When there’s a need, Al Himmelman is one of those people who recognizes an issue and sets out to see what he can do about it.
In 2008, Maren Schreiber, who heads up the special population program for the Evergreen Parks and Recreation District (EPRD), was beside herself with anxiety when the district van would break down repeatedly on the highway. While most can identify with what it might mean for a woman to be stranded on a roadside with a child in the car, few can imagine what that experience might be for a woman with a dozen special needs children in a disabled vehicle along I-70.
“Let’s just say it made for a challenging day,” says Maren with her characteristic restraint with words. “Replacing the van was not in the budget as a capital improvement for EPRD.” The vehicle was used regularly to transport participants each week to events like bowling, skiing in Breckinridge, experiencing the excitement of Cheyenne Frontier Days, or taking in Broadway plays at the Buell. Al, who’d been helping with bowling days, knew the issue and was concerned about wanting the participants to have a great quality of life.
Al and Bob Zavodsky put their heads together and enlisted the support of Mountain Foothills Rotary, later getting Jerry Lautigar involved. Al contacted a car dealer he knew back East and secured a brand-new 15-passenger Chevy mid bus equipped with a wheelchair lift and provisions for two wheelchairs – all below cost. The men coordinated with Dick Wulf, then Executive Director of EPRD, to work out the details, and celebrated the delivery of the new van to Maren at Caffe di Lucca within 3 months.
The details are a bit fuzzy, but one person donated $5,000 … a few individuals donated $100 each … and Jan and Al Himmelman put up the rest, never really knowing if they’d recoup their investment but confident they’d feel good about it one way or another. Al recalls that Dick Wulf saw to it that they were reimbursed for most of the near-$50,000 investment before he retired.
Maren’s van – still being used – is a good example of how things get done in Evergreen. Identifying a need and enlisting the help of others with generous hearts is how it oftentimes happens.
A few years ago, Al was the guy behind a special function at Mount Vernon Country Club to honor Maren for the extraordinary work she does with the special needs population, a relatively small group that attracts a number of out-of-district participants because of the quality of programming. He was instrumental in pulling Blue Spruce Kiwanis and Mountain Foothills Rotary together to sponsor the festive affair attended by hundreds who shared their appreciation for Maren.
More recently, the Himmelman family stepped forward to be a major sponsor of the Big Chili Cookoff, enabling Blue Spruce Kiwanis to bring in two headliners: Jimmie Van Zant and his band and Molly Hatchet.
At heart, Al is really just a foodie. He loves Italian food and has quietly helped more than one restaurant in Evergreen behind the scenes. Why? “Because they needed help,” Al says. He and his wife, Jan, eat out a lot but seldom go to Denver. “Evergreen has better restaurants than they are given credit for.” Speaking of A Tavola, he pronounces, “Their pasta and meatballs are as good as you can get in this state.”
“Our hangout is Tuscany – their sausage is the best!” His favorites on the menu are Penne Strascicate and Pasta Mediterranean. “Rick and Peggy give back to this community in spades,” he says, referring to owners Rick Eggloff and Peg Schroeder. He reminisces about Kilgore Trout’s, a favorite gourmet eatery in Evergreen that disappeared in the 1980s. When talking about food, a certain pleasurable smile envelops his face and flows into his eyes.
“We’re a fickle town,” he says, explaining that people support new restaurants when they open but fail to do so after the novelty wears off. Al and Jan patronize the restaurants in town with great regularity. As foodies, they’ve been known to fly to Chicago for a three-day weekend just to enjoy the Italian cuisine there.
When the former “Olde’s Texaco” on Main Street was about to be transformed into a winery known as Creekside Cellars, Al struck up a conversation with owner Bill Donahue, developing a long-term friendship whereby Al learned some of the basics of making wine. The two families explored delis in California’s wine country to develop a menu and personality for the new restaurant/winery.
Al and Jan have been a team since 1963 when he was 21 and she 19. They lived in California where they’d built their “dream home” and settled in with horses and goats and gardens. It’s where they started their family of three children. He volunteered for the local fire department, and she served as a dispatcher.
Al’s family had migrated from Canada when he was 8 years old buying an orange orchard in Whittier, California. The family lived in a garage, which was gradually transformed into a house as his father, a carpenter who built outhouses, recycled building materials.
Al worked 2-3 jobs throughout high school, adding the titles cook, janitor and carpenter to his résumé before gaining his diploma. His dad instilled a strong work ethic in the son who would go on to become Vice President of Sales for ING. “I was not a good student, and college didn’t work out well,” he admits. “But in spite of that, I did well,” referring to his career.
It was an ING transfer from California to Colorado that brought the family to Evergreen in September of 1978. He bought and built commercial real estate on the side, creating office warehouses.
In the early 1980s, he decided Evergreen needed a poster picture of the town, so he teamed up with a gallery and had 10,000 printed. (He did the same for Central City, and most of those for the richest square mile on earth are still in his garage.)
In those early days, Al was on the board of Forest Heights Lodge, a world-renowned residential treatment center for emotionally disturbed boys tucked away in Evergreen. “Back then, Forest Heights was the hospice of Evergreen in that they were the charity everybody supported.”
For 7 or 8 years, he and Jan owned a fishing lodge 400 miles north of Vancouver. It brought together in one spot three of his favorite things … the ability to go fly fishing frequently; enjoying the good, home-cooked meals they served their guests; and pursuing an endeavor with Jan, his wife and best friend.
“I don’t know what we would have done if we hadn’t moved to Evergreen,” he says with sincerity. “Every morning I start with the guys at the coffee shop,” he explains. “The same guys have been showing up for years … a few were added along the way.”
“When we first came to this town, we’d build a bonfire at the lake and do a Yule log … talked Public Service into lighting a tree at the lake,” he reminisced. “One year we got Santa to come. When the town got too big, they shut us down.” If you run into Al, ask him about the Upper Bear Creek Yacht Club and the little wooden boats they floated down Bear Creek starting near Keys on the Green.
“I wake up and tell myself quite often not to take where you live for granted,” he says. “Even though it’s not like it was when I came here, it’s still a beautiful town with beautiful people and a beautiful atmosphere. I don’t take it for granted.”
Al is one of those beautiful people.