Gene Taylor was truly an ‘icon,’ as well as a sporting-good legend
Skipping town for at least part of School District 51’s spring break is a tradition in our family, partially because it allows the resident teacher to recharge for the nine weeks or so left in the school year. And also because, more often than not, there’s a need to escape Colorado’s chill for warmer climes, preferably one with a beach.
It took a while to make our escape last week, maybe because the Grand Junction weather wasn’t that different from some of our normal destinations in California or Arizona. Perhaps it was because we hadn’t done a good enough job of scheduling to avoid some lingering professional responsibilities. In any event, it was mid-week before we were looking at Happy Valley in the rear view mirror as we headed south, sort of, to Crested Butte.
Even in the high country, it was shirt-sleeve weather during the day and there was a steady drip from the eaves as the sun beat down, melting accumulated snow much lighter than in most years.
We did get the mandatory beach picture, this one on the rocky, sandy shore of a frozen Blue Mesa reservoir with the West Elks in the background. Not exactly what the teacher has in mind when she thinks spring-break beach scene, but at least warmer than the one a couple of years ago on an ice-encrusted pier along Lake Michigan.
Even in a remote location, there were reminders from home that life marches on.
I thought it fitting, as I perused The Daily Sentinel’s online edition on Saturday morning, that there was no mention of baseball in the headline announcing the death of one of the Grand Valley’s most revered citizens.
“GJ icon Gene Taylor dies,” it read, before delving into detail of all that Geno had accomplished in a long and productive life.
Certainly, 900 baseballs donated for Little League practices, a pair of cleats that were just one of many equipment donations to needy players, athletes recounting lone-ago journeys in Gene’s truck that introduced them to national-level competition were all important markers in a life that revolved around local sports and Grand Valley kids.
But the “icon” in the headline, for me, also recognized that Gene Taylor was more than athlete-turned coach and entrepreneur.
Sure, his name is on the storefronts still operated by his sons. But every time I drive down 12th Street from my home to downtown, I drive past both Hospice and Palliative Care of Western Colorado and Community Hospital, where Gene Taylor’s name might as well be over the front doors.
The foundations of the Hospice buildings, indeed the end-of-life care provided within, rest on land provided by Gene Taylor. A few more blocks south is Community Hospital, a facility Gene helped nurture and which honored him just a few months ago for his service as a board member and fund raiser.
Our family will actually take another, more prolonged, break in about a month when we gather with our children to celebrate one of those milestones, the fact that our eldest will hit “the big three-oh” just a couple of days before her brother turns 25.
For Tony and Jessica, like many kids in these parts, frequent trips to Gene Taylor’s were part of growing up. We rented skis and snowboards for lessons and picked up more gear than I want to tally for our trips to Lake Powell. My creaky knees remind me of the miles put on running shoes carefully fitted upstairs.
We carried out swimming and softball gear for my daughter and baseball gear for my son, not to mention that used lever-action Browning that was the perfect size for a youngster headed for his first elk hunt. During any of the four seasons, there’s something in the closet we can pull out that came from one of Gene Taylor’s stores.
On our way home last Saturday, we drove past the store in Gunnison, where Gene’s son Marshall presides, that carries the Taylor name. That sight reminded me that for many, those purchases we made over the years were more than acquisitions.
They were part of an enduring relationship with a man who will be greatly missed, an “icon” who left many tracks here, many of them while not wearing cleats or carrying a bat and ball.