John Collins was just trying to get home from work.
He and his wife, Dana, had planned to go out for dinner at McGinty's Wood Oven Pub, the restaurant around the corner from their Divide home. The place was so crowded on Friday nights that Dana headed down to the pub early, where she waited. And waited.
John never showed up.
At first, Dana thought he must have gone to a Red Cross shelter or holed up somewhere else during the Aug. 9 deluge. Though strong at 6'3" and 250 pounds, John tended to be a "safety first" kind of guy. He routinely drove 40 miles per hour on U.S. Highway 24.
"He was very flat-footed," Dana says. "He would never go anywhere dangerous ... that's why it was so hard for me to believe it would have been him."
Around 2:30 a.m., victims advocates from El Paso and Teller counties showed up at Dana's home. John's 1968 Mercedes-Benz had been swept up in the floodwaters on U.S. 24. His body was found buried under debris; he had apparently drowned.
John, a 53-year-old who had lived in the area since he was 11, was the sole casualty of the massive rainstorm.
"I was going to get on my soapbox and talk to people [about staying out of flood areas], but my husband was very careful," Dana says. "It's just there; it's just part of life. And we have to really consider how sacred [life] is."
Dana, 52, met John in a psychology class at Pikes Peak Community College. Initially, she was not impressed.
"I used to tease my husband that he was a pit bull — I didn't like him," Dana says with a laugh. "He was big and burly and told crude jokes and he was pretty scruffy."
But John had a kind heart, and he won Dana over. They had been married 22 years when he died.
Dana says her husband was the sort of guy who operated behind the scenes, never wanting the limelight. He was often gruff, but also deeply caring. It was a combination that seemed to affect people.
It was John, a 25-year member of Alcoholics Anonymous, who would convince a friend to stay on the wagon. It was John who played Santa at the Kiwanis Club year after year, delighting children.
"If somebody asked him for help, he helped," Dana says. "He almost consistently was there."
Over the years, John helped build Hayden Divide Community Park and construct a memorial for a fallen sheriff's deputy. When the local Gold Hill Java shop was getting started, John helped to set up the new space. When it opened, he was a loyal customer.
"He wasn't a real affectionate, demonstrative person, but if he liked you, he liked you," Dana says.
In addition to Dana, John is survived by his parents, Robert and Margot of Colorado Springs, sisters Diane Brown of Albuquerque and Kathleen Gentry of Colorado Springs, and his nieces and nephews. But his widow says she's been overcome by how many other people John touched — workers at John's concrete business who are devastated to have lost their boss and friend, and young men who saw John as a father. In fact, one of John's "adopted sons" is now living with Dana, helping her to deal with the aftermath.
"I know what [John] wants, and it's happening," Dana says. "All his friends and my friends have just surrounded me."
Dana also has Bailey, the dog that was John's constant companion; he miraculously survived the flood and showed up at the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region. And there are John's gardens, which surround the home that Dana now fears she could lose without a second income.
Several times a year, John would head to the Denver Botanic Gardens just to look at the plants there. He kept a vegetable garden for Dana — he never much cared for vegetables, himself — but the flower gardens were his passion. They're still blooming, a reminder of the man friends called a "gentle giant."
"I just keep expecting him to walk through the door, give me a hug," Dana says. "It's really hard because he's supposed to be there."
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