“The next day we couldn’t go to school,” she said. “Those streets were flooded and my friends had to leave their homes. It was really sudden,” said Fischer. “We had families living with us in our house. They were trying to figure out where we were going to got to school for the rest of the year.”
Over the next two years, Fischer remembered volunteering a lot in the community to help with recovery efforts there. During her senior year, she was honored for that work with a scholarship bearing the name of a man she’d never met, who’d devoted his life to Lyons: Gerry Boland, a father, grandfather, teacher, coach and volunteer.
“He pitched in everywhere that he needed to,” his daughter Amy Boland Hoh said. “Anywhere people needed help before they asked.”
Boland was the first of his family to go to college – a benefactor of the G.I. Bill. His daughters said education meant the world to him. So, he decided to give that gift back, working as an elementary school teacher in Lyons for three decades.
"He was a man who was committed to his community, his family and the future of what he invested in the school system,” his daughter Holli Stetson said.
Boland was one of nine victims of the flooding. On the night of Sept. 12, Boland and his wife Cheron were told to evacuate their home in St. Vrain Canyon. Cheron said her husband wanted to take separate cars so she drove away first. They planned to meet at the elementary school.
Stetson said her father arrived at the elementary school where he had worked for all of those years and helped flood evacuees get situated. But he soon realized his wife wasn’t there. So he left to look for her.
Cheron had made her way to the city limit of Lyons when floodwaters shorted out the wiring on her car.
“I was just sitting there. It wouldn’t move,” she said. “One of the Lyons boys came and got me out of the car and put me in the loader, mud and all, and carried me up to the school and left me there.”
The family believes Boland went back to the family home to look for his wife and was trapped in floodwaters there.
““I couldn’t believe that he tried to go back,” his wife said. “I didn’t think anybody loved me that much.”
For a week, the family waited as a search and rescue operation turned into a recovery mission.
“The first two days it was more calling and calling and calling and not getting an answer,” Hoh said. She remembered sometimes the phone would indicate the line was disconnected. Other times, she would get her dad’s voicemail.
“As the days went on it just became more and more terrifying,” she said. “We were searching shelters.”
“To this day every time I hear a story of someone with a missing family member. I get physically sick because I know what that feels like.”
Throughout the days of searching, the family said some of Boland’s students, often times the kids they remembered to be some of the students who caused him the most trouble, were the ones searching for him.
On Sept. 19, a rescue team found Boland’s remains not far away from the family’s home.
“The devastation of the water and the power of the water is just something that I’ll never forget,” Stetson said.
“Moving from grief to gratitude is so important,” she said. “It was something that I felt like I needed to make the switch as quickly as possible because grief can wear you down. It can wear you down so fast.”
The family decided to establish a scholarship in Boland’s name – giving it to a deserving student each year. Hoh and Stetson said they wrote the scholarship so it would go to a student who gave back to Lyons and was active in the community like their father.
“Each year, there’s someone who can go to school with the help of that money from him,” Hoh said. “And each year, I can talk about him. It’s just a couple of minutes but I can tell people who he was.”
Fischer was among the first recipients. The scholarship helped her earn a degree in computer science. She now volunteers to help teach younger girls how to code through the Girls Who Code program.
“Even to this day I go back and help out a Lyons,” she said. “I helped coach the cross country team last fall and I helped with track in the spring this year.”
She said she’s grateful to the family. “They took something that’s so devastating and turned it into a really beautiful thing.”
Hoh and Stetson said they know their father would be proud of the students who earned the scholarship.
“He believed in this community,” Stetson said. “He believed in young people and the power and the futures that they could have and I think that’s a big piece he would have wanted.”
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