Oct 26, 2013

John Golembeski

John Golembeski 1944 - 2013
As an undergraduate student at the College of Santa Fe in the 1990s, I had a work-study job in the library on campus, the Fogelson. I also worked at the computer lab off and on. To get to either of these places, I often passed a gentleman standing outside on a smoke break at the top of the steps out in front of the library. His name was John Golembeski. 

John spent most of every day in the library. He was on a mission. He was in the process of reading 1000 books over ten years. While I knew him he was closing in on the 900s. He smelled of Camel cigarettes and seemed vaguely crusty. He had bad teeth. He was always wearing the same denim jacket, the pockets filled with small note pads where he had scrawled countless notes. He always waved or nodded as I passed by. After I had spoken with him a few times he would wave and say "Keep up the thinking..." He could converse on nearly any subject imaginable. I was not the only student he talked with. He would start up a short conversation with anyone who approached him, and since he took multiple smoke breaks throughout the day, he spoke with a wide array of people.

John was homeless. He did odd jobs for the physical plant at school and I think he slept in a storage closet, especially when it was cold outside. He sometimes was around campus pulling weeds or planting flowers. Sometimes he would disappear for a while, when he got burned out on the reading. He did a lot of traveling. He told me once he had hitchhiked all across the country. A student journalist once asked him about this and he said he had been to 49 of the 50 United States and most of Canada.

He told the interviewer that he had been "exposed to different lifestyle levels." He had once worked at the top of the food chain, he had been middle class and now was concentrating on his reading. He felt if he needed to he could elevate himself "back to the top."

He took his reading seriously and when not outside smoking and talking, he was sitting reading thick books at one of the well-lit study cubicles on the ground floor of the library.

I lost track of him after I graduated. I went back to CSF (now called the Santa Fe University of Art and Design ) in 2010 and looked for John. The librarians didn't know who I was talking about. I lost track of him.

I have thought about him many times since I left Santa Fe. He was sort of an inspiration. He had stripped his life down to the barest of essentials for such a simple goal... knowledge. When I think of my liberal arts education I think of John. He gave up everything to build that holistic, broad foundation of knowledge. The resources were there and he utilized them. 

I recently learned that he passed away this past summer. I mourn his passing. He was a truly unique guy.

Here is his official obituary (with one correction by me)...

John E. Golembeski, 68, died Sunday, Sept. 9, 2013, at St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction, Colo. 
John was born Oct. 15, 1944, to Anthony E. and Josephine Kevlinsky Golembeski in Holyoke, Mass. After high school John worked with his parents doing clothing manufacturing.
He later got into landscaping, where he ran a landscaping business. John became a groundskeeper at the University of New Mexico [College of Santa Fe] before he moved to Moab about 15 years ago.
Everyone in Moab knew of John. You would see him rain or shine, cold or hot walking around wearing that big puffy coat.
At John’s request, cremation has taken place and he will have his ashes scattered in Massachusetts at a later date. A simple gathering to remember John will be held in Moab at a later date.


  1. Brad, you are talking of the same John I knew when I lived in Moab back in '01. He certainly was a good man. I remember him and I driving to Naturita. He had some stuff he wanted to pick up, pictures, letters, clothes. Turned out the fella that was watching them for him tossed them in the garbage after a while. John was sad, losing that stuff. It really meant a lot to him to get them. I never knew him to have anything negative to say about anyone, not even the weather. Gets me to wonder about who he really was, about his youth, his past, where he's been and what he's done. I remember him telling me about his work at CSF. He spoke highly of the school, and talked of someday returning. When I start thinking about who he really was, I soon realize that if anything, he was a good man and a good friend.

    1. Thanks for sharing. I think John must have touched a lot of people's lives in his time.