Happy trails to Tustin Amole

“Tustin and I are proof that you can be on different sides of the political spectrum and remain close friends. However, I still remember the shock in her voice when she said, ‘You voted for Bill Owens?'”

Five former staffers for the Rocky Mountain News gathered this week to pay tribute to Tustin Amole. After she left the Rocky, Tustin became spokeswoman for the Cherry Creek School District, a job she is retiring from this month. Left to right: Kim Young, Deb Goeken, Amole, Tonia Twichell and Lynn Bartels.

My very good friend Tustin Amole retires at the end of this month as the spokeswoman for the Cherry Creek School District.

Gene Amole.

I was touched that the district asked me to speak at her going-away party Wednesday night, where the three superintendents she has worked for gushed about Tustin — and deservedly so.

As I said in a Facebook item I posted after the party, her late father, the famed columnist Gene Amole, must be busting his buttons in heaven.

Tustin and I worked together at the Rocky Mountain News – in fact, I got hired in 1993 because of her. Tustin went to Guatemala for a sabbatical and told them when she came back she really didn’t want to handle the evening cop beat any more. The then-city editor, John Temple, turned to The Albuquerque Tribune, where we had worked together.

Tustin Amole, Cherry Creek School District spokeswoman.

Tustin’s and my  journalism backgrounds certainly helped us when we went to work as public information officers for government agencies. Cherry Creek Superintendent Monte Moses hired Tustin in 1999 — three months after the Columbine High School massacre. Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams hired me in 2015.

Naturally I asked Tustin for advice, especially when I was told that in my new position I shouldn’t engage in Twitter wars. But I love Twitter wars, I argued, whether it’s against the left or right, up or down, even in the middle.

“Don’t,” Tustin said.

Every now and then, after the boss gets a call from someone irritated at some tweet, Wayne will come into the office to say, “Listen to Tustin.”

Tustin had covered education for the Rocky before being hired by Cherry Creek. It was only natural that Moses picked her for the PIO job — she was passionate about public education and, to my wonderment, actually enjoyed covering school board meetings.

Tustin Amole and former Cherry Creek School District Superintendent Mary Chesley at Tustin’s going-away party.
Tustin Amole and former Cherry Creek School District Superintendent Monte Moses.

Moses, his successor, Mary Chesley, and the current superintendent, Harry Bull, regaled the party-goers with Tustin tales.

Their mantra: “ACT” or Always Call Tustin.

Chesley said she found so many education posts interesting and always thought, “I’d like to do that job,” but she never felt that way about being district press person. That got a good laugh.

Tustin and Superintendent Bull earlier this year were named Man of the Year and Woman of the Year by The Villager.

Tustin Amole and Cherry Creek School District Superintendent Harry Bull at her going away party.

Of Amole, The Villager’s Peter Jones wrote, “From winning test scores and mill levy victories to lunchroom ‘scandals’ and teachers behaving badly, Amole has strived for nearly two decades to tell the Cherry Creek story in full, even in the face of death threats and only a few obnoxious journalists.”

Bull said after working with Tustin, “I now have a total appreciation for a good journalist.”

He lamented that he never met Tustin’s father, who helped liberate Buchenwald during World War II and was a war correspondent in the Korean conflict. Gene Amole built a radio empire and taught his native Denver to appreciate jazz, then wrote his way into becoming the state’s most beloved columnist. He and Tustin worked in the same newsroom for nine years. He died in 2002 at the age of 78.

“She did her dad proud,” Bull said.

Indeed.

Tustin became a part of my family, coming over for dinner when Mom and Dad were in town from South Dakota. We would play tiles and talk politics. Tustin and I are proof that you can be on different sides of the political spectrum and remain close friends. However, I still remember the shock in her voice when she said, “You voted for Bill Owens?”

Tustin with my mom, Mary Bartels, at my dad’s funeral in South Dakota in 2014.

Over the years, Tustin and I have tried to have lunch at least once a month on Sundays, checking out restaurant after restaurant, from Castle Rock to Longmont, in search of perfect fried chicken. (She likes dark, I like white.)

During those lunches, I learned a lot about Cherry Creek and dealing with journalists on the other side of the fence. Oh, the stories Tustin has wrangled with.

“I don’t know where to begin or even how to end,” Tustin said, when it was her turn to speak at the party. “This has just been one of the most rewarding experiences of a lifetime and I will never forget it.”