The sudden tragic death of David Gogolak came as a shock to family and friends from around the globe. Dave was a special individual with energy and a positive outlook that you don’t find in people very often. A young man, father of two, loving husband, friend to thousands, and employer of hundreds, the loss of this special person was traumatic to a lot of people. Hundreds of them managed to make their way to little Whitefish, Montana, and came away in love with the town and indebted to its people for their incredible kindness and generosity. Amidst the backdrop of the tragic, permanent reality of a young person’s death, revelations were discovered that will always be remembered by those who visited this special place.
Dave’s love and passion for the outdoors brought him from the East Coast to the West Coast and then to Whitefish. His wife, Nicole, had lived in Aspen, Colo., and the couple had spent countless weekends in Lake Tahoe, Calif., pursuing their love of snow, fresh air, clean living and, of course, skiing. Whitefish was by far his favorite and he moved his family there last summer. It’s noteworthy that he moved the family from Marin County, Calif.,which is not exactly a bad place to live. Dave and his wife found Whitefish and never looked back.
Having moved to Whitefish only six months ago, he was quick to adopt this town as his new home. His friends and family knew of his passion for Montana and during our unexpected trip to Whitefish we quickly realized how special of a place it truly is. Let us re-cap some of the lasting experiences we had here.
It started with the rescue team. Not only did hundreds of them quickly respond to the crisis, and worked tirelessly to find our friend, but one of the team members later sought out and found Dave’s parents. Probably exhausted and drained physically and emotionally after discovering Dave’s lifeless body, this brave soul spent his personal time bringing clarity to Dave’s grieving parents. What a hero.
When it became clear that their new resident was so intensely loved by so many people and that the funeral service would be well attended, the rest of the town rallied and unconditionally offered support. The Holiday Inn Express provided free rooms and transportation, the Lodge offered significantly discounted rates and late night shuttle service pickups from the airport, restaurants offered food, residents gave up their homes and were staying in bed and breakfasts and hotels while friends and family stayed in their homes, and others began to anonymously deliver food. After the service an usher holding the door at the church gave mourners a ride whereever they needed to go. A ski rental shop worker lent his own jacket to one of us, when we went for a perfectly distracting ski outing on your beautiful Big Mountain. A local wine distributor delivered beer and wine to one of the events without expectation of immediate payment or commitments and personally delivered everything. His wife closed down and cleaned up the mess for this unplanned party for 200 people!
Everyone was extremely compassionate and without hesitation went the extra mile to accommodate our needs. But the message here is that they weren’t even asked. The anecdotes go on and on and on about this special place. Very quickly, we began to understand why Dave had decided to leave the Bay Area and come to Whitefish.
Dave was an amazing person and will be bitterly missed but never forgotten. But we left Whitefish with love in our hearts and hope. The town of Whitefish offers proof that there are genuinely good people in this world. It is the embodiment of all that is good in our country and what good old-fashioned values really mean. You people fly the American flag in your classrooms and still say the Pledge of Allegiance every day. You are patriots and community members and in our great moment of need responded as family members would have. Believe me when we say that 300 thankful people will always hold a special place in all our hearts for the residents of Whitefish, Montana. Our appreciation and gratitude cannot be measured, but we thank you nevertheless. Forevermore, we now share Dave’s passion for Whitefish.
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