Ann Copeland hasn't gone far from her childhood playground. From her office on the second floor of the Yampa Valley Regional Airport terminal building, she can see the house her grandfather owned and imagine the wheat fields she used to run and play in where the runway now lies.
When taking a break from the politics of overseeing 96 employees as the general manager of both Worldwide Flight Services' and American Airlines' YVRA offices, Copeland likes to visit the runway.
Perhaps being in the same area where she played as a child helps the 46-year-old maintain her youthful mentality.
Aside from reading her nametag, arriving air travelers have no indication that she's the one in charge. They see her giving high fives and cutting up with the baggage and landing crew. They see her slam the door of an old pickup used to haul the portable stairs that get passengers from airplane to tarmac. They see her open the door of the plane and chat with the flight crew.
Airport employees know her and smile when she stops to talk with them.
"Her people love her," Copeland's husband, Kevin, said. "She'll go out and buy the whole crew a round of drinks, which kind of annoys me, but her people really like her. She likes to keep them happy."
"Sometimes it's hard to wear a lot of hats," said Shelia Woodley, Copeland's assistant for three years, and co-worker for 11 years. "But I think the way Ann does it really works around here. She's not a manager that sits behind a desk. She goes out there and works alongside everybody else, and I believe that's why she gets the respect she does."
But while Copeland is engaged in a friendly conversation, she is constantly listening to one of 17 other people talking on a tiny radio in her ear, often breaking from the apparent conversation to engage in the covert conversation behind her long dark hair.
Though Copeland does the same tasks she performed when she began work at YVRA almost 17 years ago, she has worked her way to the top, giving instructions rather than taking them.
"Ann always was a people person," said Pat Holderness, Copeland's mother and a Routt County commissioner from 1980 to 1984. "But she always was a dominant female. She never liked being told what to do."
Once, she turned the tables on a rude passenger who demanded to sit in reserved seats on a plane, even though an older couple was sitting in his seats and empty seats were everywhere.
"I want my seats or I want first class," the man insisted, as Copeland recalls.
So, she told the elderly couple about the predicament and asked them to move to first class so the man could have his seats. "Oh, you don't have to do that," they said.
"Oh no, I insist," Copeland said kindly, in turn infuriating the impolite man.
"That made me feel great," Copeland said, with a hearty laugh. "I said, 'Here's your 10A and 10B. Have a nice trip.' Airlines have a tendency to reward rude behavior. Not me."
Copeland is a fourth-generation resident of Northwest Colorado.
Both sides of her family came to Colorado in the 19th century. Her father's side of the family, of German descent, came to Blackhawk in 1879 to homestead, drawn by the prospects of profiting from beaver trapping and gold mining, Copeland said.
Her mother's side of the family took advantage of the Homestead Act of 1862 by grabbing a site on the south side of Hayden, which the Holderness family owns.
Like Holderness, Copeland was born at the Solandt Medical Center on the hill in downtown Hayden.
Growing up in the small town, when Steamboat Springs and Craig were relatively similar in size, Copeland said she didn't know she lived in a "small town." It was big as far as she was concerned. She spent a lot of her time on her family's ranches -- on the airport-area ranch, the Hayden ranch or at another ranch on the East Williams Fork, where Copeland operates the Pyramid Llama Ranch, a llama outfitter for hiking and fishing for trips into the nearby Flat Tops Wilderness Area.
As Copeland grew, she saw communities around her -- particularly Steamboat Springs -- grow exponentially. Her grandfather helped construct the ski jump at Howelsen Hill, and her father obtained a logging permit on Mount Werner when clearing began for the Steamboat Ski Area.
Recently, she has taken her place in that continuum by planning for Hayden's growth while being on board a steering committee for the Hayden Community Video, a documentary about Hayden's past, present and future.
Living in Hayden was simple, Copeland remembers. She met Kevin while they were sophomores in high school. They were always together, and when they both went off to larger cities for college in 1975, they yearned to go back to the simple life.
"She went to Greeley, and I went to Durango," Kevin said. "With long trips every other weekend and big phone bills every month, we decided to get married after school and move back to Hayden."
Copeland majored in photography at a college in Greeley, and she brought her skills home to become a photographer and reporter for the Hayden Valley Press, just as her mother was before her.
"It was very interesting," Copeland said of the newspaper business. "I worked there for about three years, and I got to know everybody."
However, business and personal changes came. Copeland gave birth to two boys, Tanner and Seth, now 19 and 17 respectively, and she had started the llama business.
When tourism began to boom after a long lull in the 1980s, American Airlines began looking for local workers.
"I said, 'You ought to go for this,'" Kevin said. "The rest is history."
"I love my job," Copeland said. "They say we're addicted to the smell of jet fuel."