Today is the one-year anniversary of when Meeker lost one of its favorite sons.
Gene Scritchfield, the well-known Meeker outfitter and rancher, died in a tractor rollover accident one year ago today. He was only 38.
Gene’s tragic passing rocked the entire community, but, of course, no more than his family, which over the past year has had to come to grips with his loss.
“It was just such a shock,” said his grandmother, Arlene Fritzlan. “You just never know. You can be here today and gone tomorrow.”
The events of that day remain a blur for those closest to Gene, like his grandmother.
“I don’t remember much of it,” Arlene said. “It was during rifle season, and we were just as busy as dickens. And, then all of a sudden, he wasn’t there.”
It’s still hard to believe Gene is gone, Arlene said.
“I keep thinking he will step out here and say, ‘Hi,’” she said.
Arlene, who operates Fritzlan’s Guest Ranch upriver, said she saw Gene a few days before the accident.
“It was just days before,” she said. “He stopped in all the time to get some fudge. He liked the fudge here.”
Gene never met a stranger and was forever lending a helping hand to someone in need. His generosity touched many people.
“He helped everybody,” Arlene said. “If you needed help, he was there, and Mark (Gene’s brother) is the same way. He was always there to help people.”
Gene was a veteran of the Army and served in Saudi Arabia during the Persian Gulf War. The military was a positive experience for Gene, Arlene said.
“That settled him down pretty good,” Arlene said of Gene, who was more than a little rambunctious in his youth. “When he came back, he had his feet on the ground. It was a growing up thing for him.”
Gene’s life changed forever when he met his future wife Ann Marie. She was the love of his life. Together, they raised their children Mason and Eva and operated Sable Mountain Outfitters. They had a good life.
That’s why losing Gene has been so hard.
“It’s been a struggle,” Arlene said. “The first year is always bad. But she (Ann Marie) is holding up good. She’s had to knuckle down and take care of the business. That’s helped her get through things, but it’s always there, in the back of your mind. And Mason (who was 13 at the time of Gene’s accident) is really a big help. Eva (2 at the time) still wonders why (Gene) doesn’t come home, but she’s gradually accepting the fact he won’t be there.”
Arlene said she hopes the family never has to go through a tragedy like this again.
“I just hope I’m the next one they write about,” said the family matriarch. “I don’t want them to write about anyone else in my family. It’s too tough.”
• • • • •
When Phil Stubblefield returned to the Meeker Police Department, he also brought back the elk bugling contest and camouflage contest, part of this week’s Red Ribbon activities.
“The last one was in 2002. That’s when I left,” said Stubblefield, who rejoined the Meeker PD in September. He is also a former Rio Blanco County sheriff. “We’ve always done it as part of Red Ribbon Week.”
Stubblefield said he expected 30 to 40 grade-school students to participate in the contest, held Tuesday night in the gym at Meeker Elementary School.
“Most of the kids are pretty amazing with their bugling, at that age,” Stubblefield said. “They use a bugle tube, but they can’t use a reed or a diaphragm, which they don’t need. Because of their voices, they can naturally do bugle calls well.”
• • • • •
Christopher Ruckman, the Meeker sophomore who was injured in the Oct. 16 football game against Rangely, is back in school.
But he won’t play football again. Or any other sport, for that matter.
“He’s doing really good,” his mom, Jo Ann, said late last week.
Christopher was injured in the latter part of the Rangely game.
“He got hit in the kidney,” Jo Ann said. “He started to hyperventilate and didn’t have any control over his muscles.”
Christopher was taken to Pioneers Medical Center, where he was stabilized and had a CT scan.
“They discovered his kidney was very large; twice the size it should have been,” Jo Ann said.
Christopher was taken by ambulance to St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction. There, doctors found he had a blockage to his kidney.
“That part was not caused by the (football) injury,” Jo Ann said. “He had numerous tests done. We’re waiting on the results. But he’ll have to have surgery, either to remove the entire kidney, or to see if they can undo that blockage and reconstruct the tube. He’ll have the surgery in three or four weeks.”
Jo Ann said Christopher also had an infection to deal with while in the hospital.
“We’re assuming that was from getting hit in the kidney that brought that on,” Jo Ann said.
As far as the kidney blockage, doctors didn’t know what caused the condition.
“They don’t know what that was caused from,” Jo Ann said. “It could be genetic, or he could’ve developed it later on. They have no idea how long it has been there. They did discover he does have partial function of that kidney, they think 20 or 30 percent.”
Christopher not only played football, but he was a wrestler and participated in track and enjoyed outdoor activities.
“He will not be able to play sports again,” Jo Ann said. “He’ll have a normal life. Just a different one. I don’t know if it’s hit him yet (that he won’t be able to play sports). He asked, ‘You mean, I can’t snowboard, either?’ He’s always been a big, strong athletic kid. It’s devastating. I’m sure he would (have had his name) up there on that board with the rest of the (wrestling) champions, but it’s not worth the risk. He would be on dialysis, if something happened to that other kidney. If it had gone undetected, he may have gotten really sick and who knows what would’ve happened. So it was kind of a blessing.”
• • • • •
Meeker won big in its football game against Rangely, 46-0, but both coaches would like to see the rivalry renewed between the county’s two teams. One way to do that is to have a traveling trophy, or some prize, go to the winning team.
“In talking to some of the old-timers, this used to be a real rivalry. I’d like to bring that back,” said Rangely’s first-year coach Tim Galloway.
So, Galloway suggested the traveling trophy idea to Meeker coach Shane Phelan.
“We visited about it after the game,” Phelan said. “I liked the idea. It doesn’t need to be anything too elaborate. It can be a bucket. It can be anything.”
Phelan, who played for Meeker in the late 1980s, would like to see the rivalry renewed.
“I had no idea until I started coaching how important it was, especially to the older guys,” said Phelan, who is in his sixth season coaching the Cowboys. “It wasn’t that big of a rivalry for me, personally, when I was playing, because Rangely was 1A and we were 2A. But it’s a big deal.”
Adding another dimension to this year’s rivalry was while Shane Phelan was coaching the Cowboys, his cousin, Patrick Phelan, was the starting quarterback for the Rangely Panthers.
“He was pretty disappointed (with the outcome),” Shane Phelan said. “He’s a competitive kid.”
It was also the first time the two coaches — Phelan and Galloway — had met.
“He’s done a good job for them,” Shane said of Galloway.
• • • • •
Put me in, coach.
That’s what Bill Hume would’ve told Rangely coach Galloway had he been available for the game against Meeker.
“I would’ve played,” said Hume, who starred in the county rivalry game 40 years ago, scoring three touchdowns and leading the Panthers to victory.
“I think I had 176 yards rushing out of 201,” Hume said. “I had a good line, but those guys from Meeker couldn’t see me. I was too low to the ground. I think I was 5-6 and weighed 155 pounds, and I was a fullback.”
The Panthers could’ve used him this season.
• • • • •
Attorney Malcolm Murray gave oral arguments before the Colorado Supreme Court last week in the county’s use tax dispute with ExxonMobil.
“I thought it went as well as could be hoped for,” Murray said. “Nothing came up that I wasn’t expecting and they did not go into issues that I thought were troublesome. I remain hopeful, but you never know.”
Debbie Morlan, the county’s sales and use tax administrator, attended last Tuesday’s supreme court session.
“I think Malcolm said it best with, ‘It went as well as it could have for us.’ It seemed to me that they (the justices) studied the case and had some really good questions. I’ve gotten past, at this point, speculating on what they’re thinking. We went in there with nothing, basically, so if we come out with anything, we’re ahead of the game.”
An opinion from the supreme court’s justices is expected before the end of the year.
• • • • •
Rio Blanco County had hoped to have two storage sheds built. It may have to settle for one.
Construction bids for the two “soft-covered” storage sheds came in higher than expected.
“We had budgeted $85,000 for the two structures and the six bids ranged in price from $148,000 to over $200,000,” said county administrator Pat Hooker. “Until the bids can be reviewed, we’re not sure why our budgeted amount was quite a bit lower than the bids.
“So, we may build just one shed this year and the other one next, or wait until next year and rebid both,” Hooker added. “The road and bridge guys will make that call after they review the bids.”
RBC wanted to construct two sheds — one at the Meeker road and bridge yard to store sand and salt materials to use on local roads during the winter — and the other structure was going to be used to store equipment at the county landfill.
• • • • •
John Henley of Rangely was hunting in the East Douglas Creek area last week when he found a deflated balloon, hung up in a bush.
Upon inspection, he saw there was the name of a business on the balloon: “Henry’s Market Place.”
“We Googled it and it appears to have come from San Diego,” said John’s wife, Phyllis.
Turns out, one can trace a balloon with Google, Phyllis said.
• • • • •
Congratulations to Mike Joos, Rio Blanco County Undersheriff, who celebrates 30 years in law enforcement on Friday.
Way to go, Mike.
Jeff Burkhead is editor of the Herald Times. You may e-mail him at email@example.com.