Families celebrate holiday a long way from home

BurkheadImageUseThisOneRBC | Tony and Carey Seely won’t make it home for the holidays.
Instead, home came to them.
The Seelys, who are both from Meeker, currently live in Stuttgart, Germany, where Tony is on assignment for the Air Force Reserve. So, Carey’s mom — Connie Hughes of Meeker — traveled to Germany to spend the holidays with her daughter and her family.
Actually, Connie has two daughters living in Germany, as daughter Kristy and her husband, Troy, who works for the U.S. State Department, live in Frankfurt, which is about two hours from Stuttgart.
“We spent Thanksgiving with them (Kristy and Troy),” Tony said. “And we’ll spend Christmas with them.”
Tony is considered a local hero around these parts. He was a state wrestling champion at Meeker High School. He went on to attend the U.S. Air Force Academy. And he later flew F-16s for the famous air demonstration team, the Thunderbirds.
Tony, a colonel in the Air Force, is currently serving as Air Force Reserve deputy director for the U.S. European Command. He is on military leave from United Airlines, but will return to United once his assignment is completed in June 2011.
Tony left the regular Air Force in 1999 and began flying for United, based out of Denver, which he did for four years. In 2003, he did liaison work for the Air Force, where he would visit with high school students about the academy and ROTC programs.
“I would talk to kids like Nate (Bradfield),” Tony said of the Meeker High School senior who was recently nominated by Colorado Congressman John Salazar to attend the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. “I would tell them about the basic stuff they needed to work on, to make sure they were doing the right things to stay competitive for the academy. They just don’t want a jock, or just an academic type. They are looking for people who are going to be future leaders and be able to perform under pressure.”
When Tony was growing up in Meeker, he took advantage of the opportunities to develop his leadership skills, which have served him well throughout his career.
“I played sports, primarily wrestling. I played the trumpet. I was in Student Council, 4-H, all the stuff you do in Meeker,” he said.
A 1981 graduate of Meeker High School, Tony graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1985 with a bachelor’s degree in biology. He said he talked to Nate last summer about trying to get in to the academy.
“He’s a great kid, with a great record,” Tony said. “I’m super proud of Nate. He has an incredible opportunity ahead of him. I know he will go on and do great things.”
Tony had his choice of attending any one of the three military academies, but chose the Air Force.
“I applied to all three academies and ended up taking the nomination from the Air Force, because that’s what I wanted to do,” he said. “It’s all worked out.”
Tony is the oldest of four siblings — brother Mike lives in Meeker; another brother, Douglas, lives in Fort Collins; and sister Carla lives in Wyoming — which means he fits the profile.
“The demographics of pilots, typically, they are the oldest sibling,” Tony said.
Because of his job with the Air Force, Tony gets back to the States fairly regularly, usually to Washington, D.C., which is where the Air Force Reserve special staff is headquartered.
“But we get back to Colorado once every six months or so,” he said.
Tony and Carey have a property upriver, called Thunderbird Lodge, which they own with his parents, Jerry and Mary Ann.
Tony is looking forward to his parents visiting them in Germany.
Tony’s interest in aviation came from his father.
“My dad had flown and actually wanted to be in the military, but was color blind, so he was never able to do the military thing,” Tony said. “He had taken me flying with him when I was younger. In junior high, I decided I wanted to be a commercial pilot. That’s when I started looking into the best way to get into flying, and the military seemed like a great way to go, and one thing led to another.”
As a result, he’s made a career of it.
On flying with the world-famous Thunderbirds, which he did from 1994 to 1997, Tony said, “That was a pretty eye-opening experience. You’re a fairly young officer at that point, but they give you a tremendous amount of responsibility in flying around a $30 million airplane in front of millions of people.”
But of all the jobs he’s had over the years, Tony said his favorite was probably his first assignment, in 1987, when he was stationed in England.
“Our forward operating location was near Ramstein, Germany. We weren’t actually stationed there, but we spent a lot of time flying out of Germany. That was during the height of the Cold War,” Tony said.
It was also during that time that Tony and Carey, a 1982 Meeker graduate, were married.
“So we set up shop in England,” Tony said. “Carey worked for a British radio station, and I flew all over Europe in the mighty A-10. It was a great time.”
Now, here they are, back in Europe. This time with their three children: Matthew, 16; Hadleigh, 14; and Hannah, 9.
The girls are “big into soccer,” Tony said, while Matthew is following in the footsteps of the old man — he’s a wrestler.
“He was second in Europeans as a freshman,” Tony said proudly. “He wrestled at 145 pounds last year and was elected team captain as a sophomore. He seems to enjoy it.”
Wrestling runs in the family. Tony wrestled at 155 pounds when he was a state champion in high school, and then moved up to 167 when he wrestled for the Air Force Academy. Tony’s father, Jerry, wrestled in college at Colorado State University.
“So Matthew is a third-generation wrestler,” Tony said “My dad used to joke that people would give him a hard time, saying, ‘You made your boys wrestle.’ He said, ‘No, I didn’t. They could always find someplace else to live.’”
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Rangely’s Elks Lodge No. 1907 distributed gift baskets Sunday to needy families in Rangely and Dinosaur.
“It went well,” said Elks member Jeff LeBleu of Rangely. “The Rangely Fire Department had three guys come down and help deliver with their fire trucks.”
Proceeds from the Elks annual Charity Ball are used to buy the gift baskets.
“When we do our charity ball, the money we make is what we use to buy the Christmas food baskets,” “We give ham, turkey, milk, eggs, pies, biscuits, potatoes, vegetables, stuffing, enough food to make a good Christmas meal there. And the 4-H buys gifts and puts them in the baskets for the families with kids.”
LeBleu said the gift baskets are delivered to “lower-income families, senior citizens, people without jobs. Last year we gave out 83, and this year we gave out 90. With the economy, we knew it would go up.”
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Last week’s paper included an obituary notice for Pat Bouchard, 49, of Wascott, Wis., who died Dec. 14 from head injuries sustained when he fell on the ice playing hockey.
Pat worked in the Piceance Basin during the late 1980s and early 1990s, and continued his ties to the area after moving away. In July 2008, through the company he founded — St. Croix Seismic — he donated $5,000 to the Meeker School District for “student needs.”
“Oh, he was my boy,” Ruby Hart of Meeker, who treated Pat like a son. “There wasn’t anything Pat wouldn’t have done for me. He was a wonderful man.”
In an obituary for Pat published in a newspaper in Wisconsin, it listed Ruby as his grandmother.
“He always called me grandma,” Ruby said. “I really wasn’t any relation, but to him I was grandma Ruby.”
Ruby said she met Pat when he was working in the meat department at Watt’s grocery store and she was looking for someone to help her with yard work. Pat quickly volunteered.
“He did everything for me, Pat did,” Ruby said.
Pat lived in Meeker off and on for 30 years, Ruby said.
“When he graduated from high school, he and three other boys, just like boys do, they made up their mind they were going to see the world,” Ruby said. ‘They had saved their money, so they got on a train in Wisconsin and ended up in Grand Junction. The four of them came out together, but I think Pat was the only one who stayed in Colorado. He ended up in Meeker and started working in the oil fields.”
Ruby and Pat had stayed in contact ever since.
“We were always in touch,” Ruby said. “If he was in New York or New Zealand or Alaska or wherever, Pat always kept in touch with me.”
Pat had a rough childhood, Ruby said.
“While he was here one time he got a phone call that his mother had died, and that was the first he knew that he had a mother,” Ruby recalled. “He didn’t have a good life growing up, Pat didn’t.”
The last time Ruby saw Pat was last summer.
“He came here for my grandson’s wedding down on Piceance Creek on the 27th of June. That’s the last time I saw him,” she said.
Ruby had talked to Pat on the phone shortly before he died.
“I asked him to not do that, because he had hurt his shoulder playing hockey earlier,” Ruby said. “But he died doing what he loved.”
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The heat was out a couple of days last week at the Rangely Junior/Senior High, leaving temperatures in some classrooms in the 50s.
“Kids had on coats, hats, hoodies, whatever to stay warm,” said Vivian Green, who works in the school office.
The heat was back on Thursday, just in time for the last day of classes before the Christmas break.
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Apologies to Mitch Jacob. The Meeker basketball player’s name was inadvertently omitted from a story in last week’s paper. In the first-place game of the Cowboy Shootout, Mitch found his range from the left side and the senior rained in three 3-pointers to close out the second quarter and give the Cowboys a 37-24 halftime lead. They went on to beat Valley 69-62, and Jacob was named to the all-tournament team.
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We often get requests to order photos that have appeared in the paper, as well as to see other photos that don’t make it in the paper because of space limitations. If you’d like to see photos of recent events including Rangely’s Holidayfest, the Cowboy Shootout, ERBM’s breakfast with Santa, Meeker’s tree lighting event, the CNCC ribbon cutting and Veterans Day, simply go to the paper’s Web site — www.theheraldtimes.com — and click on “Photos” on the menu bar at the top of the page. You will see where it says: “Like these photos?” If you click there, it will direct you to a Web site where the photos have been uploaded and you can review them and order copies.
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While attending a Christmas party over the weekend, Christine Halandras of Meeker grabbed me, gave me a big squeeze and said, “This is what it’s all about, being with family and friends.”
I couldn’t agree more, Christine.
Here’s hoping all of you get to spend the holidays with those you love.

Jeff Burkhead is editor of the Herald Times. You may e-mail him at jeff@theheraldtimes.com.