Colleagues praise Bookman
Longtime local physician Larry Bookman receives inaugural Health Care Heritage Award. Here, his co-workers at Yampa Valley Medical Center discuss his work.
If you go
What: Doc Willett Health Care Heritage Awards
When: 7 a.m. Saturday
Where: Strings Music Pavilion
Cost: $40 in advance, $50 at door
Tickets: Healthcare Foundation for the Yampa Valley, 871-0700; SportsMed; Yampa Valley Medical Center information desk
John Kerst hasn't mentioned his upcoming Doc Willett award to his two sons.
They'd probably travel from Michigan and Wisconsin to see him accept the award Saturday, and Kerst said he figures it's better for them to stay home with their families. That type of consideration is a trademark of the low-key bank executive, who said he was humbled to receive one of the first Doc Willett Health Care Heritage Awards.
"I don't think there's anything I did that was that special," Kerst said.
Organizers of the awards would disagree. The awards are named for Doc Willett, a longtime Routt County physician who also served two terms as mayor. The award winners reflect love for the valley, said Sandy St. Clair, executive director of the Healthcare Foundation for the Yampa Valley.
"He was looking at patient care, but he was looking at the care of the overall community, as well," St. Clair said.
Kerst grew up on a cattle ranch in rural eastern Colorado, with seven brothers and sisters. His mother was involved in the church, and his father was a county commissioner and served on the school board.
"We were always taught that you can give back and make a difference," he said.
Kerst is being honored as a community advocate for health care. His counterpart, Dr. Larry Bookman, is being honored for his work as a health care professional.
"We'd like to establish this award in the community, and we couldn't find two more outstanding men to honor this first year," St. Clair said.
Kerst and his wife, Patty, moved to Steamboat Springs in 1988. Kerst became a member of the Routt Memorial Hospital Board, where he worked on the planning process for a new hospital on land along Steamboat Boulevard. Kerst helped work toward compromise, said Christine McKelvie, spokeswoman for Yampa Valley Medical Center.
"There was not unanimous agreement in the community about where this hospital would be built, and it was sometimes a prickly process," she said.
Kerst helped lead three community discussions about the hospital. Each time, he said, board members listened to concerns and suggestions and tried to address them. That's why YVMC is one story instead of the two originally planned, for example.
"At the third meeting, we presented a plan the hospital was comfortable with, the hospital board was comfortable with and the community was comfortable with," Kerst said.
He tried to shrug off some of the credit, directing it instead to other members of the hospital board. Those who served during the planning process in the 1990s were: Jim Ascher, Bookman, Steve Dawes, John Grassby, Drew Hartman, David Lindow, Jane McLeod, Gary Mielke, Irlan Neas, Betty Patrick, Dean Sandvik, Dr. Dan Smilkstein, Paul Smith, Ed Vanderwall, Dr. Eric Verploeg, Jane Weston, Dr. David Wilkinson and Fred Wolf.
Kerst said he was pleased with the hospital that opened its doors Nov. 21, 1999. It's a top facility that serves the region and has room to expand, he said. Kerst also noted that it's a nonprofit hospital that isn't supported by taxes.
"We have something we can be very proud of," he said.
Kerst didn't stop with his contributions to health care. He's also worked with Strings in the Mountains, the Yampa Valley Community Foundation and the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association. He was a founding member of Ski Town USA Rotary Club. The Chamber named him 2006 Business Leader of the Year, and the community foundation named him 2005 Philanthropist of the Year.
Kerst remains active with the Steamboat Springs Pro Rodeo Committee, and he's the business development officer at Yampa Valley Bank.