When you hear of TAPS you probably connote the distinctive bugle playing at dusk with a flag ceremony or funeral, or even with a gathering of Boy Scouts. But there is another meaning that is just as emotionally binding. In military circles TAPS also stands for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, a resource for anyone who has suffered the loss of a military loved one. The organization has assisted over 35,000 surviving family members, casualty officers and caregivers by providing peer-based emotional support and companionship, grief and trauma resources, seminars, case work assistance, and 24/7 crisis intervention for all who have been affected by a death in the Armed Forces.
A significant part of TAPS’ mission of caring for the families of the fallen concerns the welfare of the children, whose average ages range from 6-11 years-old, and who are struggling to deal with the death of a significant adult in their lives, compounded by the loss of their military life and support system.
Ten people on average are significantly impacted by every death of a service member, leaving behind parents, spouses, children, siblings, significant others, friends, co-workers and others who must now pick up the pieces of their lives. It takes someone who has experienced the traumatic loss of a loved one around five to seven years to reach their “new normal.” TAPS gives grieving survivors a place of understanding, comfort, healing, special friendships and critical support as they rebuild their lives.
In mid-June, the 7th annual Colorado Celebrity Classic was held to raise funds for TAPS and allow the organization to continue its mission of providing regional programs, including the Good Grief Camps at Fort Carson. The weekend celebration began in 2006 when Arapahoe County civic-minded citizens Lynne and Bo Cottrell took on the challenge of putting together this unique and wonderful event at the urging of Brigadier General Steve Ritchie, Retired, who serves on the TAPS national board. With over 3,000 hours of fighter time, including 800 hours of combat in the F-4 Phantom during 339 missions, Ritchie is one of the most decorated Air Force pilots in military history.
Also helping to get the golf tournament and accompanying events off the ground was Jake Jabs, CEO of American Furniture Warehouse, who was the first title sponsor who continues to provide his support today. Aimco was this year’s major sponsor.
Numerous singers and songwriters joined in providing entertainment before and after the golf tournament, with Gary Morris serving as celebrity host last year and Michael Martin Murphey assuming the honors this year.
TAPS is a private non-profit that receives no government funding and offers all of its services free of charge, so raising money is important. From their modest beginnings in 2006 in which TAPS raised $40,000 to clearing over $600,000 last year, the TAPS Colorado Celebrity Classic has now presented nearly $2 million to TAPS. This year’s event raised an additional $350,000.
On June 15, a songwriters show and dinner kicked off the event. The next evening, attendees donned western duds for the grand finale concert and dinner at Steve Grove’s Ranch at Cherry Creek. There were performances from an amazing cast of stars from Nashville to Texas to LA, including Cajun country singer and songwriter Eddy Raven, Anerican Idol’s rising young star Ritchie Law (and his singing Dad and sister) and special guest star Michael Martin Murphey. Local favorites included the Lawmen, comprised of Bo Cottrell, Jake Jabs and their friends.
Beforehand a wonderful dinner was cooked and served up by the famous Coors Cowboy Club “Chuckwagon Crew” who travelled all the way from Amarillo, Texas to prepare their legendary prime rib dinner. This is the fifth year that they extended their Texas hospitality to the event. The cooks consisted of about two dozen elite Coors Cowboy Club “Black Shirt” and “White Shirt” members who have cooked for events from rodeo rides to gatherings of U.S. Congressmen and Senators. The Cowboys spent the entire day outside cooking the meal in the same way food was cooked for the cattle drives on the open range in the Old West — prime rib cooked over mesquite coals, baked potatoes, corn on the cob and all the western accompaniments. The Chuckwagon Crew strives to keep alive this ranching tradition while promoting the club mission of helping your neighbor.
A silent and rousing live auction livened up the Friday and Saturday night events, and of course the highly anticipated golf tournament was held at Bear Dance in Larkspur, featuring 7,661 yards of golf and home to Colorado’s most significant golf landmark, the Colorado PGA historical center. All the proceeds from the various events went to the TAPS organization.