Numerous communities in southwest Colorado lost a dear friend and iconic figure when Andrew Thomas Janowsky passed away unexpectedly at Penrose Hospital in Colorado Springs on Feb. 10 at the age of 60. “Andy” as he was known to all, was a “mountain of a man” with a variety of talents and interests that included singing, songwriting, mountain biking, weight lifting, fly-fishing and enjoying nature, whether in his backyard home outside of Durango or on the roads and trails of the San Juans, Sangre de Cristos and throughout the southwest and Wyoming.
The word “iconic” may be overused in today’s language, but it fits the personality, accomplishments and scope of Andy’s influence perfectly. He was recognized by dozens and dozens of people throughout his home communities of Durango, Pagosa Springs and the San Luis Valley.
His heart for people was as big as the territory he roamed, on foot, on his mountain bike or in his truck, often with the High Rollers’ band equipment in tow with the words, “Caution, contains country music” painted on the side. That was Andy.
Born in Buffalo, N.Y. on June 4, 1960, he was the third of the Rev. Phil and Mary Jo Janowsky’s four children. He was a born entertainer, and as soon as he could talk, he was showing off and trying to make people laugh. In a way, he was always on stage and whoever was listening was his audience.
Andy embraced the family faith and began singing in church at an early age. He later honored his childhood memories in western Kansas on “Rural Route Religion,” an album of traditional hymns, and in original songs he wrote reflecting on his love of the culture he grew up in. He loved the farm community of his childhood and early adolescence.
The family moved to Colorado Springs in 1976, where Andy excelled in athletics, made a little mischief and graduated from Fountain Ft. Carson High School in 1978. He then attended Fort Lewis College and graduated in 1982 with a degree in accounting.
Accounting didn’t suit his personality and his interest in performing musically was growing. It wasn’t long before he tested the waters of performing on stage, playing bass and singing with a popular Durango band known as “Highway Robbery” for the next three years.
It was during this time that he met his future wife, Linda Brumley. They were married on Feb. 17, 1985, in the Sargent Community Church, where Andy’s father was then pastor. Sargent turned out to be the very church Andy himself was pastoring at the time of his untimely illness. Andy’s marriage was the joy of his life and his love for Linda is reflected in numerous songs he wrote.
Between the years of 1985 and 1999, Andy served the city of Durango as a member of the Durango Police Department, a role that suited him well and one he enjoyed fully. The traditional motto of policemen everywhere, “protect and serve,” was something that Andy took immense pride in, as he took pride in the camaraderie of the men he served with. Throughout his life, in uniform or out, the role of protector was part of Andy’s character.
Perhaps Andy’s best-known role was as the face of the High Rollers, a band that had small beginnings in 1995 and steadily grew their following. At their peak, the High Rollers enjoyed playing large festivals across the western United States, France and Spain. Always dear to his heart were the large local outdoor events where often there was a charitable component: The City of Durango’s Fourth of July Street Dance, the La Plata County Fair, Fiesta Days, the Archuleta County Fair, and a large outdoor concert each July in Pagosa Springs to raise money for the Pagosa Wrestling Club. Events like these were on the local annual calendars and were eagerly anticipated by the large crowds they served.
While music gave Andy a platform and recognition, performing never defined him in his own mind or to those close to him. The family faith he embraced as a child in Kansas continued to mature as it became his own faith and a deeper calling. In a move that surprised many, he retired from performing in October of 2019 and a year later, he accepted a position as pastor in the Sargent Community Church in the San Luis Valley, where he served just a few months before his service was cut short by illness and death.
Constructing poems and lyrics and arranging music was one of his greatest passions. The song “That Place” could be seen as his personal obituary. Written 10 years ago and recorded in 2012, the song highlights three treasured places in Andy’s world. First was Durango and the surrounding mountains:
There’s a place I know, that holds a bunch of my fondest memories,
Of campfire nights, fish that love to fight, tall peaks and aspen trees,
Where the big elk rest in the cool, dark timber so far from this rat race,
When I’m worn and tired, and need to be rewired, I head out for that place.
That place, where the sun shines on me and my soul is wild and free,
That place, where the fair wind’s blowin’ and I’m back to being me,
Lost in the wonder of the rolling thunder with that old smile on my face,
So come on, honey, we’ve raised a little money, let’s head out for that place.
If you shared a campfire, a mountain bike ride, a hunting or fishing expedition, you were a part of “That Place” in Andy’s heart.
The second verse is about family, and the special relationship he had with his wife of 37 years:
There’s a place I know that holds a whole bunch of my finest memories
Of a gentle touch, soft whispers and such, and the woman who loves me.
Where my troubles melt and I find myself so lost in her embrace, When I feel defeated, I know where I’ll be needed and I head out for that place.
That place, where we see forever, the way love was meant to be,
That place, where we stand together and we face life’s stormy sea,
Two hearts all in, if we lose or win, we love on and keep the pace.
We got the gift, and when we need a lift we head out for that place.
Andy and Linda’s marriage was real and enduring. Andy’s love of family was loyal and deep, and his vast number of friends he extended from western Kansas to Durango and across the ocean in France. If you were a friend of Andy anywhere and in any way, you were part of “That Place” for him.
In the final verse, Andy wrote about the ultimate place, a place that is beyond this life. The final verse of the song is fitting for this moment, a moment he faced fearlessly, knowing it would one day arrive:
There’s a place I know, it’s where I will be going when my life on earth is through,
It’s where my grandpa’s waitin’, there ain’t nobody hatin’, and the old is made brand new.
When my race is run, and my work is done, and only by God’s grace,
On that day, I’m gonna fly away and be forever in That Place.
That Place, He’s preparing for us where the streets are paved with gold,
That Place, hear the mighty chorus as the mysteries unfold,
Where we spend our days lifting up our praise and we thank God face to face,
So don’t be grievin’, if I’m the next for leavin’, I’ll be waiting in that place …
“That Place” and more of Andy’s original music performed by the High Rollers Band can be found on YouTube, iTunes or Spotify. Search “High Rollers” or “High Rollers Band” if you’re interested and want to reminisce.
Andy is survived by his wife, Linda Janowsky; father Phil Janowsky; sister Peggy Haslar (Rick); brothers Dan Janowsky (Nyana) and Mark Janowsky; and nephews Ben Haslar, Matthew Haslar (Kate), Ronnie Janowsky (Michelle) and Caleb Janowsky. He is preceded in death by his mother, Mary Jo (Wilson) Janowsky.
A service for Andy will take place at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 27, at the First Baptist Durango Church. Due to COVID-19, seating is restricted, but the service will be broadcast live on firstbaptistdurango.org. In addition, Andy’s friends in Pagosa can get together and attend a live broadcast of the memorial service at Centerpoint Church.
In the final line of the song “That Place,” Andy offers a word of encouragement and hope to his friends everywhere, “Don’t you worry, and don’t be in a hurry I’ll be waiting for you in That Place …”