Monte Comer was a kid with a lot of friends. He was a fixture on his baseball team in the Gunbarrel Lefthand Valley Recreation Association, or GLVRA as it was known (now Niwot Youth Sports). He had buddies on his basketball team, his Boy Scout troop, his class at Niwot Elementary School and everywhere else.
“Back then I don’t think they had the Pee Wee Football they have now,” said Monte’s sister, Jamie Comer Smith. “I believe he would have played football.”
That was the mid-1970’s, and the whole Comer family was having fun. Monte’s dad, Jim Comer, had recently sold his insurance company, Comer-Crowder, and was working as a realtor.
He coached Monte’s athletic teams and became president of the Boulder Jaycees. Monte’s Mom, Nancy, co-founded a candy shop in Niwot called the Whistle Stop, and loved throwing parties with her husband. The two older sisters of the family, Toby and Jamie, and two younger brothers, Monte and Cody, were hip deep in sports and friendships. On weekends, the Comer clan of six headed to the mountains to ski in winter and to camp in summer. It was a good life.
Then, Monte got sick.
“It was quite a hard process,” Smith explained. “The doctors didn’t know what it was. He was so ill. When they finally figured it out, back in 1976, treatment wasn’t even as advanced as it is now.”
Monte had lymphoma. He was first treated at Denver’s Children’s Hospital. When that regimen failed, Nancy took Monte to Maryland’s National Institutes of Health for an experimental protocol.
Smith said Monte’s illness took a tremendous toll on her family, especially her mother. “She was out there. She was alone, taking care of him in the hospital. Dad went when he could.”
Monte died on Dec. 22, 1976. He was 10 years old.
Smith described the “deep, deep grief” that paralyzed her family after Monte’s death. It came in many forms: anger, despair, avoidance. Five people grieved at once, each in his or her own way. “For my parents to survive that, it was not easy,” she said. “It was not easy.”
Jim and Nancy did survive, though, and after some time, the Comers began to heal. Jim joined the St. Vrain Valley School Board and became its president.
He fell in love with white water rafting and brought the whole family on board, at one point adopting the CB (Citizens Band) radio handle “River Rat.” He started coaching his youngest son Cody’s GLVRA baseball team, and refereed his daughters’ basketball games at Niwot High School.
“I’d think, do you really need to do that?” Smith laughed.
Nancy Comer became a registered nurse, and was named “Nurse of the Year” at her agency. The couple sold their house on Bluebird Lane, bought acreage near Dodd Lake with an old farmhouse and huge barn, and took on a major remodel. Eventually, the parties began again.
“They would have parties in that barn – amazing parties,” Smith said. They’d have gatherings for the holidays and University of Colorado home games. Smith recalled one party as one of the biggest and best: her parents’ 25th anniversary celebration at the house in 1984.
Ten days after their 25th anniversary, Jim Comer went water skiing on Boulder Reservoir.
“He had a massive heart attack. The one they call the widow maker,” Smith said. “He was on the water, skiing. My mom and brother were both there.”
Friends were there too and responded immediately, but Jim couldn’t be saved.
Smith was full of emotion as she talked about the man her father was. “He was so full of life and so… so loved by so many people. He was, from my perspective, a pillar of the community.”
Two years after Jim’s death, the Gunbarrel Lefthand Valley Recreation Association dedicated a baseball field at Hangge Fields at Monarch Park in memory of both Jim and Monte Comer. Comer Field is used by Niwot Youth Sports’ baseball program for 10, 11 and 12-year-olds. Niwot High School’s girls’ softball program used the field in the fall for several years before the fields were built at the high school.
The dedication warms Jamie Comer Smith’s heart to this day.
“I’m extremely honored,” she said. “That field is a great tribute to my dad and my brother. My dad loved coaching. They loved being outdoors.”
Smith talks about her mother’s amazing strength in surviving these tremendous losses, but shows plenty of resilience herself. Inspired by a high school counselor who helped her through Monte’s passing, she studied to become a therapist. Smith is now a counselor for elementary school students in Arizona.
“I did it for my father and brother,” she said. “I continue to serve.”