Hundreds of families lost homes in the 2013 Colorado flood. Some lost loved ones.
Cheron Boland lost both.
Cheron Boland’s husband, Gerald “Gerry” Boland, 80, was one of four tragic deaths within Boulder County as a result of the historic flood that swept through much of the Front Range.
And while 10 years have come and gone since those fateful days in September, Boland’s widow and three children all agree that not a day passes when his presence isn’t missed.
“It’s good for us to talk about it. We want him to be remembered and all of the great things that he did for his community,” Cheron Boland said. “It means a lot that people still care about him.”
The Boland’s youngest child and only son, Brent Boland, explained that had the circumstances been just slightly different on the day he lost his father, had people not been there to help, he and his sisters could have been mourning the loss of both parents.
“My mom is such a strong and amazing woman, she’s as resilient as they come,” Brent Boland said. “This story could just as easily be about her because she was willing to do the same thing for my dad that he did for her.”
In the early-morning hours on Sept. 12, Cheron and Gerald Boland received a warning to evacuate their home just north of Lyons to reach higher ground. In an effort to save their vehicles, Cheron Boland drove the car, and her husband drove the truck.
While trying to reach their daughter’s home in Hygiene, the two became separated in the torrential downpour. U.S. 36 on the east end of Lyons was entirely consumed by the St. Vrain River, making it impossible to leave town.
Cheron Boland pulled into the parking lot of the Outlaw Saloon on Main Street to look out for her husband. There she sat for hours in the pouring rain until the break of day.
No sight of him.
Fire crews were redirecting people to Lyons Elementary School, which had been designated as an emergency shelter, so she left the parking lot to circle the school, thinking he might be there.
Still no sight of him.
Rather than staying in the safety of the shelter, Cheron Boland chose to head back home in search of her husband. Little did she know, before her arrival he, too, had left the shelter in search of her.
Driving home, the car engine stalled out in the rising waters, leaving her no choice but to call 911. Rescue crews eventually arrived in a tractor to carry her back to the very shelter she had just left.
“All of the stories are about my dad and rightfully so,” Brent Boland said. “He gave up his life trying to make sure he was taking care of his wife, but I think it gets overlooked that my mom did the same thing for him.”
Cheron Boland now resides at Hover Manor in Longmont, where she decorates her residence with recovered photos that once hung from the walls of her Apple Valley Road home of 50 years — anything just above four feet that the floodwaters failed to reach.
“I’m doing pretty well now. I’ve got a lot of friends, and I’ve got three great kids,” Cheron Boland said. “But Gerald missed out on the three great-grandchildren that he’s never going to get to meet.”
The youngest of the three great-grandchildren, born a year and a half ago, won’t have the chance to know her great-grandfather, but she’ll always know where her name came from.
The Boland’s eldest daughter, Holli Stetson, said “Sunny” was her father’s nickname, so when it came time for Stetson’s daughter Nicky to name a daughter of her own, she said it was nothing short of an honor to pass Sunny down to the newest branch on the family tree.
“We talk about my dad every time a big event happens, and having a little grandchild named after him is certainly one of those opportunities,” Stetson said. “I have five new family members that never met my dad, so continuing to talk about him and share stories about how he affected his community, valued family and loved my mom, those are things we talk about because it’s a way to make sure we share with those who never met him and try to make sure we do good by him.”
Amy Hoh, the Boland’s middle daughter, has stayed connected to her father over the past 10 years by dedicating a 200-mile bike ride she calls the “Be Sweet 200,” inspired by his last words to her.
A week before the flood, Hoh had lunch with her family, and before going separate ways, Gerald Boland said the two words he had told his daughter countless times.
Hoh now embarks on the 11-hour bike ride once a year around the county, which takes her to special locations such as where the family home once stood; Lyons Elementary School, where her father was a teacher and coach for 30 years, and his favorite fishing holes at Bashor Lake.
“It’s just a very therapeutic and reflective day,” Hoh said. “I just think about all of the things he taught me, all of the lessons he taught me that I didn’t realize were lessons until now that he’s gone.”
In addition to a memorial in place at the Lyons Elementary School, Hoh said, the Lyons Community Foundation named a scholarship in her father’s honor. The Gerald Boland Memorial Scholarship focuses on recognizing service to the community, something the Boland family felt exemplified what Gerald Boland was truly known best for.
‘Onwards and upwards’
On Sept. 11, 2013, Wesley Quinlan and Wiyanna Nelson, both 19, lost their lives after climbing out of their vehicle once it became trapped in a mudslide at the intersection of Linden Drive and South Cedar Brook Road just west of Boulder.
Glenda McCarroll, Quinlan’s mother, said she’s been doing her best to honor her son in the only way that she knows he would have wanted her to.
She’s picking up the pieces and moving on.
“It’s just weird still being the mom of a teenager forever,” McCarroll said. “I know he would want me to go onwards and upwards. He and I were very close, and so that’s what I’m doing.”
McCarroll said losing a son was hard enough, but losing her career in IT management as a result of the stress and finding little help thereafter was an additional blow she never expected.
“The first year I thought I just needed to take time for myself, take a sabbatical and make sure that I was OK because it was really hard. But my career took a hit. I just couldn’t ever get back to the level that I was,” McCarroll said. “I’m still here struggling today, 10 years later trying to rebound with my career.”
A resident of the Carbon Valley for 16 years, McCarroll found challenges in receiving support after the loss of her son, often being told she didn’t qualify for financial assistance because she did not reside within Boulder County.
McCarroll said when she was turned away, she reached out to United Way of Weld County, only to be told that all of the available funding had already been given out.
The only assistance McCarroll ever received was a $100 gift card from the Red Cross two weeks after her son’s passing.
“It wasn’t like I needed much, I just needed a little help,” McCarroll said. “It’s one thing to have your house gone, but to have your family intact, that’s more important. And it almost seemed like they were focused on the tangible items, which I get, but it was almost as if they’d give someone who lost a barn money before they’d actually help out someone who lost a loved one. That’s really what happened.”
Because of the experience, McCarroll said she was left with a “bad taste,” which she was able to use as motivation to better her own situation. In May 2016, McCarroll completed a master’s degree in emergency management and homeland security from Arizona State University.
She now works in consulting with public entities and nonprofits to develop emergency operations plans to help ensure no one ever has to experience what she went through in the midst of a crisis.
Another positive change for McCarroll within the past 10 years was getting married to high school classmate Kelly McCarroll, in 2020, which McCarroll said was her “saving grace” during a difficult time of starting over.
“You’re having to build yourself overnight, from person A to something entirely new. But I have a good life now. It’s a new life. I miss Wes every day,” McCarroll said. “Wes is interwoven through my life with his spirit. I feel his spirit, he was a strong kid, a very spiritual kid.”
In 2018, a memorial was dedicated at the corner where Quinlan and Nelson lost their lives to honor the two teens along with other victims and everyone who helped with rescue efforts.
Former Jamestown Mercantile owner Joseph “Joey” Howlett was a man who lived by simple principles.
One such principle: Never charge people to use the restroom.
“Over the years we’ve had a line of 20 cyclists waiting to use the bathroom that aren’t planning on buying anything. … Some of the employees have said we should have one of those signs that says you have to be a customer to use the bathroom, but I always put my foot down and say, ‘No, I promised Joey,’” said Rainbow Shultz, owner of the Jamestown Mercantile.
“That’s something that Joey was always adamant about, that the ‘Merc’ is a community center, not just a place trying to make money.”
Howlett died at the age of 72 when a mudslide struck his home on Main Street in Jamestown during the morning of Sept. 12.
After moving to Colorado in 1969 from Oregon, Howlett purchased the Merc in 1992 with the intention of creating a social center for the residents of Jamestown, even allowing regulars to buy dinners on credit if needed, according to friends.
“Joey definitely made a family of his close friends,” Shultz said. “Joey was a friend and father figure to me. He had that role for a lot of the community.”
Shultz was once an employee at the Merc before Howlett sold the business to her in 2010. Shultz said the two remained close, with Howlett stopping by every morning to give advice on everything from business to relationships, and even officiated at Shultz’s wedding.
Shultz said that while she’s worked hard over the last 10 years to keep the Merc aligned with Howlett’s vision, and the support of the Jamestown community has remained consistent, the increase in the cost of living in Jamestown and the changes it brought with it have created new challenges to overcome.
“It’s gotten harder for people in the last few years to be able to afford to go to restaurants. So there’s kind of a changing demographic where we have maybe more tourists and people moving in with more money displacing those who were maybe in one of the last really cheap places to live in Boulder County.”
Despite rising costs of living, a pandemic and two town fires, Shultz said she keeps Howlett’s “spirit in mind” with every decision she makes to ensure the Merc is always the most accessible place for the community and a home for “every person of every walk of life,” just as Howlett strived to do before her.
Shultz and fellow Jamestown residents have ensured the memory of Howlett lives on with a sign marking Howlett’s Gulch, where the mudslide struck his home; a plaque at Longmont’s Sunset Golf Course; and a memorial bench with Howlett’s golf clubs at the local cemetery.
“I really think it’s important as new people move into Jamestown and move into the area that they’re aware of what a special person we had as our unofficial patriarch because he was a really fun, beautiful, loving person,” Shultz said.