The top story of our year (and probably topping many decades) here in the San Luis Valley was the Spring Fire, which grew to be the third largest fire in Colorado history, burning more than 108,000 acres and destroying more than 200 houses. It all started with a small fire pit where an illegal Danish immigrant was cooking some meat. There was an open fire ban at the time. The man has been charged with 141 counts of felony arson, accounting for the houses that were destroyed on this side of La Veta Pass, and his case is still pending in court.
Such a lesson we can take from this unfortunate event that such a small flame can result in such devastating damage. Fortunately no humans were killed, although some wildlife did not survive.
It was also a year of transition for Adams State University, which replaced its president and due to budget constraints had to let some staff members go. Out of those difficult times, however, the university is emerging stronger and optimistic. We now have an interim president who is just what the university needed in so many ways, especially in boosting morale. I hope the trustees keep Dr. Cheryl Lovell permanently, as they indicated they would. I knew I liked her when she said at the community meeting before her appointment that she had been known in her previous educational institution as the “thank you” president because she sent out so many thank you cards to staff and others.
As occurs each year, the Valley lost some of its leaders, some to be expected because of their age and others tragically due to cancer or other causes. I think of Jeff Woodward, for example, who knew no stranger and always tried to make everyone he met his friend. His cancer took him way too fast, and he passed away right before the Beat the Heat barbecue event he had begun a few years earlier and about a month before the Early Iron Festival with which he had been associated for so many years.
I also think of Judge Patrick Hayes who died in late May after fighting cancer. When we use the term “honorable” for a judge, we could very justifiably use it for Judge Hayes. He was an honorable man and a thoughtful judge. His was not only a loss to the courtrooms but also the communities of the Valley.
We lost some of our water leaders like Melvin Getz, Mac McFadden and Ralph Curtis. We lost long-time Alamosa Mayor Farris Bervig, former Costilla County Sheriff Amos Medina and our long-time country veterinarian Dr. Ben Konishi. We lost folks like Dorothy Romero who along with her husband “Boogie” volunteered in so many ways in the community from senior citizen events and the health fair to veterans’ events.
We lost folks who had lived 100 years and those who only lived a few months.
I could list so many others who touched many lives or just a few in their immediate circles, but for each there is an emptiness through their loss.
We as Valley residents mourned and celebrated together. We enjoyed hundreds of days of sunshine and a few that were overcast, just as in our personal lives.
And as the recurring theme from Sangre de Cristo’s high school graduation, we stood “stronger together.” We have always stood “stronger together” when we have united as a Valley, because we do have much more in common than in contrast. As we face future challenges, including another potential water export proposal, we will continue to stand “stronger together.”