Celebrating a life
Longtime Routt County resident John Fetcher passed away Feb. 6, 2009, at age 97.
A memorial service is at 1:30 p.m. today at the Sheraton Steamboat Resort. Attendees are asked to use public transportation or to carpool because parking will be limited.
In lieu of flowers, contributions in John's name may be made to: Steamboat Springs Orchestra, P.O. Box 774079, Steamboat Springs, CO 80477; or the Babson-Carpenter Career and Technical Education Center John Fetcher Memorial Fund, P.O. Box 70, Hayden, CO 81639.
Gov. Bill Ritter has declared today John Fetcher Day in the state of Colorado.
Read more about John Fetcher
Steamboat Springs icon John Fetcher has been in many newspaper and magazine stories. Here are links to some of the highlights.
Local ranchers predict winter weather in wild ways
"I get my winter forecast from discussing the matter with the beavers that infest our ranch," John Fetcher said. "We have lot of beavers, and if they build lots of dams, we figure it's going to be a hard winter."
Read the story here.
A battle for the bees
In 2005, John Fetcher's five beehives produced 14 gallons of honey. In 2007, they produced zero.
Read the story here.
Fetcher, 96, to semi-retire
John Fetcher has decided that at age 96, it might be time to semi-retire from his post as general manager of the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District.
Read the story here.
John F. Russell: Senior tennis players break new ground, age gracefully
John Fetcher, 96, only can play tennis on Mondays and Fridays because he's too busy working. Maybe he'll play five days a week when he retires.
Read the story here.
Looking back: The history of a ski town
Seven men, some of them dreamers, gathered nearly 50 years ago at the base of Storm Mountain. They assembled to have their picture taken on the day Jim Temple broke ground on a new ski area for Steamboat Springs. Two of the men stood on a squat bulldozer. The remaining five stood proudly in front of it.
Read the story here.
Tom Ross: Reservations are hard to come by at Stagecoach Dam Cafe
My pal John Fetcher invited me out to lunch Friday at a little out-of-the-way spot built into the base of the Stagecoach Dam. He eats lunch there every Friday.
Read the story here.
John R. Fetcher spent all of his 97 years in motion.
On squash courts and ski slopes, surfboards and spillways, ranches, rivers and reservoirs, the water engineer and ski pioneer who helped shape the Yampa Valley had a zeal for new and challenging experiences. No task was too small or too big for John Fetcher. And just about every task he started he finished.
The accomplishments are many: shaping Steamboat Ski Area into a modern resort, leading construction of Yamcolo and Stagecoach reservoirs and Steamboat Lake, developing Mount Werner and Upper Yampa water districts, reviving the ski jumps at Howelsen Hill, traveling the world, running ranches, raising a family.
But if you ask Dan Birch, who worked with Fetcher for years expanding local water resources, he'll tell you something different.
"I know a lot of people are going to talk about John's achievements and the great things that he did, but you know, for me, he was a great friend and a tremendous mentor," Birch said last month. "His achievements, in my mind, pale in comparison to the things he meant to me as a person. I suspect for many, many people in town, that's the same thing. He had an ability to really be a great thing to people one by one."
One by one, a trickle of stories about Fetcher grew into a flood. So today, as friends and loved ones gather to celebrate his life at 1:30 p.m. at the Sheraton Steamboat Resort, on a day that Gov. Bill Ritter has declared John Fetcher Day in Colorado, we share those stories.
Because whether they are from people who knew him for a day or people who knew him for decades, one thing is common: Fetcher left a lasting impression on them all.
'I built that mountain'
About 15 years ago, my family and I were in Steamboat staying at our place, as we often did. The gang was going skiing, but I had the fly fishing bug and couldn't shake it. To the chagrin of my family, I insisted on going fishing, so I packed up my gear and drove to the visitors' entrance at Stagecoach. Bear in mind that it was February, and you had to walk in for a couple of miles to get to the tailwaters, but I was motivated by visions of trout eagerly taking my fly and doing the Yampa Valley rainbow dance.
So I put on my waders and proceeded on my trek. About half a mile in, an old Jeep Cherokee pulled up next to me and an affable old man barked: "What do you think you are doing?"
"I'm walking in, gotta go fishing," I replied.
He shook his head and said, "Why don't you hop in?"
He had hardly got the words out and I was at the handle of his car door. As I sat next to this old man, with a very well-seasoned golden retriever between us, I felt an overwhelming comfort, as if I had known him all my life. He possessed a genuine grin and a pleasant demeanor, the Jeep was warm and smelled pleasant, the golden briefly raised his head with acknowledgment and approval.
I asked him if he was with the Department of Wildlife.
"No, I work at the dam," he replied. "You see that mountain up there (referring to Steamboat Ski Area)? A few friends of mine and I built that mountain."
I thought to myself, "high self-praise indeed," but he was old and he was sparing me a 20- to 30-minute walk in freezing conditions. As we drove, we continued to talk and I gained a sense that this old man was actually quite modest, he was unpretentious and non-judgmental, a quiet confidence, the real deal.
As we approached the tailwaters, he drove directly to the dam. We got out, I thanked the man and turned toward the water to get my fix.
"Come on in, I wanna give you a tour of the dam," he said.
I thought, why not, this guy gave me a ride, and I was curious. A tour from John Fetcher was worth its weight in gold - it's really amazing what goes on in there and the benefit it provides the valley. As I left to go fishing, he said, "In about three hours, I will be leaving. If you want, I will give you a ride out." I thought that would be great. After three hours of mediocre fishing, freezing fingers and frozen eyelets, I heard the sound of a car horn honk. I broke down my rig and got out of the water in a flash. I sat in the car with wet waders on, which didn't bother the old man in the slightest. We talked about the dam and how it works, fishing and how, on that particular day, it didn't work. I thoroughly enjoyed our short drive.
As the years went on, Mr. Fetcher continued to remember and recognize me, although he had no reason to. We would visit at the mountain skiing or around the dam fishing or at some event at Howelsen Hill. We maintained a sporadic yet genuine friendship. We would speak about current events or the old days, the new guy constantly learning from the ultimate local. Now that John Fetcher is gone, I realize that he did a lot more than just build the Steamboat Ski Area - he was perhaps the single most influential individual in the modern Yampa Valley.
Water supply was great
Don Valentine knew and worked with Fetcher for decades, and praised John's comprehensive knowledge of water use "from the reservoir to the faucet."
"This town enjoys the finest drinking water both in quality and supply, and financial stability of the water district that supplies it, and it's all thanks to John," Valentine said.
Last month, Valentine recalled seeing Fetcher at a black-tie event in the' 70s. Fetcher was wearing a tuxedo, and pointed out to Valentine that the fly on the pants had buttons.
"He told me that was because the tuxedo was made before zippers were invented," Valentine said. "He got it his senior year at Harvard : and was still wearing it (more than) 50 years later."
Fetcher graduated from Harvard University in 1935. One of his three sons, Jay Fetcher, plans to wear the tuxedo at today's memorial service.
Don Valentine, co-founder of the Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District
1 trout for breakfast
I would frequently encounter John, and I've never met someone who I thought had a more profound sense of stewardship toward the land and the environment.
From time to time when I'd run into him, he'd invite me to save one trout for him - Fetcher Ranch is catch-and-release. : but he would ask me to keep one trout for his breakfast, and I would do it gladly.
Jim McHenry, regularly vacations and fishes in Steamboat Springs
A twinkle in his eye
I first met John Fetcher in the old Clark Store in 1974.
He was putting money into a collection jar on the counter and very politely inquired who I might be, as Clark had only a few residents then and large-scale recreation had yet to take off. Soon I found myself enlisted to help run some new wire for "Fetcher Phone" between Hahn's Peak and Columbine. I treasured those hours and the countless others to follow ... helping him harness his team and feed his cattle when short-handed in the winter, fencing just to enjoy the stories and the history on rare days I could get off from my family ranch, laughing when he gave a good friend a pair of fence stretchers at a wedding shower, and tearing with pride along with him when his children would reach great life milestones. An inspiration to always look outside as well as inside the box, John was a devoted dad, husband, community member and neighbor. He was always fair and a compassionate cattleman.
One winter day we were out with the team. He was driving, and I was cutting open bales and forking them off the sled.
He got this twinkle in his eye and said, "Bethany, while you are still a light load (I was a sophomore at Steamboat Springs High School and probably 95 pounds soaking wet) and easy on my cows, why not try hopping on one when she comes up to the sled to grab a bite?"
I prided myself as quite the horse-person and as John didn't usually offer anything twice, the next cow to come up I just hopped right on. She spun around so fast I didn't even get to go two steps. I was whipped right off and flung headfirst into the deep powder, about 10 feet from the packed sled trail. Initially under about 4 feet of powder, I couldn't see a thing but could sure hear John's laughing hard and loud.
From that day on, he'd use trying to ride as a bribe whenever he was short-handed to feed, and I'm proud to say that by the end of a couple winters, we had a couple of those cows broke pretty good!
John's authoritative hats
I lived in Steamboat from 1967 to 1973 and was a member of the Steamboat Ski Patrol. At that time, I taught ski mountaineering courses for Ski Patrol and John took the course. He sat in class always taking extensive notes and had many questions. He was very intense about learning everything he could.
In Ski Patrol meetings, I remember John offering his perspective about things that came up. He would stand up and say, "putting on my Ski Patrol hat," and then awhile later, he would stand and offer more thoughts saying, "putting on my management hat," because he was also manager of the ski area at the time.
He was always intense about learning all that he could even when he most likely knew more than anyone in the group.
He was one of the very unique individuals that made up the Steamboat area for many years and knowing him was very special.
Mention in US House
Editor's note: John Salazar delivered this speech on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, Feb. 10, 2009
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to pay tribute to a true icon of Colorado, Mr. John R. Fetcher. John Fetcher passed away Feb. 6, 2009. He was 97.
I saw John Fetcher just last week at the Colorado Water Congress in Denver. He was a mentor to me and epitomizes the phrase "the stuff that legends are made of."
In 1949, John decided to move to Northwest Colorado, where he settled on the Elk River outside of Steamboat Springs.
A Harvard-trained engineer and a rancher at heart, John Fetcher made his mark on Colorado building reservoirs, managing water districts, and bringing what is now Steamboat Ski Area into the modern age.
Fetcher was a pioneer in the ski industry. He designed and tested the first metal ski, revolutionized the building of ski jumps and ski areas and was elected to the Colorado Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame.
However, it was John's work preserving the water of the Yampa Valley that he claimed as his most successful accomplishment. In a 2006 interview, at 96 years young, he explained, "If they take our water, we're out of business. It's that simple." He understood, perhaps more than anyone I've ever met, that water truly is the lifeblood of the West.
In the 1970s, he led the effort to build the Yamcolo Reservoir, calling it a "godsend to the ranchers." He followed that effort with the creation of Steamboat Lake and Stagecoach Reservoir, complete with a small hydro-power plant.
Throughout his career, John Fetcher created, managed, and continued to work with local water and sewer districts such as the Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District and the Upper Yampa River Water Conservancy District. Fetcher served two terms as a member of the Colorado Water Conservation Board from 1970 to 1980. A farmer and rancher himself, John was connected to the land and knew the value of a hard day's work.
Last year, I was shocked to pick up the paper and see the headline that announced: "Fetcher to semi-retire." He was 96 at the time - I guess he had the right to switch to only part-time work.
Colorado lost a legend Feb. 6 - a lover of life, a caretaker of our precious land and water, a tireless worker, a pioneer in the ski industry, a rancher, a devoted public servant, a loving father and grandfather, and one of the finest men I have ever met.
He will be missed but never forgotten - having left a legacy that will live on for generations to come.
My heart goes out to John's family.
U.S. Rep. John Salazar
San Luis Valley
'What's on your mind?'
I have spent about 50 years working with or around John. He had faults, as we all do, but I think that he worked to improve every day of his life. If an idle mind is the devil's workshop, then John cruised through the pearly gates in the express lane. John was fun to work with, as he was always prepared, and his attitude was: "Let's do it." The naysayers were never around when John was involved. He was always looking far down the road, and many other reported leaders are only technicians by comparison.
I can remember calling John in recent years to see how he was getting along, and his reply was, "What's on your mind?" He could not accept the fact that I called because I was concerned about him. John was a positive thinker, and he never looked back or dwelled on the negative. I think that contributed to his longevity. There are only two people that I have stood in awe of: John and Buddy Werner. I will never forget them.
John was a visionary
Last month, Kevin Kleckler praised Fetcher's support of the Babson-Carpenter Career and Technical Education Center in Hayden. Fetcher became familiar with funding efforts for the regional tech center through the newspaper, Kleckler said, and contacted him.
"We just started a back-and-forth about how valuable vocational education is for kids, learning a trade that will feed them for a lifetime," Kleckler said. "We were cut from the same cloth. : That was the kind of way he made me feel. Just hearing his voice would lighten your day. He would call and leave messages at my home and at school, and they were always positive.
"Just today (Feb. 10), I got a check in the mail from one of his acquaintances in the Clark area, for $850," Kleckler continued. "He called me several weeks ago and told me he heard my name from John Fetcher."
Kleckler also cited Fetcher's letters to U.S. Rep. John Salazar and former U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, now Secretary of the Interior for President Barack Obama, on behalf of Kleckler and the vocational center.
"I hope that I can live a life like that and just have an impact my whole life - here he was at 97 years old doing this stuff," Kleckler said. "He was just a visionary. : What a full circle of life."
The Babson-Carpenter Career and Technical Education Center in Hayden opened in September 2008 and still is accepting donations for funding.
Contributions may be made to the Babson-Carpenter Career and Technical Education Center John Fetcher Memorial Fund, P.O. Box 70, Hayden CO.
Kevin Kleckler, vocational teacher
John always had focus
John always knew where to place his focus. This came from his great understanding of people and his ability to communicate. He also knew that the contractor's employees were the ones that will get the project built. He had a great interest in the construction crew and they were aware of his interest in them.
Dan Johnson, project manager on Stagecoach Dam and enlargement of Fish Creek Reservoir
John a legend
"John was one of the legends of the valley here," Kidd said last month.
"He made so many contributions to this valley and this town - we're certainly going to remember him, with great memories."
One of those memories, Kidd said, is Fetcher's service on Steamboat Ski Patrol well into his 90s.
Kidd said he often half-jokingly cautioned skiers on Mount Werner about Fetcher.
"You better hope you don't get hurt and have John Fetcher taking you down (the mountain) in the toboggan," Kidd would say. "He doesn't like to turn - turning slows him down."
Billy Kidd, director of skiing at Steamboat Ski Area