Steamboat Springs Ryan Heckman said he faced two problems when he drove in 1990 to Steamboat Springs in a white pickup. The 16-year-old aspiring Olympic Nordic skier had no place to live and no money to afford his education at The Lowell Whiteman School. But that all changed when he met Ed and Jayne Hill, who allowed Heckman to live in their country home rent free for six years while he strived to become the youngest member of the 1992 U.S. Olympic Ski Team.
“Having my own family, I know now what a big deal it was for them to take me in,” Heckman said last month. “They were role models for me, and they had a profound impact on my life. It nearly brings tears to my eyes to think about the situation. My life and the Steamboat community wouldn’t be the same without them.”
Now the co-founder of a private equity firm in Denver, Heckman is giving back to the couple and the community he said helped to realize his Olympic dreams. In September, he contributed $250,000 toward the construction of a new auditorium at Colorado Mountain College’s Alpine Campus. Heckman wanted to make sure others in Steamboat recognized the philanthropic spirit of the Hills, who forever will have their names and image attached to the auditorium because of Heckman’s gift. When it’s completed in July, the Jayne and Ed Hill Auditorium Wing will be part of the new 60,000-square-foot academic facility being constructed as the new hub of the Alpine Campus.
A University of Colorado graduate, Heckman didn’t attend Colorado Mountain College, but he said last month that he always has recognized what the campus means to the Hills, who said Wednesday that they had “worn out a lot of cars” advancing the causes of the college campus in Steamboat.
“I think he gained from us a real appreciation for education, wherever it might be,” Ed Hill said. “He truly believes (the Alpine Campus) is a life changer for the better. We were enthused he would share this gift with the whole community.”
“He really listened to us when we said he should give back,” added Jayne Hill, a former librarian at Steamboat Springs High School.
The Hills have left a deep impression on Steamboat’s Alpine Campus and said they were humbled by Heckman’s gift to an institution the couple helped to save in the late 1970s.
And as the Hills watched the foundation of that auditorium being constructed through a window in Bristol Hall on Wednesday, they said Heckman’s gift was a fitting tribute.
“I really think this building is going to be a way to meld the community and the college together even more. It’s one of the weaknesses we haven’t been able to accomplish,” Ed Hill said. “The new building is going to bring attention to what great thing we have at our doorstep for the students in this area.”
George Tolles, a retired CMC professor who joined the college’s faculty in 1964, also praised Heckman’s gift as a worthy nod to a remarkable couple.
“I can say without hesitation that no one has done more for the college than Ed and Jayne. It was their efforts, and those of the late Bill Hill, that got the mill levy passed that saved Alpine Campus,” Tolles wrote in an email to the Steamboat Pilot & Today. “Ed served as a trustee for many years and continues to support the college in many ways.”
Saving the college
Shortly after the Hills arrived in Steamboat in 1977, the college campus across from Howelsen Hill was bankrupt and planned to be sold and developed into condominiums. Ed Hill joined a group of community leaders in 1978 who helped save the college by forming the Yampa Valley Foundation to pay off the college’s debt. Hill served on a board of trustees that also helped get a property tax increase passed to support the campus and allow it to be affiliated with CMC.
“If we hadn’t done that at the time, the college would have struggled,” Hill said. “It was a bold move, but it really gave the college a footing.”
Hill went on to serve on the college’s board of trustees for 13 years, 11 as chairman, until he became term limited. Today, he serves on the board of the CMC Foundation, which spearheaded the successful fundraising campaign for the Alpine Campus’ new 286-seat auditorium.
Matt Spencer, CEO of the CMC Foundation, said Heckman’s gift and accompanying story was unique.
“In most campaigns, a donor makes a commitment, and they want recognition for themselves and want to name a wing or classroom for themselves. But Ryan and his wife, Katie, were adamant in making this contribution to honor Ed and Jayne.”
Heckman’s gift toward the $2.7 million fundraising goal for the auditorium was joined by another $250,000 donation from a donor who remains anonymous as well as other funds given by philanthropic individuals.
Like a son
Inside Bristol Hall on Wednesday, the Hills paused and smiled simultaneously before they started to describe what it was like living with Heckman and his Olympic ambitions.
“His work ethic was really amazing to see, especially when he was really young,” Ed Hill said. “He had this competitive spirit that made me realize I needed to put my shoulder to the task a little bit more.”
Jayne Hill, who now serves on the board of directors of the Tread of Pioneers Museum, said the athlete required a lot of fueling.
“The daily process is to get up and fuel him and fuel him again at noon,” she said referring to the many meals an athlete requires while training. “It’s a high intense, emotional experience for them, and they really need a place to go and talk about what’s going on inside, and we provided that place. There is more pressure on these athletes than we ever realized.”
Jayne also recalled when Heckman was diagnosed with a tumor in his lung when he was 20 years old.
“I remember him saying, ‘I really had a good life.’ What a mature thing for someone to say when he’s 20 years old,” she said.
But the tumor wasn’t malignant and was removed successfully.
Heckman, who was on the U.S. Ski Team from 1992 to 1997 and competed at the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France, and the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, had equal praise for his mentors in Steamboat. He said they successfully kept him on track academically even as he was forced to skip several classes at Whiteman to train for the Olympics.
“They kept my eye on the ball, and it wasn’t the sports ball,” he said as he recalled three days when Jayne helped him to successfully memorize and recite a soliloquy from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” “I had plenty of coaches to focus on athletics, but I didn’t have anyone in that time of my life who was keeping me honest as it related to school.”
Jayne even traveled to Boulder to convince the admissions department that despite not having the requisite GPA and ACT scores to enter the University of Colorado, Heckman was more than ready to study in the shadow of the Flatirons. He ended up graduating from CU summa cum laude with a 3.8 GPA.
“He’s like a son to us,” Ed Hill said. “He continues to inspire us.”
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com