A solemn standing room only gathering of more than 400 people crammed inside a church in Grand Junction, Colorado. They came together to remember and honor Hayden Tucker, a young man who lost his life in a tragic, work-related accident just six weeks shy of his 23rd birthday.
“He was just there and would do anything you ask him to do with that silly grin on his face and say, ‘What do you need done, Doc? I want to help you out,’” recalled Terry “Doc” Sweet, chair of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s Grand Junction Chapter the last 33 years and a RMEF life member.
Several people close to the Tucker family referred to Hayden as an “RMEF baby,” and for good reason. Though not actually born a RMEF member, his parents Kevin and Crystal were intimately involved in the chapter. Kevin served as co-chair for several years and toted young Tucker along with him to chapter committee meetings. And that’s where he grew up, watched, learned and assisted others. When Hayden was old enough to drive, he drove himself to committee meetings to help plan chapter banquets and other events. He officially became a committee member at the age of 18 and voluntarily offered his pickup and trailer to assist with both banquet set up and take down each year.
“Hayden was always dependable. Whenever he raised his hand or was voluntold, he was always early and stayed late until the project was done,” said Sweet.
Though working in Oklahoma at the time of his passing, Hayden planned to be back home in Colorado in time to attend and assist with the 2021 big game chapter banquet on July 17. In fact, he spent the last couple of years eagerly learning the duties of chapter ticket chair so he could assume that responsibility.
“Hayden was exceptionally good at selling raffle tickets. He loved to talk to people and was great at getting them to spend their last $20 in support of RMEF,” said Troy Sweet, RMEF director of southwest field operations. “He had a drive for life and was everyone’s friend. Hayden was the consummate RMEF volunteer. He always jumped in to help with whatever needed to be done.”
Hayden loved the outdoors. Driving his truck, elk hunting, fishing, camping, four-wheeling or snowmobiling. If he was outside, he did it and loved it. Hayden shot his first elk at the age of 12.
Often beaming a big smile, all who knew him recognized his sarcastic sense of humor, quick wit and jokester ways. He loved deeply and made friends for life.
On the day of the funeral, Hayden’s RMEF family stepped up to serve the Tuckers. Chapter members erected two 20-by-20 tents, set up chairs, cooked a full course meal of pulled pork sandwiches, baked beans, macaroni and cheese, cheesy potatoes, coleslaw and chocolate cake, and then served 130 people. It was a typical Grand Junction Chapter kind of effort, and one that Hayden himself would have appreciated and been right in the middle of with spatula in hand.
“We did it all so Crystal and Kevin didn’t have to worry about that part of it,” said Doc. “Once you join the Grand Junction chapter, you become family. That’s just how we run our chapter.”
Hayden will always be a part of the chapter family. Going forward, his legacy will be cemented and his name will be recognized for years to come by many youngsters who will never know him. Come this fall, the Grand Junction Chapter will host the first annual Hayden Tucker Memorial Hunt. To make it happen, the committee secured a cow elk hunt donation from RTS Hunting LLC out of Meeker and will also purchase and donate a rifle to a first-time hunter. It’s the chapter’s way of honoring and revering Hayden’s unselfish willingness to help others and his passion for hunting and life. Kevin requested the chapter auction off the hunt as a way to honor his son’s memory. After all, Hayden loved raising funds to benefit RMEF’s mission.
“Loved him dearly,” added Doc, his voice drifting away.