The loss of Jerry Casebolt in March this year left many people sad and shocked at his sudden death, as well as wondering who and how the community will fill Casebolt’s large and well-worn shoes. And, who will chop the wood, get the food, and deliver seniors to their medical appointments?
Casebolt passed away March 17, on a county road near Hartsel, “doing what he loved most, helping people,” per his obituary in The Flume.
For a quarter of a century, Casebolt helped others get out of ditches and get through tough times with the help of the food bank, wood delivery program and more.
Casebolt ran a towing business in Jefferson and later moved to the Hartsel area, where he dedicated his waking hours to helping others. He was not only a fixture in the area, almost a tourist attraction (think Paul Bunyan), but also a volunteer and founder of the Wood Chuck program and executive director of the food bank.
He also drove countless miles reaching out to rural seniors on muddy, snowy and dusty roads, especially those roads where there are no google maps, GPS, or even cell phone signal. He took many people to Woodland Park and Buena Vista for medical appointments.
Many memorial services have flowers, photos and other sentimental mementos. The altar for Casebolt had flowers, yes, and a photo, yes, but also had a large Husky chainsaw, a pair of muddy and worn sneakers, a T-shirt and pair of shorts, a book, a Bible, two cans of food, and another T-shirt and shorts designated as his formal attire.
Shorts? Yes, on any day, no matter what the weather, Casebolt wore shorts. He had one pair for regular days and one formal pair. To the untrained eye, both the work day shorts and formal shorts looked exactly alike.
The cans of food symbolized his work as the executive director of the “A Hand Up - Not a Hand Out” food bank in Hartsel. The food bank serves many in the Hartsel and surrounding area.
The chainsaw was placed in honor of the Wood Chuck program which Casebolt led and championed. Wood Chuck volunteers locate those in need, and chopped and delivered wood to them.
Casebolt stood at six feet seven inches tall, with big bushy hair that went in all directions. Add to that an unruly beard, a Bible in one hand and a chainsaw in the other and you begin to get a picture of why he was so successful in getting food donations. Monte Gore, former Park County undersheriff, said, “Jerry helped us with the Christmas drive for needy families, and Jerry got the largest amount of donations ever.”
Even in death, Casebolt was successful in getting donations, as the Safeway in Woodland Park and City Market in Buena Vista both donated generous amounts of food for his memorial service.
Mike Pace, neighbor and close friend, said when he first met Casebolt, Casebolt asked if he could help him out with anything, then told Pace about the Country Church of Hartsel. This earned Casebolt the nickname of “Jerry Jesus,” in the Pace family.
In addition to “Jerry Jesus,” Casebolt not only looked like singer Jerry Garcia, but also answered to that nickname.
Tina Partridge, waitress at the Highline Cafe and recipient of wood from the Wood Chuck program said, “I will always remember he would come into the restaurant to get ice in his shorts and flip flops and I would say, “what’s up,” and he would answer, “about six feet seven.”
Doug Cather, Hartsel resident, said, “I went to chop wood with Casebolt and Ray Lyons, (pastor of the Country Church of Hartsel.)
“Logs were being chopped and Ray plus his horse were bringing about two logs every five minutes. Meanwhile, Jerry was bringing four logs every five minutes, with no horse, just carrying the logs on his shoulder. I guess you could say, Jerry ‘outhorsed’ Ray.”
“Brother Ray,” Hartsel resident who refuses to give out his last name and is known around town for charging tourists to take his picture, said Casebolt saved his life when he had an abscess on his back.
“He told me he would bring the firefighters, ambulance, Sheriff, and paramedics if I didn’t go to the hospital, so I did,” Brother Ray said.
In a small town, your life is transparent. Almost every eulogist at Casebolt’s memorial service explained that Casebolt was not perfect or always the best qualified, but God used him anyway.
This is not a strange concept for people of Jewish and Christian faith, as the heroes and heroines of the Bible often have character flaws. Moses was a stutterer and Peter the disciple was impulsive.
Speaking of one’s life being an open book in a small community, Wayne Miller of Jefferson said, “I will always remember that costume party and Jerry came dressed as Minnie Mouse, with a red polka dot dress and his grey hair sticking out between his mouse ears.”
John Casebolt, brother, said he was thankful to hear from so many in the Hartsel area about how much his brother contributed to the community.
In an interview with The Flume in 2016, Casebolt humbly said, “People say it’s Jerry’s Wood Chuck program; it is not, it is God’s.”
Prior to living in Park County, Casebolt ran an insurance company.
Casebolt was one of three boys born to his parents in Iowa. He is preceded in death by his father. Casebolt has two children and two former wives.