A tribute to Wally Reyolds, ‘a true friend’
January 25, 2009
My husband Richard and I purchased the Riverside Hotel in Hot Sulphur Springs, Colorado, in December of 2007. We moved here from Shawnee, Kan., a suburb of Kansas City, leaving behind a large extended family, including our son Scott, a senior at the University of Kansas, and wonderful friends and neighbors. Our daughter Rachel, a graduate of KU, ran the hotel through the winter of 2007 until our arrival in June.
I was a special education teacher in Kansas City for 25 years, and Richard operated a successful roofing products manufacturing business. Life was good and predictable. We loved to entertain and hoped to one day own a small hotel and restaurant. Richard and his partners sold the company and it became time to think about our dream of a second career.
Our family had vacationed at the Riverside Hotel with dear friends from Denver. We loved the mountains, and especially loved both the quaintness and the quirkiness of Hot Sulphur Springs and The Riverside. Out of the clear blue we called The Riversides’ owner, Abe Rodriquez and lo and behold he was eager to sell (we are learning more every day just why he was so eager). The time seemed right, the stars aligned and before we knew it, we were the new owners of The Riverside.
Our first restaurant dinner guest was a local man, Wally Reynolds. He walked into the hotel with his oxygen in tow and asked loudly, “What happened to Abe, did you shoot him?” “No,” I answered proudly, “we bought him out.” Without missing a beat, Wally replied “You should’ve shot him.” (After hearing this you might think that Wally did not like Abe; but quite to the contrary, Wally was one of Abe’s staunchest friends and supporters.) That was my first meeting with Wally Reynolds.
As summer began and we arrived full time at The Riverside, Wally became a Friday night fixture in the restaurant. Wally could be on occasion gruff and demanding with the wait-staff (“damn kids”), so I took to waiting on Wally. I loved it. I told him I was a horrible waitress and he quickly agreed. He drank a Beefeater Gibson martini with two onions, which only my husband could make to his liking. He sometimes ordered a glass of white wine with his dinner. He never drank the wine without first suggesting that I pour myself a glass and sit down and drink it with him; I was always happy to oblige. On one occasion I told Wally how much I wanted to purchase a horse, he asked “What the hell would you do with a horse? In my opinion young lady, you would be better suited to a mule.” I was humbled.
I asked Wally to tell me stories of the hotel and growing up in Grand County. He loved to talk, and I loved to listen. He told me that the beautiful wooden Brunswick bar in the hotel was at one time buried in the yard out back. He was not sure why this had happened but that a previous owner actually dug it up and put it in its current location. He suggested that the original bar was large and he thought more of it could still be buried in the back. I will always wonder if Wally thought it would be funny to see me go digging for this buried treasure.
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Wally told me about skiing and the ski jump located in Hot Sulphur Springs. He told me about Horace Button, the famous Hot Sulphur skier, and Barney McLean, an Olympic skier also from Hot Sulphur Springs. Wally’s dad actually purchased the McLean garage located adjacent to the Riverside Hotel.
I shared many old photos with Wally, and watched his eyes light up as he studied them, offering pertinent facts about their contents. In Kremmling, Wally became known for his excellent barbecue. He attended many county fairs and actually barbecued for John Wayne. I think Wally was a true cowboy. He loved the mountains and knew them well.
Wally enjoyed eating at many restaurants in Grand County, and had opinions on all of them, which he was never shy about sharing. One Friday night in September Wally came in early to dine in the restaurant. I was relaxing in a chair enjoying a glorious fall evening. Wally said, “There you go sitting down on the job. Young lady, you’re going to be fired from this job just like you were your teaching job.” His barbs were always meant in fun; if Wally didn’t try and get your goat, he probably didn’t much like you.
People ask us why we made this crazy move from Kansas City to Hot Sulphur Springs. It surely is a long way from everything we know and love. Perhaps it was to meet people like Wally Reynolds. Wally was my first true and dearest friend in Grand County. I knew his health wasn’t good, and I always worried when two weeks went by without his usual weekend visit.
Wally came to the Riverside on Friday, Jan. 16, and he never left. He passed away peacefully in his car, parked in front of the hotel, before he could return to his home in Kremmling. I will so miss our Friday night visits but am comforted by the fact that the memory of Wally’s quick wit, his caustic comments and his gentle spirit will forever be a part of the Riverside Hotel.