Steamboat Springs On the evening of Sept. 1, hundreds gathered in the Strings Music Pavilion for the celebration of the legacy and future of health care in the Yampa Valley.
The second annual Doc Willett Awards featured live music, a skit and former CBS sports commentator Verne Lundquist as its master of ceremonies.
But the spirit of the show’s namesake was palpable. Doc Willett, Steamboat Springs’ first country doctor, worked for more than 50 years in the valley, making ranch calls in the dead of winter and caring for the town’s founders with compassion and humanity.
“Tonight, we’re going to honor two outstanding health care visionaries who, in two very different ways, represent the spirit of pioneers who made Routt County what it is today,” Lundquist said.
Friends of Steve Dawes’ know when they need something done, they can count on “Dawgie” Dawes.
Whether it’s a glaring need for a rooftop on a local ice rink, the construction of a new community hospital campus, or the procurement of a proper trophy for a fantasy football league, they all go to their good-natured friend.
When introducing his friend of 30 years as the 2010 Health Care Community Advocate, Bob Milne kept the mood light by relaying stories about the “other” side of Dawes.
“It was more like a roast,” Dawes joked later. “But if you can get up there and laugh at yourself, that’s a good thing.”
Milne told stories about ammunition boxes filled with cigars and the mysteriously inconclusive saga of the stolen fantasy football trophy, but he didn’t fail to recognize the reasons everyone had gathered that night to celebrate.
“Steve Dawes is about tradition, loyalty and integrity,” Milne said in his speech. “He’s about getting the job done. He’s the kind of guy you can always count on.
“His friends are important to Steve, and Steve is important to his friends. His friends will do just about anything for him. They’ll travel long distances for him because he’s a special guy.”
Dawes, who helped start Steamboat Resorts when he moved here in 1979, is just as important to several organizations in Steamboat Springs.
He served on the Yampa Valley Medical Center Board for 14 years and the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association Board for more than 20. He sat on the Steamboat Springs Airport Board and the Steamboat Springs Pro Rodeo Series Board, as well as the construction committee for YVMC.
For Dawes, watching the new hospital campus go up and moving into the new facility was a highlight of his career as a health care advocate.
In his Doc Willett Award acceptance speech, Dawes spoke about the emotions involved in the opening of the hospital.
“It was so exciting, so rewarding,” he said. “And it was on time and under budget. Certainly, we all agree that bricks and mortar are beautiful, but we also agree that it’s the people that make it what it is. This facility has the ability to touch everyone in the valley. Men, women and children, young and old, birth to death.”
Although the new hospital is a recognizable reminder of Dawes’ health care advocacy, there are a few smaller achievements that are no less important.
Dawes spearheaded an effort to raise $130,000 to improve cancer treatment and provide a chemotherapy clinic to keep residents from having to travel to Edwards or Denver.
He said his story is a lesson that one doesn’t have to have a medical degree to make a difference a community’s quality of life.
“It’s about how a local businessperson who is not a physician and who is not trained can support those who are and help deliver a high quality level of service.”
Dr. Jim Dudley
Dr. Jim Dudley was about to leave the stage after accepting his award for 2010 Health Care Professional of the Year when Lundquist stopped him.
A surprise was waiting in the wings for the longtime family practice doctor, in the form of 17 screaming eighth-grade girls.
His soccer team, clad in their uniforms, rushed out to hug him and even gave him a cheer:
“One … two … three … we love you, Coach Dudley,” they screamed in unison.
Dudley’s impact on the girls he coached was clear, and his successes just as obvious after leading the Steamboat Springs High School girls team to its only state championship in 1998.
But above all, Dudley is a family man, and his son Luke testified to that as he introduced his father during the awards show.
“Our whole family is proud of you,” Luke said. “It makes us feel great that the people of Steamboat appreciate you almost as much as we do.”
Luke read from a letter written by Dudley’s oldest son, Matt, who is a doctor in Alaska and couldn’t attend the ceremony.
Matt said his father never pushed him to become a doctor, but after watching the way his father helped people, he could see no other fulfilling path.
“As you know, I’m extremely proud to have you as my father, mentor, role model and friend,” he wrote. “I use the word path because I couldn’t follow in your footsteps. They’re too big to fill.”
Dudley has had his practice at the Steamboat Medical Clinic for 30 years. The night of the Doc Willett Awards marked the exact anniversary of the beginning of a fruitful Steamboat career that Dudley said was more a passion than a job.
“I love family medicine,” he said in his acceptance speech. “You can take care of about 90 percent of the things we see. You’re there at the beginning, and you’re there at the end. It’s very humbling and very special.”
He said after he learned about Willett, he realized that was the kind of man and doctor he wanted to model his life after.
His nurse of 16 years, Susan Hoffner, also helped introduce her former boss. She said her mother was a nurse to Willett, a small-town medicine legacy she said is carried on at the Steamboat Medical Clinic.
“No matter how early I got there, he was always there before me, drinking his coffee and reading medical journals,” Hoffner said. “Jim’s compassion for people is limitless. Often, just taking the time to talk and to give reassurance was all that was needed. It made a big impression on me. Young kids loved him, then they’d grow up and take their kids to see him.”
But Dudley said the credit goes to the community — patients and soccer players alike — who have, in addition to his family, made the joy in his life possible.
“When I first moved here, I was this dorky kid, and you came to see me,” he said. “Without the patients who see me, without the parents who send their kids to me to coach them, I couldn’t have been the person I was. You’re the people that make me enjoy my life and my practice.”
— To reach Nicole Inglis, call 871-4204 or e-mail email@example.com