Tributes pour in for Gypsum men killed in an avalanche
Gypsum locals Dillon Block, 28, and Cesar “Pollo” Almanza-Hernandez, 30, died Saturday after being buried by an avalanche while riding Timbersleds near Muddy Pass.
The news of the deaths rushed through the downvalley community quicker than official reports. Peers who walked the halls of Eagle Valley High School with the two shared precious memories on Facebook. Friend Elena Hernandez established a GoFundMe page to assist their families. In less than 20 hours, she had collected more than $20,000 as contributors talked about how Almanza-Hernandez, who was known as “Pollo” among friends and family, and Block touched their lives.
“There’s this thing that happens when you grow up in a small town; all the fibers of everyone’s lives weave together,” wrote former classmate Casey Medsker Huff in a memorial to Almanza-Hernandez and Block. “You share first and last days of school. Invite each other to kiddie birthday parties. Play youth sports together. Pick teams on the blacktop at recess. You grow up together. Elementary, then middle, then high school. You take the same classes and talk about your dreams. You hug in the hallway and high five on the court. You cheer each other on. You pick each other up.
“Then you turn 18, you graduate high school, and some of you move away while some of you stay. Lives change. Relationships are put on hold or morph into something different. Dreams evolve. But somewhere in your heart, there’s still that small town tapestry embedded into your DNA.”
It has been a decade since Almanza-Hernandez graduated from Eagle Valley High School, and almost that long for Block. But inevitably, when a native son passes unexpectedly and tragically, folks tend to remember times spent together during their high school days.
Longtime EVHS teacher and coach John Ramunno had fond memories of both Almanza-Hernandez and Block.
Both men were members of the EVHS football team and they both enrolled in Ramunno’s weightlifting classes. Almanza earned all-league recognition as a defensive tackle.
After he graduated, Almanza-Hernandez assisted Ramunno as a volunteer football coach. Over the years, Ramunno periodically bumped into his former student while skiing at Beaver Creek.
“Man, could he ride a snowboard. He would fly by me like I was standing still,” Ramunno said. “If I was at the Blue Moose at lunchtime, Pollo would always get me something to eat. He’d say ‘The season’s coming, coach. You gotta bulk up.’”
Block also was a standout football talent.
“His senior year, he was one of the stars of our team,” Ramunno said. “Dillon loved auto shop. He had a passion for that and every day he looked forward to getting out to auto shop and working. Jay Taylor hired him right out of high school.”
“They were super kids and they were both way too young,” Ramunno said. “I am so sad for their families. They both had a lot ahead of them.”
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State department of transportation crews are well on their way to clearing Highway 82 to Independence Pass, which should open on schedule May 27 at noon.