Longtime Steamboat resident Gina Toothaker’s life, contributions marked by grace
The grace of a dancer infused the life of Steamboat Springs resident Gina Toothaker.
Her husband, Michael Toothaker, whom she met some 20 years ago through their work at Mind Springs Health in Craig, said his wife was graceful physically, mentally and emotionally.
“She was beautiful inside and out,” her husband said. “Even in horrendous situations, she always kept her cool and knew the right things to do.”
The death of the nearly lifelong Routt County resident Gina Toothaker, 58, on Nov. 12, following a recent diagnosis of an aggressive form of liver cancer, leaves a hole in the community from the loss of the well-respected, warm, compassionate, giving and generous woman, family and friends say.
She started her career in mental health counseling more than 27 years ago as an intern in Craig and served as outpatient program director at Minds Springs Health in Steamboat Springs since 2004, most recently supervising 20 employees in Steamboat and Walden.
She loved to dance since her youth and was a choreographer, board member and annual show artistic director with nonprofit Steamboat Dance Theatre, contributing thousands of hours across 37 years. She often choregraphed and performed in one piece and danced in two or three other pieces during the annual fundraiser concert. At the dance group community auditions on Nov. 13, a slide show played featuring photos of Toothaker through the years.
“It’s safe to say that some of the most powerful, lovely, fun, radiant and impactful memories of the last 21 years of my life have involved her,” said friend Lori Biagi. “It didn’t matter if you knew her for a day or 40 years, her heart was as big as the world.”
“Gina welcomed everyone with her trademark, radiant smile and instantly made them feel like they were part of our family,” said Traci Hiatt, longtime friend and fellow dancer. “She had a gift for connecting with people of all ages, all backgrounds.”
The licensed professional counselor served as a youth educator for the nonprofit REPS, which stands for Reaching Everyone Preventing Suicide. She played a vital role in supporting mental health for It Takes Courage anti-bullying outreach in the middle schools, REPS Executive Director Mindy Marriott said.
“It’s going to be impossible to fill the void that she represented. She brought a whole other level of compassion and empathy to our team,” Marriott said. “She was a mentor to me and always had time for me, whether it was just allowing me to debrief with her through crisis situations.”
Aside from her love of dance, Toothaker stayed active taking yoga classes, hiking, running in 10K races, and volunteering for community organizations, events and projects, her husband said. At home, she read a novel a week, tended a fairy garden and enjoyed spending time with her family and pets.
Her friends set up a GoFundMe page under the “Gina Toothaker’s Memorial Fund” to accept for donations for a proposed memorial fairy statue along the Yampa River, with remaining contributions to help with medical expenses or to donate to REPS and Steamboat Dance Theatre.
Mind Springs Health in Steamboat is renaming the organization’s internship program in Toothaker’s name to honor her skill as an impactful mentor as well.
Tom Gangel, a colleague at Mind Springs for 23 years, said Toothaker was a great friend, collaborative supervisor, colleague and leader. She had a “captivating smile” and was “vibrant, thoughtful, hard-working and had a strong balance with life and work,” Gangel said.
“The community will really miss having Gina’s vibrant presence in meetings throughout the community to help people be more mentally healthy,” Gangel said. “Several staff members said the reason they stayed with Mind Springs was because of her. She was really good at teaching people to become good therapists.”
Mind Springs CEO John Sheehan noted: “Gina was an amazing person, who was also an incredible leader. She understood deeply the difficult nature of our work, and she made sure her staff’s emotional wellness was supported, which is integral.”
Michael Toothaker said his wife was tenacious and driven in completing projects and reaching goals, such as earning a master’s degree in counseling psychology and counselor education through the University of Colorado Denver.
“We are forever grateful for the impact she had on so many lives. She could connect and relate with everyone,” Marriott said. “She’s taught me to live a life with intention and passion, so that’s what I’m going to do for her.”
Toothaker is survived by a daughter, Abby DeShazer, and son, Brandon DeShazer, who live in Grand Junction, as well as three step-daughters and four grandchildren.
The family is planning a public celebration of life for 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 18, in the ballroom of The Steamboat Grand. The family has created a memorial that posted is online at the Yampa Valley Funeral Home website.
To reach Suzie Romig, call 970-871-4205 or email sromig@SteamboatPilot.com.
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