How many people can continue to shape the lives of those around them, even long after they’re gone?
Jeff Flanders, for one, immediately comes to mind.
The former KZMU Community Radio general manager, who died at Moab Regional Hospital on Friday, June 16, was a leading figure who was the “center of the wheel” for many years, according to longtime KZMU DJ Eric Johanson.
“He was KZMU to most people, and I think he always will be,” Johanson said. “I don’t think there’s anybody who’s done as much for the station as he did.”
A golfing fanatic, Flanders suspected that he would not be around to attend the 2018 Masters Tournament, so he organized a golf-themed trip next week around an upcoming tournament in Massachusetts. Cali Cochitta Bed & Breakfast owner Dave Boger, who counted Flanders as one of his best friends, said that Flanders rented a house along the ocean, and he planned side trips to Fenway Park; Salem, Massachusetts; and legendary golf courses along the way.
Boger, along with Flanders’ wife Colleen Beever and friend Jim Farrell, planned to join him, and in the wake of Flanders’ death, the trio will honor him by moving forward with the trip.
“His dream, because he couldn’t go to the Masters, was that we could all see these old senior golfers that he grew up with,” Boger said. “We’ll go on with his memory and do the same things that he wanted to do.”
Flanders, who turned 65 just a few days before he died, earned him the nickname “Manatee” – for good reason.
“He loved the water,” Boger said. “So we’re going to spread some of his ashes on the beach.”
Flanders served as KZMU’s general manager for 16 of the station’s 25 years to date until his retirement in 2014.
Like others before him, and many more since, KZMU Program Director Christy Williams Dunton said the Canton, Ohio, native had an epiphany that he belonged in the heart of Utah’s red-rock country.
“He came through Moab and had that classic experience of saying, ‘This is the place,’” she said. “He handed in his tie and (donned) a pair of Chacos and said, ‘This is it.’”
It wasn’t long before Flanders struck up his longtime association with KZMU, his next-door neighbors on Rocky Road. He first stepped forward as a board member and volunteer who was willing to do anything, Williams Dunton said – even if it was something as mundane as paying the bills or checking the mail.
“He just dipped his toe in, and 16 years later, he was still managing the place,” she said.
Over time, his trailer gave way to a house, while KZMU’s own trailer yielded to a new solar-powered studio under Flanders’ leadership.
“It was a beautiful partnership that had its beneficial fallout for the radio station in ways that listeners can’t hear,” Williams Dunton said.
Even if he hadn’t lived next door to the station, it’s likely that Flanders would have somehow joined forces with KZMU.
“He had a heart and a mind for community service, and that was what brought him into community radio,” Williams Dunton said.
His civic spirit reached far beyond the station, to his involvement with the Grand County Education Foundation’s annual adult spelling bee that raises funds for local schools, to the Moab Senior Games and the Moab Golf Club.
Williams Dunton and Boger both remember Flanders for his low-key role as a philanthropist: Among his many acts of kindness and generosity, he helped people buy homes that didn’t look good on paper, and stuck with them until they were all settled in.
“It was always about everyone else,” Boger said. “It was not about him.”
“He would say, ‘If you’re in a position to help people out and you aren’t, why aren’t you? Why are you taking up oxygen if you’re not helping people out, helping the planet out and helping people laugh?’” Williams Dunton said.
Flanders was humble about his initial understanding of the station’s day-to-day operations, and he lacked the kind of ego that is not uncommon in the world of broadcasting.
As general manager, Williams Dunton said, Flanders allowed others to grow professionally and personally in a way that wasn’t heavy-handed or bossy. He also had a knack for understanding his co-workers’ gifts – as well as the tasks for which they weren’t well-equipped.
“He would simply reorganize the job description to suit the personality of the people he worked with,” she said. “What he did was create a really unique way of honoring people.”
His concern and interest in others extended to the relationships with many of his friends like Boger, who thought of Flanders as a mentor.
“He was my confidant and my confessional,” Boger said. “We would always talk about (my) business, and how proud he was of that.”
For Johanson, one of the professional highlights of working with Flanders came on the night of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“We just opened the lines and took calls, and talked about what was going on,” Johanson said. “It was what the station was meant for, really: to provide a community forum in a time of need.”
Flanders welcomed whatever anyone had to say, Johanson said, as long as they didn’t go after a community member, and his or her character.
“Jeff was very respectful of people’s right to give their opinions over the air,” he said. “It basically facilitated the freedom that DJs had in that regard … He gave us free rein, and it really made the station shine in so many ways.”
Thanks to his golf club connections, Flanders kept in touch with some of Moab’s more conservative residents, and Johanson said that Flanders encouraged them to share their opinions and perspectives on the air. In addition, Flanders facilitated a monthly on-air debate between the late KCYN General Manager Phil Mueller and Moab icon Ken Davey.
“It was naturally loaded with controversy – sometimes they agreed, but most of the time, they didn’t,” Johanson said. “But it was very polite and very respectful.”
Apart from his strong support for free speech, Johanson said he will value Flanders for his acumen as a businessman who helped turn KZMU’s financial situation around.
Flanders was a traveling salesman for a long time – and Williams Dunton said he was really good at his job, thanks to his gregarious nature. With his financial background, he helped KZMU diversify its revenue sources beyond the small donations and Corporation for Public Broadcasting grant funding that were once the station’s bread and butter.
With one foot in the adult world, Williams Dunton said that Flanders never lost touch with his inner pre-teen self: He created KZMU’s “Word of the Day,” bringing fifth- and sixth-grade students on field trips to KZMU’s studio for broadcasts of spelling challenges.
“You could tell that he understood what it was like to be a 12-year-old,” she said.
Moab Folk Festival Assistant Director Cassie Paup said she remembers Flanders for his involvement in the Children’s Shine Time show on Saturday mornings, giving kids like her daughter the opportunity to work as DJs.
“Jeff was always there for us,” Paup said. “He was the true guy next door … He was kind and generous and funny and friendly.”
Along with Boger and other golfing buddies, Flanders embarked on golf trips all over the country. No matter where they were, Boger said, his friend continued to observe Moab’s ultra-casual dress code.
One time, they traveled to the high-end Spyglass Hill Golf Course in Pebble Beach, California, and Flanders walked into the pro shop wearing his usual attire: a T-shirt stained with spaghetti sauce, as well as a pair of swimming trunks.
“There were about 12 to 15 people in the pro shop at the time,” Boger said. “And they just completely stopped what they were doing (when they saw Flanders).”
On another occasion, they gathered one night for cocktails near a stone fountain at a high-end hotel.
“And the next thing we knew, Jeff was swimming in it,” he said.
His friend’s quirky character isn’t the only thing that Boger will miss: He has fond memories of their long conversations about music after a long day on the greens.
“He and I would sit up for hours on end and listen to music all night long,” Boger said. “He’d be talking about the history of rock ‘n’ roll with me, and about all his knowledge of music. On these golf trips, that was always the highlight.”
Many other KZMU listeners, family friends and local residents have come forward with similar recollections, and Williams Dunton is grateful to hear them.
“Our phones are ringing off the hook with people sharing their stories,” Williams Dunton said.
She hopes those tributes will keep pouring in, and suggests that listeners can also comment online at kzmu.org.
“If the Moab Sun News’ readers would like to record their recollections as part of our audio memorial, we would really love to hear them,” she said.
While no plans for a public memorial service have been announced at this time, Boger said that the golf club plans to discuss the possibility of holding memorial golf tournaments in his honor.
Williams Dunton said the KZMU family sends its condolences to Beever.
“She’s still our next-door gal,” she said.
Johanson, meanwhile, plans to remember Flanders New Orleans-style.
“To me, it’s going to be like a jazz funeral: He’s gone in one sense, but in another sense, he’ll be there for as long as the radio station is there,” he said. “You just have to celebrate.”
“He was the center of the wheel” at community radio station for 16 years
He was KZMU to most people, and I think he always will be … I don’t think there’s anybody who’s done as much for the station as he did.