Steamboat Springs The memories are beginning to fade, but for almost 40 years, one man personified Santa Claus in Steamboat Springs.
In the 1940s, '50s and '60s, Christmas Eve wasn't complete for hundreds of children until Santa Walt Webber and his "roving Christmas tree" rolled down their street.
Most years, Santa handed them a bag containing a homemade popcorn ball from the Webber family kitchen.
In an article from the Steamboat Pilot dated April 30, 1981, writer Dee Richards observed that Walt Webber had become Steamboat's year-round Santa.
The article was published 20 months before Walt's death in January 1983 at the age of 90.
Walt Webber, a hard-working, innovative electrician, influenced Steamboat with his warmth and compassion.
He was born into a Methodist minister's family in Fruita in 1891.
Walt served in the Army during World War I, and upon his discharge married Gertrude May Davis in Lamar.
He worked at a number of power plants in Colorado and Wyoming, as chief engineer in some.
In 1922 he accepted the job of operating the electric plant at Bear River and Coalview for a coal mine.
Five years later, he came to Steamboat to open an electrical service and supply shop.
"I had to agree to charge no more than a dollar an hour for my services for the first year," Walt told Dee Richards.
Gertrude Webber recalled that when the family first moved here, the only holiday decorations were the red paper stuffed into the lamp posts at all of the intersections on Lincoln Avenue.
The couple thought their new town could do better.
Walt explained that in the 1920s, colored Christmas lights just weren't available.
He purchased some special dye in Denver, and the following Christmas, dipped Steamboat's streetlights in the dye so they would give off a cheery glow.
The next step was to purchase strings of clear light bulbs, which were also dipped in dye and strung across the street.
Walt was the first to decorate the Routt County Courthouse for the holidays in this way.
Santa Walt's passion for Santa Claus blossomed when he turned the classic old panel van he used in his business into the town's first "sound truck."
Walt outfitted the truck with two giant loudspeakers that extended over the front cab and rear of the vehicle.
The sound truck was used during the Fourth of July parade and during Aspencade, an early celebration of the fall colors in Steamboat.
One Christmas, Walt affixed four beautifully lit, small Christmas trees at the corners of the truck.
With a modest bag of popcorn balls, he set off to visit the families in the neighborhoods around Spruce Street.
The sound system on the truck played Christmas carols as he stopped at street corners to visit with families who came out of their homes.
The next year, Walt donned a Santa Claus suit for the first time and recruited a friend to drive the truck, while he walked nine miles through the town with his bags of goodies.
At one point, the Webbers and their friends made 895 popcorn balls in preparation for Christmas Eve.
Walt and his assistants would start as early as 5 p.m. and not return home from their rounds until after midnight.
Eventually, Walt abandoned the four small trees for one huge, spectacularly lit tree.
Richards reported the telephone and electric companies made special efforts to raise their lines, so that Walt's roving Christmas tree could pass beneath them on Christmas Eve.
She recalled the drama of Santa Walt's arrival on Dec. 24: "On the night before Christmas, as dark descended over the valley, all lights along the main street were turned off.
Then, from west on Lincoln, moving east, came the beautiful, moving, lighted tree, bringing Santa Walt into Steamboat Springs.
"Through the dark streets of town the tree went, on its journey to all the children of the community."
Many special people have passed through Steamboat during its history, and Walt Webber was surely one of them. His holiday tradition was emblematic of a simpler, even more innocent era here.
And childhood innocence is one of the qualities we all seek to rekindle at this time of year.
At the time of his death, in 1983, there was a small plaque on the wall of Santa Walt's room at the old Extended Care Center.
It bore these words:
"I expect to pass through this world but once.
Any good thing, therefore, that I can do,
Or any kindness I can show to any fellow human being, Let me not defer nor neglect it.
For I shall not pass this way again."
Merry Christmas Walt Webber.
Steamboat Springs has not forgotten you.