The Sopris Sun

Remembering the late Benjamin Reed

By John Colson

Sopris Sun Staff Writer

When the Carbondale Mountain Fair opens on July 29, 2016, the traditional invocation and announcements will be made from the 32-year-old Sopris Park Gazebo stage, built in 1984 and dedicated to a man whose death the year before had stunned and saddened the community.

The Benjamin H. Reed Memorial Gazebo, as it is informally known, took more than a month to build, according to numerous local volunteers who worked on the project, in time for that year’s Fair.

The project had been under consideration for some time previously, according to former Mountain Fair Director Joann Ricci, now living and working in New Orleans, La.

“People were just getting tired of putting up a new stage every year,” Ricci recalled, and when Reed died on Dec. 16, 1983, dedicating the new, permanent stage in his honor seemed like a natural fit.

A memorial fund was started to raise money to buy materials for the stage, and the town’s parks and recreation commission donated $6,500 in proceeds from the state’s lottery fund to the cause, according to long time local painter and photographer Jim Ryan, who was on the commission at the time.

Dick Hunter, an electrical contractor who has lived in Carbondale since the early 1970s but mostly worked in Aspen and Snowmass Village in those early years, said the Gazebo was the first Carbondale project for his company and local musician Denny Egan, who worked for Hunter Electric.

Hunter pulled a file out of his records on the project, and reported that the electrical permit for the Gazebo was issued by the town on May 30, 1984, and Hunter’s and Egan’s first day on the job was June 4. He said he signed off on the electrical inspection on July 25, just two days before the Fair opened that year.

A marble plaque, bearing Reed’s name but nothing else, was carved out of basically found stone, according to sculptor Greg Tonozzi of Marble, who did the work.

“That was back in the days when there was no (newly quarried) marble around, it was all in the woods,” Tonozzi said, referring to the fact that while the Yule Marble quarry had been inactive for some time, there were plenty of blocks and pieces of marble left over from earlier quarrying activities and scattered around the community.

“I did it with honor, and a lot of emotion,” Tonozzi remembered. “To me, it’s not the stone itself, it’s the essence, kind of, of the person it’s being done for.”

The late Ben Reed came to town in the early 1970s and quickly became known not only as a good guy, but good carpenter as well. A marble block inscribed with his name is embedded on the west side of the Sopris Park gazebo. Courtesy photo

When people look on a piece of memorial marble, he said, “It brings up the memory of the person. It kind of keeps their memory alive.”

Ben’s story

Reed, who was 30 when he died, grew up in the East and was a high school chum of another Carbondale character, Bill Bullard, who died in Idaho in 2003 only months after moving there from Carbondale.

The two buddies joined forces in Colorado in the 1970s, remembered Bill’s widow, Barb Bush, who lives in the north side of Carbondale. They came here to work on a house and barn for Bill’s parents, the late Bill, Sr. and his wife, Jean, who now lives in the Seattle, Wash., area.

Both Reed and the younger Bullard ultimately ended up making Carbondale their new home.

Reed was a universally well-liked man from the start, according to those who knew him well or just as an acquaintance.

“He was a good guy,” said Carbondale Fire Chief Ron Leach, who knew Reed fairly well. “I remember him as a really good carpenter, but he did all kinds of stuff. I liked him a lot.”

For the Gazebo project, Leach recalled, “I placed that piece of marble; I cut it into the wood at the edge of the stage.”

Tonozzi, who knew Reed as a ditch walker for the East Mesa Ditch Company, recalled, “He was a sincere gentleman — and I mean a gentle man.”

“He was a dancing fool,” said Bush, who met Reed through her future husband. “He’d go anywhere there was music. And he was at the joiners’ table in the Village Smithy every morning,” greeting and eating with friends and neighbors.

A wide range of locals counted Reed as a friend, although they admitted to not having known him closely.

“I knew him,” said local real estate broker Cindy Sadlowski. “Everybody knew him. I thought he was a really nice guy.”

Reed lived in this area for six years, according to a Dec. 22, 1983 story in the Valley Journal newspaper about his death, and every year he would be a central figure in the 15-man crew (or so) that put up the Mountain Fair stage.

Laurie Loeb, a founder of the fair and of the Carbondale Council on Arts and Humanities for which the fair is a chief fundraising event, recalled that the stage project every year involved donated materials and labor, and that “Ben was the consummate volunteer, heading up that crew.”

Ben’s demise

It was on Dec. 9, 1983, that Reed and Bullard were driving south on Highway 133, headed for the ditch-walker’s shack Reed lived in along Nettle Creek at the base of Mt. Sopris.

At a point along the highway near the ranch driveways of the Sewell family and what is now Sustainable Settings, according to reports, a thermos bottle Bullard kept under the driver’s seat rolled forward and got lodged under the brake pedal of the car.

Bush told The Sopris Sun that when Bullard, who was driving, reached down to grab the thermos, the car hit some ice and slid off the highway and into a ditch, slamming Reed into the door frame on his side of the car and causing massive brain damage. Bullard was less seriously injured.

Reed was taken to St. Mary’s hospital in Grand Junction where he spent a week in a coma and died on Dec. 16.

According to the news story, for weeks “an uncounted number of people went about in a daze, disbelieving the testimony of their ears and their eyes,” unable to accept Reed’s passing.

“He just died way too young,” said Dick Hunter, summing up the feelings of many.

Per instructions on Reed’s driver’s license, his heart went into the donor pool and was soon transplanted into the chest of a 48-year-old man from Ohio, whom Barb Bush said regularly received Valentine’s Day cards from former Carbondale resident Elva McDowell, a founding member of a popular local band, the Sirens of Swing.

The project

The conversation about building a permanent stage quickly coalesced around the idea of making it into a memorial for Reed.

Architect Ron Robertson, another late and lamented community character, was recruited to draw up plans for the Gazebo.

Local builder Jim Wood, who now lives mostly in Montana, was brought in as the general contractor and pulled a building permit some time in May, although town officials said that particular record has been lost.

And the same carpenters, electricians and others with construction know-how, who had been building the annual temporary stage with Reed over the years, pitched in to help build a permanent memorial for their fallen friend.

“Everyone just kind of pitched in, doing whatever,” recalled Chuck Bauer, reached at a home he and his wife, Marti, own in Moab, Utah, describing the crew that came together every year to build the stage and, that year, to put up the Gazebo.

“I think most everybody that lived in the town, at my age, anyway, was part of it,” Bauer said.

Published in The Sopris Sun on July 14, 2016.