The North Fork area lost two remarkable citizens last week, Dale "Gabby" George and Ted "Doc" Panish -- both of whom were dedicated family men, community members, and devout Hotchkiss Bulldogs fans.
Bidding farewell to 'Gabby'
That Dale "Gabby" George was an active member of the community was evident last Thursday as more than 250 people filled the seats and lined the walls of the Hotchkiss Elks Lodge to celebrate his 71 years of life.
It was a huge outpouring of love for a man dedicated to making his community a better place to live. He bid this life farewell on Feb. 1.
George could "always be counted on in an emergency," said Art Wolverton, who officiated over the service. He was an original EMT for the North Fork Ambulance starting in 1969, and was a 27-year member of the Hotchkiss Volunteer Fire Department. Members of both organizations stood along the walls, a handful of ambulance crew taking an emergency call just minutes into the ceremony.
Wolverton read from a statement by one of his granddaughters, who wrote that everyone knew her Granddad, but she knew secrets. She called him the "best fishing buddy," and wrote that going fishing with him "was like being in a secret society."
For more than 20 years, George was a basketball official, whom Wolverton said just about did the splits when calling infractions. He also called football games live on the radio. Even in poor health, said Wolverton, George was "the biggest Bulldogs fan," attending local sporting events, and especially basketball, football and baseball games, for as long as he was able.
George was a member of the last graduating class of Crawford High School in 1962, and that July married his sweetheart, Anna Jean. He celebrated two birthdays, said Wolverton: his date of birth in July, and his sobriety birthday, for which he celebrated 32 years last November.
His list of community involvement would rival Santa's list, and oh yes, he was also Santa Claus when the real Santa couldn't get away from the North Pole.
George also spent 47 years in public works for the towns of Hotchkiss and Crawford, retiring in 2009. Both towns honored him as "Citizen of the Year."
Starting in 1966 he was celebrated rodeo announcer and could banter with the best of the rodeo clowns, said Wolverton. He was a member of the Delta County Fair Board, and in 2012 was named Grand Marshal of the Delta County Fair.
He was perhaps best known for making his mark as an auctioneer. He was a natural and began learning "that auction cry" at age 5. When he was three days old, his granddad nicknamed him "Gabby," said Wolverton. "He's lived up to that name."
He was "the world's best auctioneer," according to his granddaughter. He "sold more tractors from the shower than anyone can count."
Above all, said Wolverton before giving a prayer, and before the service concluded with Hank Snow's rendition of The Auctioneer, "He loved his family."
Celebrating the life of 'Doc' Panish
The local community celebrated the life of Ted "Doc" Panish Saturday night.
If one of his favorite songs is any indication, Panish left this world for the "Spirit in the Sky."
Panish died peacefully on Jan. 28 due to radiation poisoning after years of cancer treatments, said close friend Jessica Thomas-Hoage. He was 72. He made it clear he didn't want a funeral or a memorial, and he didn't want people to be sad. To honor that wish and allow the community to begin healing, a celebration of life was held Saturday night in one of the places he was most comfortable: the Hotchkiss High School gymnasium.
Heather Aguayo, a 1996 HHS graduate, spoke to the crowd of about 250, giving a brief history of Doc's life. He was a private individual, but he had many passions in his life that he loved to share, including education. After graduating from Peoria High School in Illinois in 1961 he went on to earn numerous degrees, including a doctorate in philosophy, earning him the nickname "Doc."
In 1991, he married Fiona, who gave birth to two sons, Kenai and River.
He had a passion for fishing. During summers he took his boys salmon fishing on the Kenai River in Alaska near where he owned property.
He was also passionate about Native American culture and was adopted into the local tribe.
Doc was also passionate about sports, and coached basketball at both the high school and middle school levels. He coached the high school girls team to the state championships in 1985.
"He coached with a passion that you couldn't believe," said retired English teacher and basketball coach, Leonard Shaw.
Dave Schelle, who taught with Panish for 10 years, said Doc "taught kids not just to be good student, but to be good citizens." Schelle, along with teacher and former student Blake Carlquist and HHS alums Jake Hubbell and Mike West, each read one of The Four Agreements, from the book of the same name by Don Miguel Ruiz.
1. Be impeccable with your word. 2. Don't take anything personally. 3. Don't make assumptions. 4. Always do your best.
The agreements were a big part of his life, said Aguayo, and he introduced them to all of his students.
"But he was most passionate about his boys," said Aguayo. He rarely, if ever, missed an event they were involved in, and made sure he lived to see River graduate last spring.
"I admire Doc and what he stood for," said lifelong Crawford resident Pat Bennett, who along with husband Ed enjoyed time with the Panish family in Alaska.
Doc was cremated and his sons plan to scatter his ashes at the Kenai River, said Thomas-Hoage. To help them get there, and to cover other expenses, a memorial fund has been established at First State Bank of Colorado's four Delta County branches.