When Mike Roe lived in Colorado Springs, he and his grandmother, Gladys Justesen, would take an annual walk around the Fallen Fire Fighters Memorial.
“She would always come out,” Roe said. “She knew some of the names on it.”
Justesen was the spokesperson for a fire department in Florida, and the people in the field always meant a lot to her, according to her grandson.
After she moved to Colorado Springs in 2008, she donated to the recovery efforts of the Waldo Canyon Fire.
She moved to be closer to her daughter, Roe’s mother, who lived in Colorado. Her daughter died in 2012 from cancer.
Justesen stayed and ingrained herself in southern Colorado.
She volunteered at the Cheyenne Mountain branch of the Pikes Peak Library District, just across 8th Street from the Regency Tower Apartments.
“I’m not going to say I was into books,” Roe said. “But she was, so, forcibly, I read for a living.”
On May 24, a fire broke out on the tenth floor of the Regency Tower Apartments, pouring a grey-black smoke out of the windows.
Six people needed medical treatment. Two of them were taken to the hospital, one of them being Justesen. She died at the hospital on Tuesday.
The Colorado Springs Fire Department previously said no one had died in the fire. They said they learned of Justesen’s death on Friday.
Roe said his family hadn’t heard of the fire happening until earlier this week. He found out from his ex-wife when she heard the apartment where Justesen lived was the one on fire.
“Family first,” Roe said. “I’m going to miss her.”
Justesen had four children, six grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren. Roe remembers her serious nature that went away at family gatherings and parties. He said she was also very loyal and stubborn.
When it came to treatment for Justesen after the fire, Roe said, she refused.
“They said, ‘Hey we’re going to fix your lungs, and she said, ‘Nah, I’m good.'” said Roe, who wasn’t present for the decision. “I think my grandfather, my mother, some other family members that have gone [played a role]. She was just ready to go. So, it’s been hard to know that she’s gone but, It’s much easier to know that she said, ‘Punch my ticket, I’m ready to go.'”
Going through pictures brings back memories for Roe. He always remembers Christmas at her house in St. Petersburg.
“We were little kids,” he said. “We remember whole rooms being covered in Christmas presents and the smell of my grandmother’s lemon bars and cookies. Those were the stories that I loved when the whole family would get together.”
Roe sees his grandmother’s personality in the rest of his family, including his own daughter.
There are lessons Justesen passed down, including one Roe will remember much more now.
“Whoever you consider family, don’t waste time, because no one is guaranteed the next day,” Roe said.