Gilbert Ayarbe, Carson City’s ‘keeper of the flag,’ dies at 85
While known to most of Carson City as the C Hill flag, it is known to four little girls as “Grandpa’s flag.”
In much the same way, Gilbert Ayarbe will be remembered by most as “the keeper of the flag,” a title he earned for his dedication to building the banner after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
But to those who knew him best, he will be remembered as a father, husband, grandfather and friend.
“He was this amazing, beautiful, wonderful man,” said daughter Heidi Ayarbe. “Almost too good to be true.”
Ayarbe, 85, who moved to Carson City from Elko 42 years ago, died Sunday night, just days after Heidi returned to her Colombia home from a five-week visit to Carson City.
“We’re sad, but we’re OK,” she said. “We were really lucky he got to meet his fourth granddaughter who looks exactly like him. We’re grateful for the time we had.”
The idea to build the flag above the iconic C came a couple of days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Ayarbe and Dan Mooney, relative strangers up until that point, struck up a conversation as they climbed C Hill.
They both agreed an American flag at the top would be a nice gesture for the community.
“I told him I would build it if he would get the money,” Mooney recalled.
While the actual design and construction posed some obstacles – it was a steep climb with little access, and Nevada’s harsh weather made it hard to preserve – the 120- by 65-foot flag was ultimately completed.
Mooney credits Ayarbe’s reputation for the community’s willingness to donate time and money.
Heidi never doubted the Army veteran and post-World War II peacekeeper would persevere.
“It was inconceivable to him that there would be such a cowardice attack,” she said. “The flag, to him, was a reminder of who we were as a people. He didn’t give up on anything.”
But the role he took most seriously was that of being a father.
Heidi remembers her dad organizing a calculus study group for her sister, Carrie, and her classmates. And when Heidi forgot her lunch, her father walked it to her school, yelling out her name in the hallway as he brought it to her.
“It’s one of those things that was embarrassing at the time, but now is just a good memory,” she said.
And he continued to be a protective father. During a visit home last year, Heidi and her family went to dinner with a friend in Reno.
She returned to her parents’ house to find her dad sitting on the couch with his arms crossed over his chest.
“You didn’t call,” he said, as she walked in the door.
Her protests that she was an adult fell on deaf ears.
“You have a baby in your belly and my granddaughter in your car,” he reasoned. “You need to call me.”
He was also a loyal friend.
Jim Kolsky met Ayarbe more than 30 years ago when they both taught at WNC.
“I liked him almost immediately,” Kolsky said. “He’s probably one of the most honest, straightforward and truthful people I’ve ever met. And very witty, a tremendous sense of humor.”
They raised their families together and remained friends after retirement. Along with a group of other retirees, they met every Friday for coffee, known informally as the Comma Coffee Group.
“Most people don’t know this, but we’ve probably solved most of the world’s ills,” Kolsky said. “We just don’t seem to get the word out.”
The group and the community will not be the same without him.
“He leaves a big hole,” Kolsky said. “I miss him a lot.”
Carrie said she will miss her father, too, and wants her daughters to remember his influence.
“I want them to remember his kindness,” she said. “He loved them so much. He was so kind, and so gentle.”
Ayarbe is survived by his wife, Twylah Ayarbe; daughters Carrie Ayarbe Fields and Heidi Ayarbe; sons-in-law Rick Fields and Cesar Giraldo; granddaughters Sydney and Kyra Fields and Amelia and Elisa Giraldo Ayarbe; and brothers Joe and Jean Ayarbe.
Heidi said her father left a legacy of tolerance, teaching them to accept others no matter their differences.
“It was such a gift,” she said. “We’re lucky to have had him in our lives.”