Palmers Leave Legacy of Honor in Leadville
By Kathy Bedell, © Leadville Today
Standing atop the high school football stadium that cold December morning, I didn’t know what to write. And then, it came to me: HONOR.
And so it goes for this post, as Lake County bids farewell to Brad and Rachele Palmer. It’s hard to know what to write as the retirement chapter beckons for both longstanding Lake County employees, Brad as Public Works Director for the past 17 years, and Rachele most recently at the Treasurer’s office. The couple recently sold their W. 9th Street home, packed up their worldly possessions and headed north to their Montana homeland. But not before Leadville Today had a chance to offer a slight pause in the pandemic and protest news feeds to HONOR a pair who left this small mountain community a better place than they found it: The Palmers.
Big. Bold. Bossy.
As Lake County Public Works Director for the past 17 years, Brad Palmer’s final punch list is impressive. From the consistent upgrades and expansions at the Lake County Airport, to the established and sustainable recycling center(s) to the actual Public Works office itself, Palmer’s tenure will leave a considerable footprint of accomplishments. Brad is a get-shit-done kinda guy.
If you enjoy the Leadville Motocross Track, the Lake County Gun Range, or even bird-watching at the Turquoise Lake Osprey Nest, then that’s, in part, thanks to a Public Works Director who said “yes and how can we help,” to countless projects that came his way. Instead of excuses, it was excavation assistance. Instead of scheduling another meeting, Palmer was more likely to plan the airport’s annual 4th of July Barbeque, get after some repairs at the rodeo grounds, or replace aging culvert.
Whether it was coordinating the coming and going of snow on historic Harrison Avenue in preparation of Leadville Ski Joring or overseeing the installation of the four Solar Gardens in Lake County, Palmer was a department head who picked up the phone or hopped in the frontend loader himself and got the job done. It’s hard to calculate the hundreds of requests in any given year that Palmer simply took care of whether it was in his job description or not. If you have lived or have done business in Lake County for more than a year, you have no doubt heard, “call Brad, ask Brad.”
One such in-a-pickle moment came during the annual Phylis Hakala Mineral Belt Trail Fall Colors Tour designed for Lake County seniors and mobility-challenged residents to enjoy Leadville’s autumn beauty during the once-a-year motorized tour. Leadville Today was following along, taking pictures when the bus got high-centered while navigating on and off the Martin Bridge. Before the situation became more urgent or the oxygen tanks ran low, Palmer arrived and with an “everybody hold on” command to the mobility-challenged remaining inside the bus, the van was given a sturdy yank and back on track in record time, all to some thunderous applause from the seniors!!
Thanks to Brad, Leadville Today was able to turn the airport hangar into a movie theater for the premiere of LT100 Champion Rebecca Rusch’s film, “Blood Road,” an event that raised funds for the local veterans memorial And most recently, this past January 2020, the closed-for-repairs airport runway was transformed into a real-time canvas for one of International Snow Artist Simon Beck’s biggest frozen drawings.
There’s little doubt if you’ve read this far into the tribute, you’ve got your own story. Maybe you’re thinking about calling him? Don’t bother. His last official day on the job was earlier this month and his phone has been turned off. But the truth be told, it had to be cold turkey, because that will be a tough number to replace.
The Better Half
If there is a Ying to every Yang, Rachele completes the Palmer’s circle. A thoughtful, soft-spoken, but don’t-let-that-fool-you, smart woman, Rachele balances out her big, bold better-half.
A dedicated wife and (grand) mother, Rachele spent years working at the Lake County Courthouse assisting residents and property owners with clerical and treasury inquires. Prior to that, Rachele takes great pride in her years at Steadman Hawkins, a medical facility in neighboring Eagle County. Behind the scenes, Rachele is the consummate hostess, assisting with both the big public works events, like the Annual Christmas Party and 4th of July Airport Barbeque, as well as the smaller gatherings at the couple’s home which were often open to visiting dignitaries, military officers, and veterans in need.
During their early Leadville years, many longtimers recall the couple’s dance lessons, offering everything from ballroom to country, which kept their social life active as the pair raised their two young sons. The Palmers were also actively involved with the Leadville Elks Lodge for many years. Today, the Palmer’s oldest son Dustin lives with his wife Jesse and their three young children (Kylie, Nick, and Ariana) in Colorado Springs. As the retired couple begins their next chapter back in their home state of Montana, friends can still connect via Facebook or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By all accounts, as most retirement stories go, The Palmer’s would be good right here, simply acknowledging the couple’s years of dedicated service to Lake County government and the local community. But as most readers know, there’s more to their story. So the scene returns to that cold December morning atop the high school football field.
Remembering, With HONOR
The news was starting to reach every Leadville heart, and the cold mountain air stung with the report that Brad and Rachele’s youngest son Marine Lance Corporal Nicklas Palmer had been killed in battle in Iraq on December 16, 2006. My story about the guided hand that inspired my farewell ski message to the fallen Marine – “HONOR N.P.” – has been published on Leadville Today. However, this simple, spontaneous action also became a defining moment, one that cemented an enduring friendship with The Palmers, as they allowed an intimate look into their journey of healing as it has unfolded over the years becoming woven into the fabric of Leadville Today.
As a journalist, the heartbreak of tragedy never seems far off, especially in a small town. But what makes for inspiring stories is how people rise from those ashes, often fanned by support from family, friends, and neighbors. The Palmer’s journey of healing has provided countless uplifting accounts, examples of how the couple transformed their loss into honoring veterans with events that bring together the local community in a meaningful way, helping to mend the left-over battle scars of the heart. While the Lake County Veterans Memorial and the Fallen Heroes Highway tribute along Highway 91 are physical monuments in Memorium, over the years the annual service has become a much-anticipated event on the local calendar.
The patriotic kick-off-to-summer held on the Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend in Leadville brought some meaning to the remembrance occasion with heartfelt speeches and show-stopping performances. From the statewide dignitaries to high-ranking military leaders to musical tributes to the unforgettable skydive in 2015, The Palmer’s dedication to detail in honoring veterans shines through like each name etched into the granite wall.
This annual Lake County Veterans Day Memorial Service is Leadville at its finest, its best. It’s where the Leadville Fire Rescue crew presents Old Glory before bleachers packed with veterans, grandchildren on their laps. It’s where the Mt. Massive Pipe Band of student musicians soulfully plays “Amazing Grace” as law enforcement officers along with riders from the Fallen Heroes Motorcycle Recognition Ride bow their heads in unison to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
And perhaps this annual ceremony will be the best reminder that The Palmers leave behind. Because, you see, in a town like Leadville, anyone can make an entrance. In fact over the years, thousands of well-intended folks have arrived successfully to The Cloud City. The history books are filled with tales of snake-oil salesmen and silver-tongued investor-types, many who never quite finish what they started. And more recently there have been plenty of come-and-goers, chasing an easy fat-bud or simply in search of affordable housing.
But leaving Leadville? Well, that’s a different story. One’s exit from America’s highest city takes some thoughtful planning if it’s to be done properly. Some make the final trip in a pine box, led to the edge of town on the kind words said about someone as they are laid to rest at the Evergreen Cemetery. Others steal away in the middle of the night under the cover of darkness, fighting back tears of regret, never to be heard from again.
And finally, some do it right, like The Palmers, leaving Lake County a better place than they found it. So, it’s a very fond farewell to you, my friends. You will be missed, but always remembered, with HONOR.
Colorado journalist Kathy Bedell owns The Great Pumpkin LLC, A Media Company located in Leadville, Colorado that published LeadvilleToday.com and SaguacheToday.com. She may be reached at email@example.com.