Steamboat Springs Jill Limberg was 21, and before her last name was Limberg, she moved to Steamboat Springs from Texas and began working on the Preview chairlift at Steamboat Ski Area.
It was the winter of 1986. Jill quickly noticed that a fellow Preview operator, Barry, had a knack for interacting with the flocks of children using the beginners’ lift.
Barry noticed Jill’s friendliness and, admittedly, the homemade cookies she brought to work that set off good-natured wrestling among co-workers vying for warm snacks in the lift shack.
It was a match made on a chairlift — a place close enough, some locals might say, to heaven.
Jill also was working as a waitress at the Holiday Inn. Barry also was a prep cook at the Pine Grove restaurant that’s now the Ore House. They found time to date and take things slow.
But not too slow.
Barry and Jill Limberg were married Nov. 12, 1988, at the United Methodist Church in Old Town Steamboat Springs. They now live in Steamboat II and have three children: Kelly, 15; Megan, 13; and Tucker, 11. Jill is a managing broker at Prudential Steamboat Realty, and Barry is a contractor.
Turns out, Jill couldn’t have been more correct about Barry’s way with children.
“If you were going to find a husband, this was the lift,” she said Thursday, standing with Barry at the Preview lift and remembering those times that, really, weren’t too long ago.
Both say family is the foundation of their marriage.
“I’m a dad before I’m a contractor,” Barry said. “My clients know if I’m not at work, I’m at home with my kids.”
For the Limbergs, mutual support and encouragement among family members provides warmth that thaws the Yampa Valley, where factors including geographic isolation, a tough job market, a high cost of living and, of course, the long winters, can create a challenging place for lasting love.
For all its natural beauty and community benefits, the valley throws plenty of obstacles at married couples. But some say the prize is paradise. John and Susana Field, for example, thrive on exploring the outdoors together. Marsha and Doc Daughenbaugh have shared work and daily routines for decades on their ranch in the lower Elk River valley. For Angela and Jonathan Finnegan, who were married at the top of the gondola in 2008 and are expecting their first child in March, living in Steamboat means “living where we can play,” even if they’re second-guessing the deed restrictions on their West End Village townhome and if Jonathan has yet to find a job in his field of natural resources management.
All four couples acknowledged that marriage is a lifelong task.
“We know it’s work. You have to work at it,” Jill Limberg said last week. “It helps if you love each other, too — and we do.”
A little fate can’t hurt, either. When Jill and Barry hopped on a Preview chairlift for a photograph Thursday, when Valentine’s Day was yet a few days away, the chair that spun around the wheel for them was Chair 14.
While on a sea kayaking trip on Vancouver Island, B.C., in the mid-‘80s, John Field was reading a book by himself on the beach when two women ran past him and dove into the cold water.
One of those women would eventually take on his last name.
“I don’t even remember the chapter I was on,” John said.
Susana was on the same trip as John – the two had mutual friends. The initial attraction was mutual, too.
“He caught my attention by being able to do hand rolls in his sea kayak,” Susana recalled.
They went their separate ways for about four years. Susana sailed around the world and was working as a newspaper copy editor in San Juan, Puerto Rico, when she wrote a freelance story about the sea kayaking trip and sent it to John’s parents.
“I guess I still had hopes,” she said.
John responded. Working as a ski patroller in Washington state, he asked Susana to leave Puerto Rico and “run the Grand Canyon with him.” She did, then went with him to France while he worked ski patrol there.
They were married in 1991 and moved to Steamboat in 1992. John’s France job became the genesis, Susana said, of Steamboat Ski Patrol’s French exchange program.
Their son, Cliff Field, now is an 18-year-old senior at Steamboat Springs High School.
“He did his first backpack (trip) with us when he was 4 years old – a four-day trip along Wyoming Trail in the Zirkels,” Susana said.
The trips have continued, but Susana said it’s been harder in recent years to reach locations that are truly separate from modern trappings.
“When you get out to places that are so remote that there isn’t cell phone service, that time together as a family is really fabulous,” Susana said. “That value is amplified.”
She and John were in Rangely last week, at the family’s second home. John is in an aviation program at Colorado Northwestern Community College in Rangely. Susana is an exclusive buyer’s agent through Buyer’s Resource of Steamboat.
“It’s a difficult aspect of being married, being in two different places – and I think a lot of couples in Steamboat have that challenge,” Susana said.
They haven’t always had such separation. From 1994 to 2006, the couple owned Top Drawer Custom Closets together in Steamboat.
“We kind of went (to) the extreme of working on a business together and living together, and now we live in two different places and do different things, but we’re still really close,” Susana said. “I guess (the key) is to be flexible, to be adaptable, and still have the commitment to the relationship, to the marriage, to the family, as being the primary value.”
“It’s not easy,” John added with a laugh.
Marsha Daughenbaugh said she couldn’t think of too many ranching couples who have ended a marriage.
“Maybe it’s (because) we can’t afford to get divorced,” she joked last week. She and her husband, John “Doc” Daughenbaugh, have lived on their ranch the entire 38 years of their marriage.
“A lot of your family time is based around your working together,” she said. “You don’t take a lot of time off as a family when you’re ranching. … I think that family component adds a lot to your couple component.”
Those ties form strong binds.
“I think most ranching and agricultural families take their commitment seriously – whether it’s toward the land or their partners,” Marsha said. “Maybe we’re all too stubborn. I don’t know.”
She laughed when asked how the longtime couple keeps things new.
“We’re very settled into our routine and our life, and it’s comfortable,” Marsha said. “I think we’re past that point where we’re looking for anything new. We’re just trying to keep our heads above water.”
Whatever it takes
Jonathan Finnegan was a friend of a sister of Angela’s, before her last name was Finnegan.
“At first I wasn’t that into him, but he kind of grew on me,” Angela said last week, on a break from her job as a Routt County appraiser.
She was moving to Hawaii when they met. Eventually, Jonathan followed her.
“He told me he couldn’t stop thinking about me,” she said.
That sort of tenacity typifies their time together, which included stays in Hawaii, Telluride and Seattle before coming to the Yampa Valley. They bought their townhome in 2007.
Angela said she loves her job with the county. But this is Steamboat. She stopped waiting tables at Sweetwater Grill about a month ago. Their baby is due in several weeks.
“You just have to be willing to do whatever you have to do,” Angela said, referring to both love and life.
Jonathan has a job with Christy Sports, but is looking for something career-oriented in his chosen field. That search is a big factor in whether they’ll stay.
“We do really hope we can live in Steamboat,” Angela said.
She then expressed an optimism that could be familiar to many young couples trying to make it work in a tough, but rewarding, location.
“We’re thinking we’re going to give it another year.”
— To reach Mike Lawrence, call 970-871-4233 or e-mail mlawrence@SteamboatToday.com