OURAY – Beloved native daughter of Ouray Zina Lahr died in a hiking accident in Ouray last Wednesday, Nov. 20. She was 23.
Brilliant, spiritual, and exceptionally creative, Lahr touched the hearts of many people during her brief lifetime. In the days since her passing, her Facebook page has blossomed with remembrances from friends who have described her as an angel, modern-day prophetess, prayer warrior, forest nymph and most of all, a beautiful soul.
“She was her own person; I can still see her ‘flying’ across the zip line in the park wearing bat wings, or wearing her trademark aviator helmet,” wrote Judy Yeo, with whom Lahr collaborated on children’s puppet shows and various theater projects in Ouray, including the unforgettable 2008 Ouray County Players production of Dracula.
Yeo was the director. Lahr designed the costumes and special effects. A student in media arts, animation and graphic design with the Pittsburgh-based Art Institute, she crafted a Steampunk look for the show – a genre grounded in creative anachronism and pseudo-Victorian stylings. Her mother Cindy Lahr pieced the costumes together.
The show was profiled in a Watch article by Christina Callicott, who described how when the script called for the character Renfield to eat a rat. Zina created one that looked so lifelike, it actually wiggled. She also built a raven with red eyes and flapping wings, a steampunk guitar, and a wolf with glowing red eyes and snapping jaws.
At an early age, Callicott wrote, Lahr displayed such a fascination with building trinkets out with Leggos and Kinetix that her mother took her to Grand Junction to meet another young innovator, Ryan Patterson, who at age 17 invented a glove with a readout screen that translates sign language into English.
From there, Lahr was mentored by Dr. John McConnell, a particle physicist from Los Alamos, N.M., who pointed her in the direction of the Robotics Convention. At 14, Lahr told Callicott, she turned down a job at the National Laboratory in Los Alamos, but continued to cultivate a lifelong fascination for robotics, special effects and both traditional and stop motion animation.
This love culminated recently in a collaboration with the owners and crew of the famous "Chiodo Bros." special effects shop in Los Angeles, where Lahr helped to create a whimsical life-sized pink and purple dinosaur puppet named Lily for the Santa Barbara Zoo. The project was documented on video by Matt Winston of the Stan Winston School of Character Arts.
“One of her best traits was that she was very passionate about things,” said friend and fellow artist Daniel Enrique De Leon, who last saw Lahr at the Monsterpalooza Convention. “When you are passionate about what you do, you put all of yourself into it.”
Lahr is also remembered among friends for her strong sense of faith, and fashion. “Her love for others was incredibly evident as was her love for Jesus,” said her friend Dave Hansow, of “Light Gives Heat” of Grand Junction, who officiated at a graveside service for Lahr at Cedar Hill Cemetery on Wednesday this week. “Her faith was the most important part of her, no doubt. She had a style that was all her own.”
This style was epitomized by the Steampunk fashion statement that Lahr – a willowy young woman with striking, animated features and tousled long brown hair – made wherever she went. In a land of fleece and flannel, Lahr cut an exotic figure on the streets of Ouray, in her Steampunk fashion, with WWII Russian aviator flight goggles forever perched atop her head.
Christina Danley Miller has known Lahr her whole life; her daughter Lizzy was among Lahr’s closest friends.
“I can’t think of her in the past tense,” Miller said. “Zina is so beautiful. Creativity oozes out of her veins. And she gives the best hugs in the world. It’s like being swaddled; it’s so real and powerful to get a hug from her. She is just a beautiful soul.”
Miller described a whimsical creation that Lahr recently made for Miller’s youngest daughter, Kai. It consisted of a balloon to create static electricity, connected to a copper wire, connected to a butterfly made of foil in a jar. “When you touched the balloon to the wire, the butterfly’s wings would flutter,” Miller said.
Lahr also designed Lizzy’s prom outfit her senior year; the costume included a stained glass mask and a dress with fiber optic lights sewn into it.
Lahr was a great storyteller. “One day when she was little, I asked her, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’” Miller recalled. “She told me, ‘I want to be the greatest storyteller ever.”
Lahr showcased her storytelling ability, as well as her animations and 3D art, on her website, normallyodd.com. Among other things, she wrote of her big sister Brie who died in a car accident in Texas three years ago, leaving behind three young children whom Lahr fiercely loved.
On the eve of her 22nd birthday almost two years ago, Lahr reflected on herself and her journey through life thus far:
“Time is not going to control my life expectancies… but my choices will determine the results of my time here in this world,” she wrote. “Perhaps, we should use our time in embracing who we truly are, without the expectations of who we should be through time. I am Zina… and I build robots, wear goggles, dress in costumes, play with toys, drink root beer at bars.... I may not be able to build a time machine, but I have found that we, ourselves, are our own time machines… the basic thread in every place we have been, every person who has interacted with us, and everything we have enjoyed, loved, and learned. I am glad I have taken the time to know who I am, and I will have nothing but respect for those who know themselves… and embrace who they are.”
Lahr had returned to Ouray from Los Angeles in recent months to help care for her grandmother, Pat Lahr.
“Her grandma was her best friend in the whole wide world,” Miller said. “Zina was there for her around the clock, checking her vitals, juicing organic beets for her, organizing old Christmas cards on rolling files. I have often worried about how Zina would handle her grandmother's passing; now I worry how Pat is going to deal with her granddaughter's passing. Those two are inseparable."
On the day Zina died, a Hospice nurse was providing respite care for Pat, so that Zina could take some personal time.
It is a mystery why she went hiking in such an extreme location; her body was found at the base of some cliffs in an area she loved to explore along the Ouray Perimeter Trail near Cascade Falls. But those who knew her cannot imagine that the fall that took her life was anything other than an accident.
“She was an explorer and an adventurer,” her friend Sean De Land said. “For the people who knew Zina, this is a tragic loss. No one questions her spirit and soul and what a wonderful life she lived. It will be really hard not to have her around anymore.”
Among those that Zina has left behind are her mother, Cynthia Lahr; her grandmother, Patricia Lahr, both of Ouray; brothers Brandon White and wife Liza of Denver; Goss Dembitsky of Phoenix, Ariz., Stosch Dembitsky of Montrose; sister Kara Wren of Montrose; and nieces and nephew Mali, Eleri and Curren Gomez. She was preceded in death by sisters Brie White Gomez who died December 27, 2010 and Raia Desiree Dembitsky who died Nov. 17, 1993, and grandfather Keith A. Lahr who died July 6, 2005.
Memorial contributions can be made to the Zina Nicole Lahr Memorial Fund at Citizen’s State Bank in Ouray or Ridgway, to “Light Gives Heat” in Grand Junction, or to Weehawken Creative Arts.
firstname.lastname@example.org or Tweet @iamsamwright