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"A man's dying is more the survivors' affair than his own."
-- Thomas Mann
For friends of the late Chandler Bruning, the seven weeks since his death have been laced with the bittersweet process of accepting loss.
"It's been kind of up and down," says Mike Bristol, owner of Bristol Brewing, where Bruning was head brewer for the past three years. "I go though a phase where everything's cool, and then I see something that reminds me of Chandler ... . I still expect to see him walk around that glass block wall," Bristol says, pointing to the dividing wall between the bar and the brewery.
"Smiling. Chandler was always smiling," added Jason Yester, who -- thanks in part to Bruning's tutelage -- has succeeded Bruning as head brewer.
Bruning died June 28 at the age of 31 as a result of injuries sustained during qualifying at the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. His death came as a blow to all who knew him, but a desire to memorialize Bruning -- while trying to comfort those who must carry on -- has replaced the initial shock of his loss. Bruning is survived by his mother Marcia, sister Dawn, and wife Amy.
Co-worker, friend and musician Joe Jacquez has organized a concert and auction benefiting the Bruning family to be held Thursday, Aug. 23, at Jack Quinn's Irish Pub. The Joe Jacquez Blues Experience, Joanne Taylor, Peace Sign, Magic Dave, the Jesse Cotton Stone Band and the Mighty Burners will be among the acts playing from 7 p.m. 'til 1 a.m.
Jacquez, Yester, Bristol, Therault (Magic Dave) and Davis were among a half-dozen of Bruning's friends on hand the other day at the Bristol brewery. They had gathered to discuss plans for the upcoming benefit concert. But business of the benefit aside, thoughts turned to remembering why Bruning's too brief, yet prolific legacy should not be forgotten.
In his short life, Bruning had molded himself into the most promising and rare of men -- a Renaissance man as Everyman. He was a master brewer, master chef, race car driver, model son and husband, and eternal optimist. He extracted a pure thrill from everyone every day. But he gave back more. His energy charged the whole room. His strength was his selflessness.
When his father, Hill Climb legend Ralph Bruning, fell ill with terminal cancer in 1998, Chandler quit his chef position at the world renowned Little Nell's in Aspen and took a job at the Bristol Brewing Co. to be closer to his father. In his job at Bristol, Chandler debuted Bristol's "Old No. 23 Barley Wine," as a tribute to his father. "We didn't think at the time it would have such a dual meaning," said Bristol of Old No. 23, the number that both Ralph and Chandler raced.
Chandler was someone you liked instantly. When he looked up it was not in envy, and when he looked down, it was not with arrogance. "He always wanted to learn more about brewing," Bristol said. "But he was always willing to teach all he knew to anybody with an interest."
Bruning lived without the fear of regret that he'd leave good things undone. His life was a testament to dedication, to not doing things half-way. When he set out to learn about something, he became completely absorbed in it, soaking in information through every pore.
A few months before his death, through the musical influence of Therault and Jacquez, Chandler had taken up an interest in the harmonica. "One night after the gig, Chandler picked my brain on playing the harmonica," said Therault. "I mean he was asking real technical questions. Two things impressed me about that. One was that he took so much interest in something that means a lot to me, and two was his intense interest in it. He was so hungry to learn all he could about it."
Chandler Bruning will be remembered with a mixture of smiles and tears for years to come. When somebody dies young, it sends a message to the rest of us not to hesitate to tell the people we care about how much we appreciate them, love them, and care for them. And what better place to do that than a good old-fashioned blues jam?
Chandler Bruning Memorial Benefit Concert and Auction
with the Jesse Cotton Stone Band, Joe Jacquez Blues Experience, Magic Dave, the Mighty Burners, Peace Sign and Joanne Taylor
Jack Quinn's, 21 S. Tejon St.
Thurs., August 23, 7 p.m.
Tickets: $7 in advance, $9 at the door. Available at Bristol Brewing Co., Jack Quinn's, the Blue Star, Del's Beli and Cleats.
Call Bristol Brewing Co. at 633-2555 for more information.
A portion of the proceeds ($1) from each ticket sold will go to the American Cancer Society. The remainder will go to the Chandler Bruning Memorial Fund to benefit the Bruning family. Donations can also be made to the fund, c/o longtime Bruning family friend Frank W. Davis, Esq., 1020 S. Tejon St., Colorado Springs, CO 80903.