The Gniadek family – (from left) Deanna, Tyler, Pete, Diana and Nicole – poses at Turner Field in Atlanta on a recent vacation. Photo courtesy of Diane Gniadek.
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The Gniadek family, (from left) Deanna, Tyler, Pete, Diana and Nicole, poses at Turner Field in Atlanta on a recent vacation. Photo courtesy of Diane Gniadek.

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For many people, he was known just by his first name. That was all it took.

"He was Pete from Apre," Liberty assistant principal and athletic director Michael Sibley said. "People wondered if he actually had a last name. When I think of Pete, I think of a guy who loved sports, loved taking pictures and loved people."

Pete Gniadek, who died May 21 at the age of 57, was the man behind Apre Photographers. Along with his wife, Diane, the two spent the past 34 years snapping hundreds of thousands of images, specializing in family and senior portraits, weddings, graduations and aerial shots, among others.

But his first love was sports.

"Pete was gifted," said former Coronado athletic director Dave Howard, who watched all three of the Gniadek clan - daughters Deanna (2003) and Nicole (2005) and son Tyler (2008) - through their journeys at the westside school. "A lot of people think they can buy a digital camera and be a photographer. They'll shoot 1,000 and might get two good ones. Pete just had an eye for it. He was very good."

Through word of mouth at Coronado, Gniadek became a wanted commodity and later was hired to photograph a variety of events at Liberty and Doherty, along with a handful of District 20 schools.

He's remembered fondly, not only for his ability to make artwork out of photography, but for the way he treated people. It wasn't just about building his business to make a buck or two.

"He loved covering high school sports," Doherty athletic director Chris Noll said. "At the end of the day, Big Pete, as we called him, did a phenomenal job of capturing memories for high school kids. He was a great man."

Born June 7, 1959 in Pittsfield, Mass., Gniadek spent his early years in photography making a name for himself in the music scene, once touring with the legendary duo Hall and Oates and Jimmy Buffett of "Margaritaville" fame.

"He got that out of his system," Diane said.

Upon his move to Colorado Springs - Diane is a Denver native - the two had a vision for a husband-wife photo company but needed a catchy name. They came up with Apre, which rhymes with capri, because it sounded nice and put it at the top of the listings in the Yellow Pages.

Pete took the majority of the photos, while Diane organized the day-to-day business affairs, ensuring the billing, ordering and scheduling were handled.

At first, the business gained notoriety for its family portraits and wedding images, but once the Gniadek children reached high school, sports quickly surged to the top.

Now, many schools have lasting images of Pete's finest work.

"That makes my son feel good, to know he can walk into Coronado and see photos his dad took," Diane said. "He doesn't want him to be forgotten. With photography, it doesn't go away. He did some really good stuff."