It was James Garvey’s biggest event of the year – a Fourth of July bash held in the back yard of his home with a view of City Park’s firework showcase, a night held annually where about 100 guests could watch, eat and drink.
Garvey invited everyone he knew – the students he taught at CSU, his colleagues and even a couple he met while attending a local opera show.
Those who got the invite describe it as a night of fun, celebration and lots of eating, but this annual back yard party will only live in the memories of Garvey’s friends and colleagues after he died last month.
Bruce Ronda, English department chairman, said Garvey will be greatly missed and remembered as a “warm, dedicated, friendly, soft-spoken man.”
“One of his former students observed, ‘he made learning both a challenge and a gift; he focused on individual students’ needs, and generously made himself available for advising appointments, coursework updates, and for students just to stop by and say hello,'” Ronda said.
Garvey was found by police in his well-kept back yard after a blizzard dumped more than two feet of snow in the area. Neighbors had not seen Garvey and became concerned.
The 62-year-old CSU emeritus professor dedicated more than half his life to teaching with the English department.
Garvey, who specialized in linguistics and was interested in first and second language teaching, retired in 2005. When the English department was short-staffed last spring, Garvey came out of retirement to teach again for a semester.
“Jim was an excellent candidate for retirement. He was always busy,” said Leslie Noone, a close friend and 30-year colleague.
Of his four sisters and one brother, Garvey was the oldest.
As a teen growing up in Chicago, Garvey made money as a golf caddy and played the piano at church mass where he earned a dollar a song. He attended seminary during part of high school and college.
“In any family, there are squabbles, but nobody had squabbles with Jim. He was, perhaps, the peacemaker,” Noone said.
Graduating from Loyola University in 1966, Garvey later attended the University of Michigan in Ann Harbor, Mich., moving to Fort Collins in 1971.
Justin Reding, a former student and recipient of an endowed Garvey scholarship, said he was shocked by Garvey’s death and couldn’t get the image of his late professor lying in the snow for a few days without being noticed.
“He was a.very knowledgeable professor,” said Reding, a CSU master’s student studying teaching English as a second or foreign language.
Garvey was a man of many talents and ambition designed for retirement. He loved music and played the piano and soon before his death started learning to play guitar. Garvey sang opera and was generally interested in theatre, wood working, poetry, birds, poker and gourmet cooking.
“The only food that I knew he didn’t like, I think, was Jell-O, and that’s what I was best at cooking,” Noone said.
Ronda and Garvey agree that the Fourth of July party was the outdoor event of the year. Set up in his lush back yard, there was a covered patio, a lily pond and a flower garden.
“He loved gardening, he started with a vegetable garden and then he got into flowers and then he got into water gardening, and of course he has cactus everywhere.”
Because he loved to cook, most of the food was provided by the host himself.
“At this last Fourth of July party there were 15 salads, and then there was chicken, hot dogs, polish dogs, hamburgers, lamb, roast beef, roast pork and some desserts; and I think that is all he provided,” Noone said.
The guest list would vary each year, but usually at least 100 people came to celebrate, Noone said. This event was something Garvey always looked forward to and planned it with great precision.
“This was his gift to the community,” she said.
The Larimer County coroner’s office made it clear Garvey did not die while shoveling snow during the first blizzard that hit Colorado on Wednesday December 21. Garvey was found the following Saturday.
Test results are still pending to a cause of death, but coroner officials suspect Garvey died of natural causes possibly on his way to his garage.
The Rev. Don Willette, who presides over John XXIII Parish, said he saw Garvey every Sunday in church and described him as the gentle man devoted to his Catholic faith.
“Two words that would describe Jim would be utterly unpretentious and unassuming. He had that attitude, what you see is what you get,” Willette said.
Willette said he could always depend on Garvey and was often a guest at his annual Fourth party.
“When you die surrounded by your friends, it’s one of the best clues that you have had a good life,” Willette said.
City editor James Baetke can be reached at email@example.com.