Trey Holt sits in a 19th Street Diner booth, the murmur of conversation and clinking of glasses and plates serving as the morning’s soundtrack.He’s sipping an iced tea – his preferred alternative to morning coffee before he has to head back to the funeral home.Across from him is “Big John” Lindsey, owner of Big John’s Building and Home Center, who’s trying to conquer a Sudoku puzzle in the day’s local newspaper.The two friends often meet for breakfast and banter topics ranging from the Denver Broncos to business in Glenwood Springs.Holt enjoys a nice, slow-moving morning.
Nearly 12 years earlier, Holt’s day was not so relaxing.The date was July 6, 1994 the same year he was elected coroner. The Storm King Fire had been burning for two days after lightning ignited a tree near Canyon Creek during a sweltering summer dry spell.Fifty-two firefighters and smokejumpers were called in to help snuff out the flames. Only 38 would live to tell about it. Late in the afternoon, 45 mile-per-hour winds shifted and small flames became a lethal and unmerciful wall of fire and smoke. Holt watched the flames come over the hill from the greens at the Glenwood Springs Golf Club.”When we teed off, I remember telling (my wife) Tami that it was really strange the wind was with us on No. 1,” said Holt, owner of Farnum-Holt Funeral Home in Glenwood Springs and Rifle Funeral Home. “By the time we got to the fourth tee, the winds had changed and the sky was black. I said, ‘Let’s just go.'”They had no idea 14 firefighters had perished that afternoon on Storm King Mountain.The situation appeared to be even worse.”When dispatch first called me, they asked me if we had 52 body bags, and I just panicked,” Holt said.Holt knew he needed help, and he knew where to get sound advice – his father owns a funeral home in Cañon City.”I called my dad who always has words of wisdom or advice,” Holt said. “He said, ‘One thing we’ve got going for us is time.’ I called Big John that night, actually more like 2 or 3 in the morning, and said this is what we need: sawhorses, boards, supplies. That’s the way our community is.”In the hours and days that followed the fire, Holt learned what it really takes to be coroner. His work was not only important to the county, but to the memories of the 14 firefighters.Identification became a tedious, technical and sensitive process.”We were able to identify 13 out of the 14 through dental records. We knew who the 14th was, but we kept at it,” he said. “We continued because we wanted to act as if he was the first one.”
For Holt, it’s hard to imagine a day more tragic than Storm King.But March 29, 2001, was such a day.A harsh spring snow storm whipped through the region. On that snowy evening, a chartered Gulfstream jet slammed into a hillside as it approached the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport runway, killing all 18 people on board.”They called for us to assist them at the Pitkin County coroner’s office. With my experience from Storm King, I was able to help them out,” Holt said. “We had all 18 people at the funeral home. If every day was like that, it would be horrible.”Dealing with the “horrible” is a reality for Holt. Confronting death’s darkest moments, he copes by thinking of the families first.”You go in with the mindset ‘How can I make this horrible situation better on the family,” Holt said. “My dad was a deputy coroner for over 30 years. He always told me, ‘It might be uncomfortable or unpleasant, but it’s for the families who are living.’ If you have that perspective, then it’s OK.”Although he grew up in Cañon City as the son, grandson and great-grandson of funeral directors, Holt wasn’t drawn to the business at first.”Growing up, my dad never took me to the funeral home. I think I was just like everyone else you’re very hesitant,” Holt said. “When I was in college, I came home for the weekend with my friends. There was a tanker explosion on Highway 50 and seven people were killed. My dad asked me and my two friends to help.”Later when Holt was working at the funeral home, he dealt with a death that was more certain. On October 13, 1997, convicted murderer and rapist Gary Davis was put to death by lethal injection, and the Holt Family Funeral Home in Cañon City handled the arrangements.”That is a strange feeling because you know that the phone is going to ring,” Holt said. “We put our thoughts aside our thoughts were for the family. He was still loved by some people, and we had a job to do.”
The humble, often soft-spoken Holt didn’t always want to make a living as a funeral director. He had sportier aspirations.”I was an assistant working at a golf club there in Cañon City and I thought, ‘I might want to be a golf pro,'” said Holt, who has a 2 handicap. “But when I was about 22 or 23 I decided I wanted to work at the funeral home.”Holt, who moved to Glenwood Springs in 1986, learned everything he knows about the funeral business through his 68-year-old father.”I just think seeing my dad work with the families, that overcomes what you have to see,” he said. “I call my dad every day. He’s the big guy.”Golf with Big John and friends, along with sporadic pheasant hunting trips in South Dakota, help Holt put tragedy in perspective. He plays in a Thursday night men’s golf league in Rifle, and is also a dedicated Denver Broncos fan.A day on the fairways offers a slice of solace for Holt.”Dealing with grief, I think that’s why I enjoy golf so much,” he said. “You have to have an outlet. I don’t think you ever get used to it, though.”
Marriage and fatherhood also keep Holt grounded.Fatherhood came somewhat unexpectedly.At 45, he is the father of two 8-year-old fraternal twins, Jacob and Jared, adopted on Oct. 25, 2005.”He’s such a great father he just fell right into it,” said Tami, Holt’s wife of 19 years. “He has taken on the role very easily. It gives him another outlet, and it’s something more to think about besides his work.”Tami said the twins look up to their dad in different ways, ranging from his line of work to his love of sports.”They play baseball, golf, basketball, football anything with a ball in it. He’s very patient, and very kind with them,” she said. For Jared, Dad’s profession is appealing.”Jared already dresses just like him he wants to wear a suit to school,” Tami said. “He wants to be a funeral director. He likes the hearses.”Jacob is another story.”Jacob doesn’t talk about it. He’s a little bit leery about it. He wants to be a professional football player,” Tami said.The Holt family lives above the mortuary, and that can carry a stigma. But Tami said she sees the positive impact Holt’s profession has on her family.”The funeral business has helped me look at life differently. You do appreciate every day,” said Tami, who worked with Trey for 16 years before becoming a teacher at Yampah Mountain High School. “I really appreciate life and death. I’ve made sure all my family and I are on speaking terms.”
Before the twins came on board, life may not have afforded time for Holt to even consider fatherhood.Demanding coroner duties along with funeral home director responsibilities often kept him on the run and away from home. Today, deputy coroners Steve Pollard and Thomas Walton do the majority of the embalming and inform families of a fatality, instead of Holt.He hasn’t forgotten how difficult notifying next-of-kin can be.”When I’ve notified families, I’ve had a 13-year-old girl who came out and threatened me with a knife. I’ve had guys threaten to beat me up. I’ve also had people react where it doesn’t register,” he said. “I was the messenger of the worst news they’ve ever heard.”For now, there are a few cases that Holt would like to see closed. Cases that have haunted the county. Three sets of three human remains sit at Farnum-Holt, unidentified. One was found on Red Mountain; another is a human skull pulled from the Colorado River. The most publicized is a skeletal set belonging to a man found dead of unknown causes nearly two years ago in the Flat Tops.”I’ll do anything to get these bones claimed,” Holt said.As a coroner and a man who knows how important it is to help bring closure to the lives of families, Holt is haunted by one case.He wants to bring home the woman who convicted killer Ted Bundy said he murdered 31 years ago. Denise Oliverson, a 25-year-old homemaker, disappeared from Grand Junction on April 6, 1975. Bundy confessed to her murder before his 1989 execution, but her remains were never found.”The DA’s investigator at the time before Bundy’s death went to talk to him at the prison,” Holt said. “He tried to remember the exact location of her body but couldn’t remember just that she’s somewhere between Glenwood and Silt.”
As an integral part of community for 20 years, Holt has formed many bonds in Glenwood Springs and beyond. The personal nature of his business especially his comforting nature lend to that.”Death is a private thing and, because you help people through it, there’s a connection. Trey has that with a lot of people,” Tami said. “He’s a very special man and he has a very special job.”In November, Holt is running uncontested as the Republican candidate for re-election as coroner.And people aren’t afraid to show their appreciation.One morning, as Holt was sitting at the 19th Street Diner with Big John, a woman approached their table. She had a family member die and Holt handled the arrangements.Before he knew it, she was hugging him.”That does happen a lot,” he said modestly. “Knowing someone at their worst time and always having that in common creates a bond.”That’s just par for the course for a funeral home director.Contact April E. Clark: 945-8515, ext. email@example.com
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