Linda Kakela, center, speaks with guests at a reception in her honor Thursday afternoon at Centennial Hall in downtown Steamboat Springs. Kakela stepped down from her job with the city March 31. She is joined by the Mexican Consulate in Denver Eduardo Arnal, left, and Kakela's daughter, Kate Kakela.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

Linda Kakela, center, speaks with guests at a reception in her honor Thursday afternoon at Centennial Hall in downtown Steamboat Springs. Kakela stepped down from her job with the city March 31. She is joined by the Mexican Consulate in Denver Eduardo Arnal, left, and Kakela's daughter, Kate Kakela.

City grant winner of 20 years celebrated Thursday

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— Some of the projects Linda Kakela sent across Wendy DuBord's desk were so good, the deputy city manager jokes that she often wondered whether they were actually legal.

In 20 years with the city of Steamboat Springs, Kakela artfully leveraged grant funding and partnerships into some of the most valued and utilized public assets in the Yampa Valley. Kakela retired at the end of March; she was celebrated at a farewell reception Thursday night at Centennial Hall.

"Before Linda, we didn't have a grant-seeking program at all," DuBord said. "She has found funding where none of us found money before."

DuBord estimated Kakela was responsible for $60 million to $65 million in grant funds awarded to the city throughout two decades. Those dollars were used for projects including the Yampa River Core Trail, countless open space land acquisitions, roads, sewers, public art, historic preservation, a fire station, river improvements, the Howelsen Hill summer ski jump and more.

"The smartest thing Linda could have ever done was ask for a commission on all the grants she won," former City Council President Paul Strong said.

Kakela was hired by the city in 1986 as a contract grant writer. She became an employee of the city in 1988 when she was hired as a grants analyst working for the city's economic development director. She went on to become the city's director of intergovernmental services.

"She has done some amazing, amazing projects that have really made a fundamental difference to this community," said Winnie DelliQuadri, who worked under Kakela as a grants analyst for 13 years. DelliQuadri said she will miss entertaining conversations with her boss. "She's a very broad thinker."

When her turn came to speak Thursday, Kakela deflected much of the praise back on an audience that included several present and former city employees and City Council members. She thanked them for the strong and ongoing political drive required for a "bold vision to preserve the natural and cultural landscape of this place."

Kakela noted three projects in particular that she considers exemplary and that she said set nationwide examples:

- The Yampa Valley Legacy Project, a voluntary, incentive-based project to protect the ecological health of the Yampa River and the productive agricultural lands it supports, while providing for appropriate recreational opportunities.

- The Yampa Valley Economic Development Council and the role it played in the bringing affordable, broadband Internet access to Northwest Colorado.

- The city's diversity and tolerance initiative, which resulted in a 2004 resolution unanimously adopted by the Steamboat Springs City Council that declared Steamboat to be a tolerant place, which "respects diversity, abhors discrimination, promotes tolerance and provides a place where all persons will be treated equally and with respect and dignity. : We value talent and energy wherever it comes from and in valuing that, we become a stronger community."

The resolution helped further the then-budding and now strong friendship between the city of Steamboat Springs and the Mexican government that began when Kakela called the Mexican Consulate in Denver to ask about bringing an art exhibit to Steamboat. Mexican Consulate General Eduardo Arnal attended Thursday's reception.

"We are one of the few cities in the state that has such a close and ongoing relationship with the Mexican Consulate General," DuBord said.

Kakela said her next job will be to work on international conservation and humanitarian aid projects. She will remain in Steamboat, "the place she loves and spent her life."

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