Steamboat Springs The late Olympic ski racer Wallace “Buddy” Jerold Werner, whose name has graced Steamboat Springs’ public library for 46 years, was recalled fondly Tuesday night during dedication ceremonies for a new permanent exhibit remembering his life not just as an athlete, but as a humble man who was always quick to inspire excellence in others.
Jayne Hill, a local historian and retired high school librarian who provided much of the impetus behind the new exhibit, said the intent all along was to show more facets of Werner’s short life.
“We wanted to show that Buddy Werner was more than a skier,” Hill said.
Barb Ross, vice president of the library’s board of trustees, said creating a greater presence for honoring Werner’s memory in the dramatic library expansion dedicated in 2009 had been in mind since the new facility was first conceived.
Violet Carlon, who has created exhibits for History Colorado and Denver International Airport, designed the exhibit.
Buddy’s brother, Loris “Bugs” Werner, a great ski competitor and ski area manager in his own right, said it wasn’t until 25 years after his brother’s death in a Swiss avalanche in the spring of 1964 that he came to fully grasp how Buddy’s fame and influence had transcended his Olympic skiing career.
The three youngsters in the Werner skiing clan of Steamboat Springs were ranch kids before they became world-class skiers. So it was fitting Tuesday night that Loris chose a memory of a horseback ride in an Old West setting to remember his late brother.
Loris and three friends were horseback riding in Moffat County, on the far side of Douglas Mountain, when they encountered a ranch woman and a cowhand who were gathering cattle in amidst sagebrush and juniper.
“It was Cecil Conner, Doak Walker, Don Silva and I,” Loris Werner remembered.
The party had just dropped down a gully to water their horses when the man and woman rode up. Introductions were made all around, and the woman said, “Steamboat, Werner. Are you by chance kin to Buddy Werner?”
Loris Werner said he indeed was the brother of the American skiing great.
“She rode over and said, ‘I never knew the man, but I know he was a helluva person,’” Loris told Tuesday night’s audience at the library. “And you know what? She was right. He was a helluva man.”
The original library was dedicated to the memory of Buddy Werner during Winter Carnival 1967, a little less than three years after the athlete who had cracked the European dominance of men’s international Alpine skiing died.
Billy Kidd shared with Tuesday’s gathering that Buddy Werner’s humility and sportsmanship were never more evident than at the 1964 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria.
It was widely understood that it would be the last chance at an Olympic medal for the skier who was the only American to win the Hahnenkamm downhill in Kitzbuhel, Austria (1959).
The slalom race was the final Alpine event of the 1964 Olympics, but it was Buddy Werner’s American protégés Billy Kidd (silver medal) and Jimmie Heuga (bronze medal) who claimed Olympic glory. Werner placed eighth.
Kidd said Werner was genuinely thrilled by his younger teammates’ success.
The new Buddy Werner exhibit is outside the entrance to Library Hall, up the stairs from the main library entrance near the Yampa River. The exhibit is open to viewing during regular library hours.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com