Jack Joseph Panek passed away suddenly on Dec. 15, 2019, at his home in Gunnison. He was born to Emil and Suzanne Panek on Sept. 30, 1953, in Cheyenne, Wyo.
He graduated from George Washington High School in Denver in 1972 and Western State College in Gunnison in 1976. As an avid cyclist, skier, and lover of the outdoors, he adopted Gunnison as his hometown and became part-owner of the Tune Up Bike Shop. In 1976 Panek co-founded the West Elk Road Club and began organizing cycling races in the Gunnison Valley. In 1986 he was a race director of the 1986 Munsingwear International Stage Race, which took place between Gunnison and Crested Butte and attracted Tour de France winners and Olympians.
A competitor himself, Panek led the field as a Cat. 2 rider in the 1980s. As his friends described him, Panek never showed weakness on the bike. His favorite tactic was to pass others on the hills with a burst of speed and a smile on his face, a sure way to crush the spirit of any opponent.
Later Panek returned to school to become a teacher, which freed up his summers to spend with his daughters. His daughters did their best (and often failed) to keep up with their dad.
He taught reading and creative writing for many years at the Lake County Intermediate School and Aspen Community School. He then returned to his beloved Gunnison and drove a school bus until retiring in 2017.
Panek spent many long mornings at the Double Shot Cyclery chatting with friends and expounding on the need for Gunnison to reduce its speed limits.
Panek is survived by his daughters Erin Panek of Seattle, Wash., and Katie Panek of Visalia, Calif. They were said to be the lights in his life. He is also survived by his siblings Teri Lorkowski of Fairbanks, Alaska, and John Panek of Denver. Finally, Panek is survived by many lifelong friends and family throughout the state. His hearty laugh, booming voice, enthusiasm for life, and kind spirit will be deeply missed by all who knew him, according to his family.
A celebration of life will be held for Panek on Saturday Jan. 18, at 11 a.m. at the Fred R. Field Multi-Purpose Building in Gunnison. Those attending are asked to bring their favorite or most memorable stories of Panek to share.
In lieu of flowers, consider a donation by check to the Gunnison High School Outdoor Education program.