Hundreds of people attended a memorial service for Routt County icon John Fetcher Sunday at the Sheraton Steamboat Resort.
John Fetcher walked with a valley on his shoulders.
His family, friends and admirers tugged thread after thread Sunday, unraveling the 97 years of life lived by the legendary man whose perseverance and work helped build Routt County. Fetcher, whose life was formed not from air, water, earth and fire but from diesel, dirt, water and electricity left his imprint on the hundreds who attended his memorial service.
Jay Fetcher led the service, wearing his father's Harvard tuxedo and favorite bolo tie. Fetcher talked about those elements: the diesel, dirt, water and electricity.
"I give my brother, Bill, credit for that because these were the elements of his life," Jay Fetcher said. "We stretch water into skiing a little bit. This is who John Fetcher was."
John Fetcher arrived in Routt County in 1949, when he and his brother Stanton bought a ranch near Clark, and worked almost nonstop until his death Feb. 6. He had a hand in the Steamboat Ski Area, Howelsen Hill, Stagecoach Reservoir and Steamboat Lake, among other projects.
Many of those in the audience at the Sheraton Steamboat Resort rolled up their sleeves alongside Fetcher during those 60 years.
Jay Fetcher asked how many had devoted hours to one of Fetcher's "10-minute jobs." More than half of the audience members raised their hands as the room erupted into laughter. Jay Fetcher explained that a 10-minute job with John Fetcher could last hours, days or, in the case of Stagecoach Reservoir, years.
Water and work
In addition to Jay Fetcher, six people took the lectern Sunday: Tom Sharp, a water attorney and vice president of the Colorado River District Board of Directors; Rick DeVos, executive director of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club; ski patroller Charlie Reynolds; Fetcher's granddaughter, Molly Fetcher Lotz; Fetcher's nephew, Lincoln Fetcher; and Fetcher's son, Ned Fetcher.
Sharp, Jay Fetcher said, was a close friend of John Fetcher's. Sharp was the only person Fetcher asked to see while in the hospital last month. They got to know each other when working with the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District. Sharp took over the chairmanship of that group in 1977.
He watched as Fetcher refused to take "no" for an answer, building the Stagecoach Reservoir and pushing through red tape on a maze of water projects.
"He was, without a shadow of a doubt, the best water project builder in the state of Colorado over the last 30 years, other than the federal government," Sharp said.
DeVos talked about Fetcher's devotion to Howelsen Hill and the Winter Sports Club. He built and repaired jumps, putting together "how-to" manuals for others and showing up with his tools to work.
DeVos chuckled as he described Fetcher carrying his tools up the Poma lift in winter without skis - a process that resembles moon-walking. It's not easy, DeVos said.
And "John's going to carry the 50-pound backpack, and he's going to do it at 85," he said.
For years, Fetcher patrolled the Steamboat Ski Area he helped build. Reynolds discussed Fetcher's years with Ski Patrol, which ended only when Fetcher was in his mid-90s. Toward the end of Fetcher's career, a few patrollers started following him to make sure he was OK as he made rounds on the trails, Reynolds said.
Fetcher caught on immediately, of course. He didn't appreciate having a shadow, Reynolds said.
"One day, he just ditched them," he said, laughing. "He was a very proud and stubborn man."
Three years ago in November, Fetcher came into the patrollers' orientation and made an announcement.
"He was very emotional, and he announced that his body would no longer allow him to do this job anymore," Reynolds said. "He bolted from the room immediately : so he never saw the standing ovation the Ski Patrol gave him. There was not a dry eye in the room."
Reynolds then showed a clip of Fetcher singing a French folk song at one of his fondue dinners, where no one who couldn't speak French was allowed. As Fetcher sang on the video, rocking back and forth, dozens of Ski Patrol members stood at the Sheraton and sang with him.
They finished by offering him their signature - and slightly inappropriate for print - Ski Patrol cheer.
Words to live by
The family spoke about Fetcher as a hard worker who pushed himself and those around him to work hard. He believed the person whose work was worth the most was the person using the shovel, Lincoln Fetcher and others said.
Jay Fetcher listed the precepts by which his father lived:
- Get up before breakfast.
- Do it now.
- Have a good and lasting marriage.
- Drive fast only when you have to - and you rarely have to.
- Be nice to people.
- Share a laugh with those you meet.
- Make time for exercise that is fun.
- If you think you're indispensable, don't retire.
- Keep it short.
John Fetcher got his French pilot's license during his lunch breaks in Paris, Jay Fetcher said. He designed and built stainless steel skis in 1937. He saw Jesse Owens run in the 1936 Olympics. He had dinner with a French president.
Sharp summed it up this way.
"John knew the value of a cow, a bale of hay, a lift ticket, a fine Paris meal, a dam, a good shovel, persistence and hard work," Sharp said. "He loved his wife and life partner, Criss, his children and grandchildren, skiing on Mount Werner, his favorite lunch bucket, his ranch, people in all walks of life, building or fixing anything, and life itself. You come across people like John so rarely in life that you need to savor and treasure the moments you have with them. : I'll miss him a lot."