at St. Stephen’s Catholic Church, followed by a funeral Mass at 3 p.m. A full obituary appears in today’s Post Independent and online.

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