Valley community remembers Teague, Varra after their deaths in Ruedi |

Valley community remembers Teague, Varra after their deaths in Ruedi

Tatiana Flowers
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
James 'Bret' Varra
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Family and friends say John Teague had a “heart of gold.”

The 46-year-old, who passed away Saturday trying to rescue his drowning friend Bret Varra, is remembered as a kind and generous man who always had a “big grin” on his face, and would help anybody in need.

The two had their boats tied together at Ruedi Reservoir before Varra went swimming and struggled, according to a witness.

Teague jumped in to save his friend but Teague became exhausted trying to bring Varra back to the boats, the witness said.

A rescue and dive team from the Summit County Sheriff’s Office retrieved the bodies about 20 to 30 feet below the surface Sunday morning, after three hours of searching.

“John (Teague) grew up in the valley,” said Amanda Cerveny, who’s close friends with Teague’s sister, Theresa.

“He was definitely a country boy, (a) cowboy, who took care of his family and friends,” she said. “And that’s exactly who he was up until the very end.

“He was a hard-working and respected man, who took care of the women in his family, Cerveny said.

He was well-connected in the community, as his father was a farrier who did business with local ranchers, she added. He’s left behind his sister, Theresa, his mother, Patsy, a list of cousins, and a niece, Sammy.

Other friends described him as an outdoorsy man who loved animals, hunting, fishing, hiking and boating.

He spent his free time in the small “welcoming” cabin he owned, which also comprised a fire pit and hot tub on the side of a river, said Melanie Colvin, a friend of Teague.

She met Teague through her boyfriend, and the three spent ample time at his home, she said.

“We’d wake up in the morning, and he’d be right on the river, happy with coffee,” she said.

Colvin described Teague as generous, a man who would help anybody. On one occasion, Teague had offered to help Colvin’s boyfriend, who had just had two consecutive knee surgeries.

Her boyfriend had just hunted an elk, which he couldn’t process following the surgeries, she said.

Teague offered five hours of his time and spent the day processing the animal so it wouldn’t spoil, she said.

“He was just a sweetheart, full of laughter, always so thoughtful,” Colvin said. “This is such a shock to all of us. I can’t believe it’s true,” she added.

Betty Zordel said she remembers when Teague was still in the womb. Her father and Teague’s father were close friends while she was growing up.

She considered Teague a family member although the two had grown apart as they aged.

Still, she said, whenever she would see him, the two would always embrace. It never felt like much time had passed, even when they hadn’t seen each other in months, she added.

“I think it unnerved a lot of people because he was such a good swimmer,” she said. “I don’t think a lot of people thought that’s the way he’d go,” she added.

But Nicole Pelletier begged to differ.

She recalls a time when Teague and his father “saved the day.”

The two had grown up together in Aspen schools in a class of about 20. They spent much of their time walking home from school, getting into trouble on horse rides, and playing with Teague’s dog, Budweiser.

Pelletier’s family had owned a ski lodge, which she would pass through before arriving at Teague’s family’s ranch.

One day, she said she tried to hop over a fence into Teague’s ranch when one of the family’s horses became startled.

She was about 9 years old at the time, and she said she remembers being thrown by the animal. Teague and his father came running out of the house and rescued her, she said.

“It was very much (like) him to do that,” she said of her late friend. “I’m not surprised he died trying to help someone else, because that’s where his heart always was,” she added.

Betty Zordel knew both Varra and Teague and said both men had “a heart of gold” but Varra was more “cutthroat.”

“He didn’t care. He was on a journey of his own, and to understand that, you would have to be around him to see it,” she said.

Varra and Teague were two peas in a pod and bonded over outdoor activities, according to Zordel, but at the same time, they were two separate entities.

Family members mimicked Zordel’s statement.

Varra’s cousin, Dayna Hughes, said he was a force to be reckoned with.

“He was loud, fun, and he was awesome,” she said.

Varra could fix anything, Hughes said. He was a plumber, an electrician, the owner of “Crystal Car Wash” in Carbondale and other various rental properties.

He seemed rough and loud on the exterior but soft and gentle when it came to his mother and grandmother, Hughes said.

“Bret was the type of person you only meet once in a lifetime,” said Eaton Ward, a family friend.

“I feel like many people never truly understood him and that’s unfortunate,” Ward added.

Varra took care of his mother until she died in January, and friends and family say he was deeply affected by her death.

“He would do anything for her, and that was something I truly admired,” Ward said.

Varra died the day after his 59th birthday, and Hughes, a Christian, said she believes he and his mother are together in heaven.