By John Colson
Sopris Sun Staff
For the past 20 years, garrulous Carbondale dentist Gene Covello has been a long-distance commuter, driving the 90-plus miles from Grand Junction (where he has a home and a practice) to Carbondale, in order to continue seeing patients who are as much his friends as they are clients.
But that has come to an end.
Covello, 67, on Aug. 8 had his last appointment as a dentist in Carbondale, though he will continue to practice at an office in Grand Junction, which he opened after moving there in 1997 for family reasons.
Meanwhile, his practice is now owned by his former partners, Matt and Taylor Verheul (pronounced “ver-heel”).
“I commuted for 20 years,” he recalled.” I’d come up on Monday and work through Thursday, and then I’d go home.”
The issue for him, he said, was that “I still loved Carbondale. My heart was here. But I love my wife, and that’s where the other part of my heart was.”
And his wife, Sheila, was happier in Grand Junction than she had been in Carbondale, Gene said, mostly because of the tough Carbondale winters and Roaring Fork Valley’s infamously short growing season for vegetables.
“She loves gardening, she loves growing things,” he said, remarking that this year in Grand Junction she had tomatoes ready to eat in June, along with fresh peppers and herbs.
When Gene suggested, after the kids had left home, that they move back to the Roaring Fork Valley, “she looked at me and said, ‘I’m not going back.’ So we made that (the weekly commute) work for 20 years.”
From Denver to Chicago to Carbondale
Covello said he grew up in North Denver and Wheatridge, the youngest of three kids (two sisters). He graduated from Wheatridge High School and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from CU-Boulder in three years before moving to Chicago, Ill., to attend the Northwestern University dental school there until graduating in 1975.
A talented baseball player in high school and college, Covello at one point had to choose between the minor leagues and densistry, and he chose dentistry.
“I don’t think I ever questioned whether I would like it or not,” he said. “It was just what I was going to do.”
As the son of an avid fly fisherman, Covello had been exposed early on to the Roaring Fork Valley. He would come to Basalt nearly every summer in the 1950s and ’60s with his folks, staying at Wolf’s Cabins. His mom and sisters would shop or do “touristy things,” but he and his dad would fish the Fryingpan and Roaring Fork rivers, long before the local rivers became Gold Medal waters with catch-and-release rules.
His dad, who was a cop, also was “a post-Depression child, so he wanted to keep everything he caught. “But I was from a different generation, I wanted to preserve this for future fishermen,” Covello continued, so he would sneak fish out of the creel and slip them back into the water whenever he could.
One day, he said, his dad saw him do it from across the river and shouted, “If I could get across this river, son, I’d kick your ass.”
When they got home that night, Covello recalled, his dad grimly told his mom, “Gene’s going with you and the girls in the morning. And she kind of looked at him funny.”
That night, his mom told him much later, she confronted his dad and said, “Hey, dummy, this is your son. If he wants to go fishing with you and if he wants to throw these damned fish back, let him throw ’em back! It ain’t like we haven’t got enough.”
Gene went fishing with dad the next day, and no more was said about his tossing fish back.
After graduating from Northwestern, he decided he wanted to get back to small-town living in the mountains.
He came to check out the Roaring Fork Valley in 1975, looking for a place to work, and ended up buying the only practice in town, started by Dr. Bob Tattenham some years earlier in the 300 block of Main Street.
A couple of years later, he said, he bought the home of one-time Skyline Kennels owners Charles and Louise Kelly, at Third and Main Streets. He converted it to a dental office but retained the barber shop in front, which had been there when the Kellys owned the building and is still there today.
Over the years, he had several dentists as partners, culminating with the partnership with the Verheuls.
The dental office has moved again, to a new office on Village Road built by the Verheuls, a couple who met at dental school in Minnesota and came to Carbondale in 2005 after practicing for a couple of years in Sioux Falls, S.D., the state where Matt Verheul was raised (Taylor grew up in Montana, she said.)
After running their own practice for a couple of years, they joined Covello in 2008 and after working together with him for nearly a decade they bought the practice as Covello prepared to move to Grand Junction.
Covello said he feels he is leaving Carbondale in competent hands, with several other good dentists in town now in addition to Verheul Family Dentistry.
“I think Matt and Taylor have a great practice and are very talented dentists,” he said, though he acknowledged that some of his patients have declared they will be seeing him in Junction, where his practice is physically smaller than the old Main Street office but will keep serving clients from Carbondale.
He said that already he has heard from long-time patients who now live in such towns as Rifle, Parachute and DeBeque, and would not be surprised to hear from some in Carbondale and Glenwood Springs.
The Verheuls, contacted at the new dental facility, expressed gratitude for Covello’s willingness to become partners and ultimately sell them his practice.
“We’re so fortunate to have had such a wonderful mentor,” said Taylor Verheul. “He’s an amazing dentist.”
Matt Verheul added, “It’s been a great run.”