On June 4, 2019, we conducted a day-long interview Sprint for our Bringing Business Home Campaign, which showcases community members whose lives have been positively influenced by their employment at a local business. Over the course of 10 hours, we interviewed eight different people from six different businesses in Fort Collins. These employees work for both small and large businesses — all of which contribute to the strength of our economic vitality.

Chuck Esch still has pictures of trips he and LJ Houska took when he was only 18 years old.

At the time, LJ was in college working part-time at his family’s car shop, Houska Automotive. Chuck was still in high school at the time and started working at the shop as an auto tech apprentice. Having the same love for the outdoors and other similar interests, the pair quickly became friends.

More than two decades later, they laugh when they look at the photos of those trips now. They were kids then. They have their own kids now.

“We would work during the week and go backpacking on the weekend,” Chuck explained.

The pair remember what the first years of their friendship looked like. It was filled with ice bucket pranks and water balloon fights at the shop. There were regular ski trips to Steamboat and fishing trips in the Poudre Canyon. The two had lunch every day with a few other guys in their friend group from the shop.

“We were all more than just co-workers,” LJ said. “We were all friends.”

Now, Chuck and LJ are in different stages of their lives. Chuck is one of the more tenured auto technicians at the Fort Collins business, and LJ is now the Vice President of Houska. They have their own families and are involved in their own respective extracurricular activities. There’s probably a little less partying and pranks in the mix, too. But the friends are still close, and throughout the years, they’ve experienced a lot of important moments together.

Chuck remembers when LJ first met his wife, Jen. LJ remembers when Chuck brought his son, Landon, into the shop for the first time after he was born. The two grew up together, all thanks to their introduction at LJ’s family business, and they continue to grow together within the walls of Houska Automotive.

In fact, more than 20 years later, Chuck is still invited on Houska family fishing trips.

“You don’t invite just anybody to those,” LJ said with a laugh.

Here’s to 20 more years.