His name may not be familiar to many, but Burns O. Drake influenced many lives. He was a teacher, World War II Naval officer, and beloved community leader.
The baseball field at Hotchkiss K-8 School is also named after him. Last week, Burns' relatives who still live in the area, along with a group of volunteers representing multiple generations of Hotchkiss residents, paid homage to Drake, installing two plaques in his memory at the entrance to the ball field.
Drake was born in Hotchkiss on Dec. 3, 1917, according to niece Luana Drake Sinski of Paonia. He graduated from Hotchkiss High School in 1934 and served in the U.S. Navy in World War II, returning to civilian life in February 1946 at the rank of lieutenant.
Education was very important to Drake, said nephew John Burns Drake, who was born a month after his uncle died and was named after him. Drake attended college in California and graduated from Western State College at Gunnison. His brother, Malcolm Drake, was a long-time superintendent of the Delta County School District. Burns Drake taught school at Paonia and at Hotchkiss, and was also a sports coach at Hotchkiss. He was studying for his master's degree in 1948. But while pheasant hunting with friends and family on the family homestead on Spurlin Mesa on Nov. 21, he was killed instantly when his 12-guage shotgun accidentally discharged.
"It was right around Thanksgiving," said niece Donna Drake Faulkner of Crawford who was very young at the time.
John Drake still lives on the Spurlin Mesa homestead. He said the accident hit the towns of Hotchkiss and Paonia really hard. On May 28, 1949, immediately following the annual Kowboy Karnival Parade, Hotchkiss High School renamed the school sports field the Burns O. Drake Athletic Field, and placed a granite plaque in his honor at the park entrance.
"He was really liked by all the kids," said Dan Mackendrick, an alumni association member who was in seventh grade at the time and was hunting in Montrose the day the accident occurred. "He was a strict disciplinarian, but I think the kids appreciated that."
When the new Hotchkiss K-8 School was built in the early 2000s, the concrete slab was pulled up and set aside. Last Thursday, the original plaque, along with a new brass plaque, were placed prominently in a custom-made Bulldog red stand at the entrance to the baseball field. Hotchkiss metal artist Ira Houseweart made the plaque and stand, along with the two Bulldog-red paw prints placed on either side of the new plaque.
When Jere Hollembeak with the Hotchkiss High School Alumni Association approached principal Carrie Yantzer with the idea, she was thrilled. "It's such an honor to be able to honor our educators," said Yantzer. The school's gymnasium is named after Don Tate, who taught in Hotchkiss for many years.
Hollembeak credits Glen "Dusty" Wadley, a 1955 HHS graduate, for suggesting that something be done to honor and remember Drake. The association decided on a rededication of the existing plaque, and that a new plaque should be added, with a brief description of who he was. For the past year the association began accepting donations, which it earmarked for the project.
Houseweart, a fourth-generation Hotchkiss resident and metal artist, was the obvious choice to make the plaque, said Hollembeak.
"Ira does outstanding work," said Eric Hollembeak, a teacher and coach at HHS and Jere Hollembeak's son. Three generations of the Hollembeak family helped with the installation, as did Houseweart's two children, who represent five generations of Hotchkiss residents and four generations to attend Hotchkiss schools.
"I don't get many opportunities to work in red," said Houseweart, whose custom, hand-forged sculptures include the gateway to the Bulldog's sports facility at Hotchkiss High School. Nor does he get many opportunities to make metal Bulldog paw prints.
A formal dedication will be held at a later date.