Steamboat Springs John Fetcher's father used to tell him, "the most important person in the world is the person with a shovel in his hand."
The phrase has become a motto of sorts for Fetcher, the engineer and rancher who has had a hand in some of the most significant projects in Routt County, while maintaining a 2,000-acre ranch.
Fetcher, who turns 90 years old today, believes nothing gets done without the help of the people with the shovels the people who pick up garbage, make beds, build homes or create other necessities.
"People who are willing to use their hands to do things will get more of the benefits of society," he said.
The city of Steamboat Springs plans to pass a proclamation honoring Fetcher's birthday. "I can't think of anyone more important to honor," Steamboat Springs City Council President Kathy Connell said. "He is just a generally fine, wonderfully positive thinker."
She said he is someone who contributes his time and energy because he cares, not because he wants recognition.
The Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. has declared today John Fetcher day.
"He has just done it all for the ski resort," Ski Corp. spokeswoman Cathy Weidemer said. She recalled a story of Fetcher transporting the bull wheel for Steamboat's first ski lift from California in his pickup. When asked how it felt to be turning 90, Fetcher shrugged. "It just feels like every other day to me," he said.
Fetcher and his wife, Criss, came to Routt County in 1949 from Philadelphia to purchase and operate a 2,000-acre ranch in the Elk River Valley with Fetcher's partner and brother, Stanton. Before that, the Illinois native was a Harvard University graduate, an American and Canadian doubles squash champion and an engineer who worked in France and in pre World War II Germany.
The Fetchers' decision to come to the valley was not unlike those made by many locals today.
"We thought there was a better way of life than our lives in Philadelphia," he said.
"Obviously, I was able to do a lot more here than I could in Philadelphia."
In truth, Fetcher may have done more in his 52 years in Routt County than anyone before or since.
In the '50s he, Orval Bedell and a few other North Routt residents strung and maintained miles of telephone lines, skiing from pole to pole to string the line.
"We got so we could climb those poles with skis on," Fetcher said.
In the 1960s Fetcher helped Jim Temple build a ski resort on Storm Mountain. In 1962, Fetcher and his partners strung the first lift, Christie I, on Christmas Eve with Buddy Werner. Fetcher became the president of Storm Mountain Ski Corp., which evolved into Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. He oversaw the construction of six lifts.
He and his partners sold the company in 1969, right after the first gondola was built.
"The ski business was tough back then," he said. "It was four months of business and 12 months of bills."
In addition, Fetcher helped build Yamcola Reservoir, Stagecoach Reservoir and Steamboat Lake and was behind the formation of the Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District and the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy.
In the '70s, Fetcher went to work to raise money to rebuild the ski jumps at Howelsen Hill after they were burned in a fire.
Fetcher has been inducted in the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame, designed ski jumps in eight American ski resorts and was an Olympic ski jumping referee in 1972 and 1980, to name a few of his other accomplishments.
Today, Fetcher is raising money for Howelsen again, this time to put plastic on the jumps to make them available for year-round use and thus more competitive with facilities such as the one in Park City, Utah.
He is the secretary/manager for the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy and is active in projects on the Yampa River to divert water for irrigation in more environmentally sensitive ways.
"A lot has changed," Fetcher said of the half century he has lived in Routt County. " I don't think we could have ever imagined that it would develop the way it did. It's not all good, but it's not all bad."
If Fetcher is sentimental about turning 90 today, it's because he is missing his old friend, Doak Walker. Fetcher shared his birthday with the football legend, who died three years ago. Walker and Fetcher would exchange gifts on New Year's Day.
He said it's sad that Walker is no longer around to share the birthday. But don't expect Fetcher to slow down. When asked how plans to celebrate his 90th year today, Fetcher said, "I will ski."