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Paper: The Denver Post

Colorado Free University founder was 'visionary'

Date: March 30, 2004

There wasn't much that didn't interest John Hand. He sold antiques, helped start a newspaper, wrote a musical, bought and sold real estate, followed a guru and ran a deli.

Hand, 55, died from a stabbing early Sunday morning at his east Denver home. Services will be at noon Friday at the Teikyo Loretto Heights University Theater, 3001 S. Federal Blvd.

Hand was founder of Colorado Free University, which opened in 1988 after the demise of Denver Free University, which he had worked for.

For some years he also owned John Hand Antiques. He and his parents, John and Mary Louise Hand, owned Three Hands, a real estate firm. John Hand Jr. also owned Bloomingdeli's on East Colfax Avenue, where Sushi Heights currently stands.

He was a founder of the Straight Creek Journal, an alternative Denver newspaper no longer in existence, and the Capitol Hill People's Fair, which is still held annually.

In recent years he bought the firehouse at the former Lowry Air Force Base and converted it into a community theater.

He enjoyed the opera, the symphony and getting together with people and discussing philosophy, said his sister, Helen Hand.

"He liked to juice up people, give them a kick in the butt so they wouldn't wait for something to be handed to them, but to go out and do for themselves," she said.

After college, Hand became a follower of Denver's self-styled Indian guru, Maharaj Ji, who headed the Divine Light Mission in the 1970s. But Hand and others became disenchanted with the guru and left the mission.

"John was always such a seeker," said his sister. "He was looking for a spiritual connection, and he was young and impressionable."

"He was independent, visionary, hard-charging, passionate, intelligent and an amazing entrepreneur," said Tracy Dunning, who worked with Hand at Denver Free.

"He had one of the most creative business minds I have ever seen," said John Powell, Hand's attorney and longtime friend. "He would get an idea, shake it down (by researching it and talking to friends and advisers), and two weeks later it would be on the street."

One of those ideas was to install oak boxes in entrances to businesses. Each box had several slots, for the university schedule as well as other publications.

Powell was president of Colfax on the Hill at one time, and Hand, a member, "always had challenging ideas."

"He was a very gentle, beautiful human being who cared deeply about people," Powell said.

The "free" in Colorado Free University means "everyone can take courses and pursue any course of study they want" without any particular credentials, Powell said.

Among current offerings are classes in yoga, conquering eating disorders, investments, how to be a Hollywood star or a private eye, how to get rid of clutter, and how to be a lobbyist, jewelry importer, horseman or real estate broker.

John Hand Jr. was born in Denver on June 24, 1948. He graduated from George Washington High School in Denver and Duke University in Durham, N.C., where he majored in English.

In addition to his sister, he is survived by a daughter, Nicole Hand of Evanston, Ill.; a son, Scott Hand of Denver; his father, John Hand Sr. of Denver; and his ex-wife, Kay Stevenson of Denver. His mother, Mary Louise Hand, died seven months ago.