Steamboat Springs Their contributions have paved the roads of education in our mountain town, and on Tuesday night, former high school history teacher Bill McKelvie and the late Benita Bristol, often called the “matriarch” of Steamboat’s Colorado Mountain College, were honored for what they have given Routt County.
“She made Routt County and Steamboat Springs a better place to live,” presenter Jim Stanko said about Bristol, who was honored with the Stanley L. Larson Award. Stanko said the same about his longtime friend and fellow historian McKelvie, who was named the Leckenby Pioneer Award winner.
The awards were presented to a room filled with Tread of Pioneers Museum supporters, past winners and family members during a private dinner at Rex’s American Grill & Bar.
Each year, the Leckenby and Larson Awards committee, which is associated with the Tread of Pioneers Museum, presents the two awards that honor the people who have enriched the quality of life in Routt County. Since 1980, the Leckenby Award has been given to a living person in Routt County, and since 1982, the Stanley L. Larson Award has been given posthumously.
It only seems fitting that former history teacher McKelvie follow in the footsteps of some of our town’s most historic figures. McKelvie was added to a long list of notable locals that have left their mark on our town that includes Ferry Carpenter, Walt Webber, Lewis Phillips, Ayliffe and Henry Zehner, Dorothy Wither, John "Doc" Utterback, Gordon Wren, Evelyn and Quentin Semotan, Bobby Robinson, Sr., Val Fitzpatrick, Margaret Rossi, Gordy Wren, Eldon Brummett, Effie Baily, Eleanor Bliss, Vernon Summer, Marvin Elkins, Pat Holderness, Lowell Whiteman, Dee Richards, Don Lufkin, Pete Wither, Elaine Gay, Bill Bowes, Natalie Stanko, Linda Long, Frances Wither, Sam Haslem, Dr. Bill Baldwin, Mary Jean Perry, Bud and Jane Romberg, Donna Hellyer, Judy Green and Peter “Mike” Yurich.
McKelvie knew many of these people personally thanks to his work with a yearly magazine that was published from 1976 to 1988 called Three Wire Winter. McKelvie started the magazine, which was written and photographed by students in his classes, along with fellow English teacher Tanna Brock prior to the United States Bicentennial Celebration. The magazine featured local history told through the words of those who had lived it.
McKelvie said he started working on the magazine at the suggestion of a local bicentennial committee and that the magazine almost failed its first year.
“There were many times I thought about walking away from it,” he said.
But after the first year, he got some funding, and the school agreed to make it part of its own class. It was a journey that lasted 12 years and 24 issues.
“I was just so excited,” McKelvie said. “To be sitting in some of these people’s living rooms listening to them talk about history.”
McKelvie still recalls one interview in Lloyd Monger’s living room where he watched as the tough as nails rancher was reduced to tears while recalling what it was like to be in a battleship during World War II that was hit by Kamikaze pilots.
McKelvie said it was stories like these that kept him motivated on the Three Wire projects along with the fact that his own students conducted the stories and interviews.
The energy flowed into the classroom where McKelvie made a difference in our community with the young people that would carry on its history.
He came to Steamboat Springs in 1973 and spent 30 years teaching in the high school. McKelvie started his teaching career in Holyoke, where he spent two years before landing the job here. The choice to move to Steamboat was an easy one for McKelvie, who is an avid outdoorsman and loves to ski.
He has been the chairperson and a driving force of the Northwest Colorado Chapter of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation from many years. He also continues to volunteer at Steamboat Springs and South Routt schools and has been known to dress up as a mountain man to share his passion for history with students by talking about early trappers and explorers.
A few years ago, McKelvie was faced with a poor prognosis after being diagnosed with cancer. He not only beat cancer, but also has used his own experience to inspire others who are faced with the disease.
Everett and Benita Bristol’s contribution to Colorado Mountain College could fill a building, so it’s only fitting that one of the biggest buildings of the Alpine Campus bears their name.
Bristol Hall, which serves as one of the main academic buildings on the CMC's Alpine Campus, was named after Benita and her husband, Everett “Ev” Bristol.
Everett already was honored with the Stanley L Larson Award, and now Benita’s name has been added to a list of honorees that includes Claude Luekens, James H. Crawford, Dr. F.E. Willett, Charles Neiman, Carl Howelsen, Minnie Hertzog, Charles H. Leckenby, James Norvell, Lulita Crawford Pritchett, Emma Willcockson, Bob Gay, Charlotte Perry, Portia Mansfield, Joseph Shorty Hamidy, William S. “Bill” Green, Gates Gooding, Dr. John V. Solandt, George Cook, Delano Scott, Sumner Hockett, Geraldine Elkins, Clarence Light, Delmar Coyner, Robert “Bob” Moss, Chuck Fulton, John Fetcher, Bill Meek and Don Brookshire.
Benita was a higher education advocate who attended the original meeting when plans for Steamboat Springs’ Yampa Valley College were set in motion, according to an article in a 2009 Steamboat Today newspaper.
But her love for learning and her community went beyond the walls of any school. The legacy she leaves behind should make her a role model for any young girl growing up in Steamboat Springs.
She was born in 1922 on the ranch where her grandfather, “Grouse Creek” Jones, homesteaded at the foot of Yellowjacket Pass. She made her mark early by becoming the first person in her family to graduate from high school, and she was the eight of 10 children. She graduated in 1939, and left Routt County for a short time to attend Barnes Business College in Denver.
When she returned, she continued to add to the community she called home. She was involved in many different aspects of the community throughout the years including Girls Scouts, Boy Scouts and 4-H. She was active as a member of Business and Professional Women, Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion Auxiliaries, The League of Women Voters and Kiwanis, where she was the first female member of the previously all male club. She also was involved with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, Toastmistress Club, Methodist Church and Stephens Ministry and many other community organizations.
“She was part of Meals on Wheels into her 70s,” her son David and daughter Diana recalled at the dinner. “She often carried groceries into the homes of people who were younger than she was. She just loved to do for other people.”
But nowhere was she more involved than education. She was responsible for kindergarten classes being started in the district in 1958, and getting the Eighth Street Bridge built so that children could get to the newly built elementary school on Crawford Hill. She served on the school district advisory committee and volunteered in the classrooms each year.
Benita worked as the greeter and switchboard operator on the college campus for many years and later helped rescue the campus when it was in danger. Brian Hoza, dean of Student Affairs, said in the 2009 article that Ev and Benita were instrumental in a group that worked with so many others to gather support in the community to join the Colorado Mountain College district and sustain it as part of CMC.
But Benita’s involvement went beyond championing the cause. She also was a student on the campus. She enrolled in classes at the college in her 60s and received an associate degree in arts in 1985. Benita and Everett also traveled the world and still were climbing 14ers in their 60s.
“I think she taught me about the importance of education,” Diana Bristol said. “She taught us that education could take you anywhere and it gave me the life I have today.”
Benita had four children including Diana and David. She also has a son Dan and daughter Debbie who were not at the dinner.
“I think it’s wonderful," Diana Bristol said. “It’s neat that she’s getting recognized for all the things she did in this community.”
To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966