Dave Hight, beloved and admired for more than six decades as the man behind Boulder, Colorado's iconic McGuckin Hardware, died Jan. 18, 2021 at age 91. To his employees, Dave was like family, and to countless thousands of loyal customers, he was a friend. Much more than a great businessman, he was also a good man. A straight arrow who didn't judge, Dave always believed in giving everyone a second (or third... or fourth) chance. Though he never preached, he lived every day according to the deepest biblical principles --love, charity, forgiveness, kindness and gratitude. David Keith Hight was born Dec. 8, 1929 to Willard Brackston Hight and Lula Ethel Salmon outside of Randolph, Nebraska, the youngest of 10 children. In 1936, the family moved to Brighton, Colo., where Dave graduated from Brighton High School in 1948. With the kind of energy and enterprise that would characterize his whole life, Dave got his first two jobs -- at the same time -- in sixth grade, delivering the Denver Post and working for a funeral home, where he did everything from lawn care to spending the night to take night calls. The summer after eighth grade, he found boys to take those jobs so he could go to work at Leffingwell Mercantile Co. in Brighton, his first hardware job. Dave was 17 when he spied 15-year-old Donna Mae "Dee" McGuckin at a dance in neighboring Fort Lupton. Though he was smitten, her father disapproved of his daughter dating Brighton boys, who had a reputation for being wild. So, showing the independent streak they never abandoned, Dave and Dee began to see each other on the sly, whenever they could. By the time their secret was out, Bill McGuckin had done a little detective work and decided he approved of Dee's honest, hard-working young suitor. "We went together all his senior year and we kept the road hot between Brighton and Fort Lupton," Dee recalled with a smile. And neither one ever had eyes for another person. Paying his own way, Dave began attending the University of Colorado Boulder in 1948, hitchhiking back to Brighton on weekends to work at the hardware store. But after three quarters, his savings ran out, and he went back to work full time. As his old friend Arnold Williams wryly noted, "He did pretty good for a college dropout." On Sept. 21, 1950, just two weeks after her 18th birthday, Dave married Dee at First Methodist Church in Brighton (at age 20, Dave's mom had to sign for him). They would spend the next seven decades of a "wonderful, wonderful life" together. Dave served in the U.S. Navy from 1951-52, stationed in Norfolk, Virginia. Following his honorable discharge, the young couple returned to Colorado. He worked several years as controller for Carlson-Frink Dairy and operated the Freemont Trading post for employees of the Climax molybdenum mine near Leadville for a year before moving to Boulder in 1960 to work with Bill McGuckin at McGuckin Hardware. After a few years living in a cramped trailer on Valmont Road, Dave and Dee built a house on 20 acres in Sunshine Canyon, to give their young boys Barry, Brent and Robb room to roam. When Bill McGuckin died in 1966, Dave and Dee bought her mother's share of the business, becoming sole owners just as the formerly sleepy college town of Boulder was undergoing rapid change and growth. From day one, Dave ran the business according to principles that would become known as "the McGuckin Way" -- hiring enough employees to serve his customers, paying them enough to make a good living, keeping lots of inventory and putting the greater community good at the forefront of his decision-making. "Dave's first rule is old and simple: Treat people the way you would like to be treated," one long-time manager said. Unusually for a retail business, some McGuckin employees have been with the business for more than 40, or even 50, years. And Dave himself went to the store every day until spring 2020, when his family urged him to stay home due to concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic. At the store, Dave believed that all employees -- including the boss -- should be ready to jump in on anything that needed doing, any time. One long-time employee recalled his first week on the job, when he found a man on his hands and knees picking up hardware and placing it back on the shelf. "Excuse me, sir, can I help you?" the employee said, explaining that he was in the middle of reorganizing the area. "Oh, I'm sorry," the man said, standing up with a smile. "I'm Dave Hight, the owner." "He thought there was a mess going on, so he did what he'd expect any of us to do and started cleaning up," the employee recalled. Over the years, a lineup of big-dog competitors swaggered into Boulder, from Gibson's to Home Depot, cocksure that they'd be able to quickly swat away the little family-owned hardware store and swallow the local market whole. Consultants warned Dave time after time that if he insisted on doing things the "old-fashioned" way -- the McGuckin Way -- his competitors would eat him alive. But Dave ignored the business-school eggheads and refused to compromise the sound principles that had gotten him where he was. Sixty-five years later, McGuckin Hardware is still going strong. As Dave liked to say to Dee, "Pretty good for two country bumpkins." "Sixty years for a hardware store is pretty good," said one former long-time employee in 2015. "If it hadn't been for Dave, (McGuckin would) have been gone long ago." Among other honors, Dave was inducted into the Boulder County Business Hall of Fame in 2006, and Dave and Dee were recipients of the Boulder Chamber Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014. In 2020, McGuckin Hardware received the Retail Beacon Award from The Hardware Connection magazine, recognizing "the best of the best dealers who represent the future of the hardware industry." Dave is survived by his wife of 70 years, Dee, of Boulder; three sons, Brent Hight and his wife Lori, of Boulder; Barry Hight and his wife Vicki, of Boulder; and Robb Hight, of Portland, Oregon. Eight grandchildren: Holly Hight (Joel Short), of Pasadena, Calif.; Jason Hight (Katie), of Superior, Colo.; Mallory Seidl (Christian), of Lakewood, Colo.; Tanner Hight (Gloria) of Longmont, Colo.; Kelly Frey (Connor), of Lafayette, Colo.; Whitney Buckner (Sage), of British Columbia, Canada; Chloe Hight and Ellery Hight, of Portland, Oregon. Six great-grandchildren: Wendell Short, Everett Hight, Ada Hight, Wood Frey, Grizz Frey and Benjamin Buckner. And his brother-in-law, Ron McGuckin (Monica) of Lyons, Colo. He is also survived by his beloved dog, Jessie Lou, last in a long line of faithful, loving mutts who brought him so much joy throughout his life. He was preceded in death by his parents and nine siblings. The family will hold a private gathering in Dave's memory, and plans to hold a memorial for the public in late spring or summer. Memorial contributions may be made to the Humane Society of Boulder Valley at boulderhumane.org or 2323 55th St., Boulder, CO 80301.
Published in Longmont Times-Call on Jan. 24, 2021.