Vidakovich column: Remembering those we lost on December 16, 1985
I had fully intended to be at the dinner honoring the 12 people who lost their lives in the explosion at the Rocky Mountain Natural Gas Plant on Dec. 16, 1985. The Elks Lodge was the host for the 36th annual remembrance, and I thought there would be an opportunity to see a couple of my former students and players who lost a mother and a father on the dark day that shook an entire community so many years ago.
The dinner was held on Sunday afternoon Dec. 11, and as is the case in most of our lives, I got caught up in doing some other things and didn’t make it down to the Elks Lodge. I especially wanted to see Jeremy Joslin, who lost his father Jim, and Joey Luetke, who lost his mother Teri in the disaster.
I remember that mid-December day in 1985 all too well. I was home from college on the holiday break and I paid a visit to fifth-grade teachers Doris Jones and Bette Hart. Due to the remodeling at Glenwood Elementary at the time, the three fifth-grade sections were being housed in the upstairs of the CMC Blake Center. I was going to be student teaching with Doris and Bette and I wanted to check in with them to see if there was anything further I needed to do before school resumed in early January.
Ms. Jones told me the news of the explosion when I arrived at her classroom door and I could tell that most everyone in the entire building was pretty shaken. I didn’t know until the next day how literally close to home the tragedy had hit for all of us. Many of the people whose lives were lost had been members of the Glenwood community for years and were well known.
I had been associated with Joey, Richie, and Samantha Luetke for years before they lost their mom. I coached Joey in little league baseball during the summers of my college years and I always got a kick out of the fact that Teri would bring her son late to practice each morning, with a big cinnamon roll wrapped in a napkin. I used to tease Teri and Joey that I was beginning to believe it wasn’t just a coincidence that they always arrived in time to miss our pre-practice stretching and running.
One summer, during the little league tournament here in Glenwood, we were short umpires, so I coaxed my brother Dick to help out with a game. Dick was behind the plate calling balls and strikes, and Joey was our catcher. With the heat of the summer in full bloom, when Joey would take off his catcher’s mask between innings, his short hair would stick straight up in comical fashion. My brother started calling him “Fluffy Duck” in regards to his unintentional but trendy hairstyle. The name stuck with me, and even though he is now probably in his early 50s, I still call him Fluffy Duck!
The story with Jeremy Joslin is entirely different. I didn’t know who the boy was until he walked into my fourth-grade classroom at GSES in the fall of 1986. It was my first teaching assignment out of college and I was excited to meet all the new, fresh, sparkling faces. Eager young minds!
It turned out that Jeremy’s mom, Phyllis, was a member of the Mincer family who I had grown up with here in Glenwood. I knew Jeremy’s uncle Kent Mincer very well. Kent was the sports editor at this newspaper for many years.
On the first day of school, Phyllis explained to me that she had requested her son to have a male teacher due to the loss of his father. Since I was the only male teacher in the fourth grade at the time, I guess the Joslins were stuck with me regardless.
This young boy, referred to by his family as “Jere Bear” was to me at the time and continuing to this very day, a blessing for old Mr. V. In the beginning, he liked to chat with his classmates much more than he liked to pay attention to any old boring lesson on long division. After repeated admonishments and missed recesses, I doled out the ultimate punishment to my young friend; I moved his desk up to the front of the room right next to mine.
We developed a bond that has lasted a lifetime.
Even when his ceaseless chatting began to dwindle and his grades were on the rise, I selfishly kept him next to me. We had great conversations daily about sports and even life as a fourth grader in general. He became like an adopted son to me.
When summer approached and the school year came to a close, I didn’t want to see him go. I wish I could have failed him so we could repeat another year together, but he had become a remarkable student and that simply wasn’t in the cards.
Since I coached the junior varsity basketball team at GSHS at the time, I decided to make Jeremy and his friend, Kevin Tadus, my managers. They were a great help to me and a joy to have at the home games and the road trips. We went to a spring tournament in Grand Junction that year with a group of freshman that included Jim Yellico, Eli Houck, Trent Peabody, Dan Kite, Arlo Vigil, Jason Hill, Adam Wiggins, Taj Cooper, Jason Purdy, Dorian McClelland, and Jess Westley. Jeremy and Kevin really looked up to these big high school stars and it was a great experience for all of us. They took the games very seriously and lived and died with how the Demons were faring.
Jeremy and Kevin both went on to play high school basketball at Glenwood for my brother Dick. He was their coach, and he enjoyed them as much as I.
This may not surprise you that when I bump into Jeremy now days, I always greet him with “Hey Jere Bear!” His mom put him in my class that fall of 1986 so I could hopefully have a positive impact on a little boy who had lost his father. But it turns out that the student was really the teacher. He still is.
Happy New Year and count your blessings each day.
In remembrance of Tom Bolin, Brian Carroll, Cindy Cowling, Harley “Dick” Eckert, Barbara Feld, Larry Hutson, Shelby Jackson, Jim Joslin, Teri Luetke, David Neal, Allen Rhodes and Rex Rhodes.
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