John Fetcher died Feb. 6, 2009, at Yampa Valley Medical Center following a brief illness. He was 97.
John was born Jan. 1, 1912, in Winnetka, Ill., the third of five children of Edwin Stanton and Margaret Fechheimer. (The name was shortened to Fetcher in 1919.) In 1922, the family began a three-year sojourn in France and Switzerland with excursions to neighboring countries. John, immersed in a French-speaking environment as a grade-schooler, gained an appreciation for the French culture and language. This passion, along with learning to ski, would stay with him.
Upon graduation from Winnetka's New Trier High School in 1929, John entered Harvard College, graduating in 1933 with a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering. He then carried out research in spot welding with Dr. Comfort Adams, receiving a master's degree in business and engineering in 1935. Sports were important during his college years: tennis, squash racquets, swimming, skiing, sailing, and later on, surfing with his pals on the Jersey Coast. An amateur musician, he played violin and viola.
In 1935, his first job was with Babcock and Wilcox, contracted to build the penstocks for Hoover Dam. This also was his first experience in dam building.
The position with Babcock and Wilcox was followed by one with the Budd Company in Philadelphia, manufacturing pressed steel automobile bodies and wheels, stainless steel railroad passenger cars, and, during World War II, armaments. His fluency in French landed him a position as technical representative in Paris for the construction of passenger cars for the French railways in 1936 to 1937. Impatient with two-hour lunches, he took up flying instead and got his pilot's license. He also designed the first metal ski and was awarded a French patent. He returned to the U.S. in 1938 and would be the Budd Company's chief plant engineer for the next 11 years.
He married Clarissa Sydney Wells on June 19, 1943. They settled in Penn Valley, Penn., where sons Ned, Bill and Jay were born.
In 1949, John and his brother Stanton changed their lives and those of their families by buying half of John Barbey's Angustorra Ranch near Clark, 18 miles north of Steamboat Springs. One the move west, John brought two beehives along. He remained an avid beekeeper for the rest of his life. In 1950, his daughter Amie was born.
In 1953, John became involved with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, using his engineering skills to correct problems with Howelsen Hill's lifts and ski jumps. In 1958, he was present for the groundbreaking of what would become the Steamboat Ski Area. He served as the firm's president from 1962 to 1970, seeing the fledgling area through its first major growth period during which time the Sheraton hotel and first gondola were built. Until 1996, he also managed the Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District, which serves the ski area. At Howelsen Hill, he supervised reconstruction of the ski jumping complex, which was dedicated in 1978. He attended three Winter Olympic Games: 1960 at Squaw Valley, Calif.; 1972 in Sapporo, Japan; and 1980 in Lake Placid, N.Y., serving as a jumping official at the last two events. Until 2003, he served as a volunteer ski patroller at Howelsen Hill and the Steamboat Ski Area. He was inducted in the Colorado Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame in 1983, one of the many tributes and awards he acquired during his lifetime.
Always the rancher, he realized early the importance of water to agriculture and urban development in the West. Some Fetcher Ranch land in the Hahn's Peak basin was sold to allow construction of Steamboat Lake in 1967. Two other major dam projects would follow: Yamcolo in 1981 and Stagecoach in 1989. He served as a member and officer for several Colorado water authorities, including two terms as a member of the Colorado Water Conservation Board from 1970 to 1980. He retired from the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District shortly before his death. In 1992, he was honored with the Aspinall Award, which is granted for outstanding contributions to water use and conservation.
Although he never claimed the title, John was an ecosystem engineer. Like his former adversaries, the beavers, he changed the landscape of Northwest Colorado in profound ways. His major preoccupations were electricity, dirt, water, and the education and formation of young men and women. In 2000, he received the first Steamboat Heritage Award.
John was preceded in death by three brothers, Leopold S., E. Stanton and William M. Fetcher; his wife, Criss Fetcher; and sisters-in-law Gertrude Fetcher and Margaret Fetcher. He leaves his sister, Miriam Steel, and her husband William Steel, of Williamstown, Mass.; sons Ned Fetcher and his wife Janice Voltzow, of Clarks Green, Penn.; Bill Fetcher, of Steamboat Springs; and Jay Fetcher and his wife Gael, of Clark; daughter Amie Butler and her husband Art, of Helena, Mont.; six grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; and many, many friends.
A memorial service is at 1:30 p.m. Sunday at the Sheraton Steamboat Resort. If possible, please use public transportation or carpool, as parking will be limited. In lieu of flowers, contributions in John's name may be made to: Steamboat Springs Orchestra, P.O. Box 774079, Steamboat Springs, CO 80477; or the Babson-Carpenter Career and Technical Education Center John Fetcher Memorial Fund, P.O. Box 70, Hayden, CO 81639.