Troy Zabel, former superintendent of the Bayfield School District, died Sunday, Sept. 16, from brain cancer.
Zabel, 52, died surrounded by his family in Hayden.
He was hired as Bayfield’s superintendent on July 1, 2011, and retired on June 30, 2017, after announcing earlier that month that he had brain cancer. He cut back on his administrative duties in 2016. After his retirement, he continued to work on special projects for the district.
Bayfield school staff organized a get-well party, concert and fundraiser for Zabel in October 2016. He also was the honorary assistant coach of the Bayfield High School volleyball team for a game that fall, which featured signs that read “Zabel Strong.” The girls took the Intermountain League volleyball title from Alamosa that night.
During his six years in Bayfield, the district built the Bayfield Performing Arts Center, baseball field and practice gym at BHS. In 2016, district voters passed a $28.7 million bond issue to build a new elementary school for third through fifth grades, as well as to renovate the current Bayfield Elementary School into a K-2 building. The state contributed grant funding, as well. Ribbon-cuttings were held for those facilities in August.
Zabel is remembered as a “visionary.”
“He had the best vision for education of any superintendent I’ve seen,” Leon Hanhardt, the principal at BHS, said when Zabel retired. “His leadership and focusing on building relationships was second to none.”
Other educators agreed.
“So very hard to express the extent of respect held for this man,” Becky Smith, a former educator and Bayfield school board member, wrote Monday on Facebook. “His leadership was one of the very best I’ve encountered. The energy in his smile and the twinkle in his eye still warm my heart.”
Kevin Aten, the new superintendent in Bayfield, met Zabel 22 years ago when they were attending principal school at Colorado State University.
“Our work in public education is people, and he could inspire and lead people,” Aten said. “That’s what he had a gift for.”
Zabel also was a proponent of rural education, and often advocated for small school districts at Colorado Department of Education meetings.
Bayfield school employees were informed of his death Monday morning in staff meetings, Aten said.
“They are living Troy’s legacy of supporting students and families.”
Zabel attended BHS graduation ceremonies in May and thanked community members for their support during his tenure as superintendent and during his illness.
Zabel is survived by a wife and three children. Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced.