An old-time Basque passesPosted Wednesday, June 22, 2011, at 8:38 AM
Look up the word "Basque" in the dictionary and you'll probably find a picture of Domingo Aguirre beside it.
Nobody was prouder of his Basque heritage than Domingo. He bled the Basque colors of red and green, black and white. He was one of the last of the "old Basques." There aren't too many left.
He was born here to one of the more important Basque immigrant families and grew up steeped in the Basque sheepherding tradition that was such a vital part of the early history of this area.
Domingo died last week, at the age of 90, and Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic Church was filled to capacity with those wishing to pay their final respects.
Until his health began to fail in recent years, Domingo was a fixture in this community, well-known, loved and respected. If there was a community event, Domingo was there, with his broad smile and gregarious pats on the back to everyone he met. He didn't limit himself to just Basque activities.
You could always find him at Tiger sports events and he was always deeply honored to be asked to judge at the homecoming assembly. He was, arguably, the Tigers' number one fan.
He loved to tell stories. He'd regale you with stories of the Basque immigrants, his family -- and himself -- at the drop of a hat. If you saw Domingo on the street or in a store and asked "what's going on?" you knew it would be 30 minutes -- at least -- before you got free.
He loved life and he loved people. He was one of those "big" men in the world, a little larger than life.
He embraced all the Basque traditions. He knew everything about sheep. He loved the manly art of boxing and did a little himself in his younger years. His big, barrel chest was a symbol of the Basque tradition of strength, and from it boomed his wonderful laugh. And for reasons I never understood, he actually liked accordion music.
When I came here nearly 25 years ago, the annual Basque Picnic was still held in Carl Miller Park. To help promote the event, I told some of the Basque leaders of the community I'd like to interview someone they thought represented what it meant to be Basque. With knowing smiles I didn't understand at the time, they all suggested I go talk to Domingo.
He told me to meet him up at "the ranch" above Prairie, and when I got there, asked if I knew how to ride horses. I did, even though I hadn't been on one in about ten years.
So we saddled up and headed out into the mountains, Domingo telling me his life story and that of the Basques he grew up with. We spent three days on horseback (my aching butt!) and I still don't think we covered all the things he wanted to talk about.
Every aspen with a Basque name carved in it had a story. Every mountaintop. Every canyon. He loved the land, not just for its own beauty, but for the people who had lived on it with him.
Domingo loved everyone, and it was returned in full measure. You just couldn't help not loving that big old friendly Basque Teddy Bear.
When Domingo died, the local Basque community lost a great flagbearer of that culture's rich heritage, and I lost a friend.
But more importantly, this entire town lost one of its most beloved human beings. He will be deeply missed.
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