Local man’s community work stretched beyond plastic bags

Family, friends praise Erich Bussian’s vision

Erich Bussian, third from right, in a Colorado jersey, is joined by family members after finishing the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic in May. Enlarge photo

Courtesy of Elizabeth Bussian

Erich Bussian, third from right, in a Colorado jersey, is joined by family members after finishing the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic in May.

For Erich Bussian, the plastic bag was a symbol. It was a symbol of something small that people could easily change to help save the world’s most precious resources. And in many ways, Bussian’s work spearheading efforts to ban plastic bags in Durango encapsulated the qualities that defined him as a person, according to his wife, Mip van Suchtelen, and former wife, Elizabeth Bussian.

He was someone who saw the horizon and energized people to get there, someone who wasn’t afraid to start things on his own, and someone who didn’t shy away from a difficult project, they said.

“He had the optimism that we can change things and had the leadership and courage to do it,” van Suchtelen said in an interview on Sunday.

Bussian died by suicide early Saturday morning. He was 53.

Many who knew him describe Bussian as a vibrant, forward-thinking leader whose work touched many corners of the community.

He was CEO of Freenotes Harmony Park, a member of the Four Corners Office of Resource Efficiency board of directors and a driving force behind the Durango Bag It campaign. Bussian was an adviser for the Southwest Colorado Small Business Development Center, past chairman of the La Plata County Democratic Party and a former member of the Sustainability Alliance of Southwest Colorado’s board of directors.

Anything that had to do with taking care of the planet and being more sustainable caught his interest, his wife said.

A Durango resident since 1999, Bussian was attracted to the community’s liberal bent and the residents who were engaged with each other and with the climate, van Suchtelen said.

He was an “awesome dad” to his two children, Bella, 17, and Peter, 19, Elizabeth Bussian said.

A self-described “project man,” Bussian had set his sights on the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic and completed the race this May.

He joined Freenotes about year ago and brought thoughtful leadership to the nine-person company, president Christy Cooke said on Sunday. Bussian was still employed with the company at the time of his death.

“We are certainly shocked and at a loss,” Cooke said. “We will miss Erich and his vision and his leadership.”

He became chairman of the board of the Four Corners Office for Resource Efficiency about a month ago.

“I would call him a brilliant mind,” said Gregg Dubit, 4CORE’s executive director. “He cared tremendously about our community and the future of our community.”

Bussian’s death was unexpected for even his closest family members.

“For us, it came as a big surprise,” van Suchtelen said, “a terrible surprise.”

ecowan@durangoherald.com

Bussian Enlarge photo

Bussian