Longtime state legislator and current Fort Lewis College Trustee Ellen Roberts was named Citizen of the Year on Thursday at the Durango Chamber of Commerce’s Durango Rocks award ceremony.
The chamber gave out 13 awards in front of a crowd of about 400 at its annual event at the Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College.
Roberts’ decade in the Colorado General Assembly, from 2006 to 2016, was highlighted with passage of the Colorado Water Plan in 2015. The plan started as Roberts’ ambitious idea to end water wars in an arid state through development of eight regional water plans based on river basins.
The organizing principal behind the Water Plan was to bring together formal analysis and study of water shortages and regional challenges in order to – if not end – at least dampen historically bitter water wars.
“I’ve known Ellen for over a decade, and our interests have overlapped from biomass and forestry to health care, and she’s been an untiring advocate for our community,” said Monique DiGiorgio, executive director of the Local First Foundation.
DiGiorgio said Roberts has managed to stay bipartisan even while spending a decade in the Legislature.
Roberts, who served at the Capitol as a Republican, frequently strove to reach across the aisle, and it was a feature many remember.
Jerry Martinez, owner of CJ’s Diner and 2007 Citizen of the Year winner, said, “I’ve seen her in politics and stuff for over a decade, and she’s always fought for what’s important to the community, not as a Republican or a Democrat, but for the community, and I think that’s why she’s had the support she’s always had.”
DiGiorgio said Roberts invests her time in issues fundamental to the community. She said the funds for a community health assessment for the Southwest Health Alliance, which is managed by Local First, were originally obtained by Roberts.
Sherri Rochford read a statement from Roberts, who could not make the ceremony because of a family medical emergency. Roberts remembered in her statement coming over Wolf Creek Pass 30 years ago in a beat-up old truck with her husband, Rick; 2-year-old daughter, Caitlin; and 3-month-old son, Ben; en route to Durango.
The truck broke down on Wolf Creek Pass, and Roberts initially thought, “What have I got myself into?”
Those early doubts about an isolated mountain town at the southern end of the San Juan Mountains quickly disappeared.
“Durango is Rick’s and my beloved home for over 30 years,” Rochford said, reading from Roberts’ statement.
Roberts, 60, born in Hudson, New York, earned a self-designed undergraduate degree in environmental policy from Cornell University.
She moved to Colorado after graduation and worked as a ranger at Rocky Mountain National Park. She earned her law degree from the University of Colorado in 1986. She moved to Durango in 1989.
Roberts served in the Colorado House of Representatives from 2006 to 2009 and in the state Senate from 2010 to 2016.
FLC President Tom Stritikus said her service for the past two years on the Board of Trustees has been invaluable.
“Durango is lucky, and we’re lucky to have her. She cares about students and her knowledge of the legislative process is incredibly helpful to the college.”
Other awardsLa Plata County Clerk and Recorder Tiffany Lee Parker, winner of the Morley Ballantine Award, thanked her staff for working to ensure everyone who wants to vote in the county has a clear a trouble-free path to cast their ballots.
“I’m totally humbled and blessed for this. I thank you,” she said.
Mike Smedley, an executive with the Bank of the San Juans, writer of the Action Line column for The Durango Herald and editor of The Snowdown Sneer, was awarded the first Ultimate Participation Award.
He objected to the lack of credit given the Sneer in the age of fake news. “We’ve been in business for 26 years. The Sneer is the original fake news,” he said.
Trevor Bird, who owns Durango Harley-Davidson with his wife, Catie, also called winning the Small Business of the Year Award “humbling.” He thanked the crowd for the award, saying, “We’ve only been here for 2½ years.”
Kris Oyler, CEO of Peak Food and Beverage and founder of Steamworks Brewing Co., thanked Peak employees, which include those at El Moro Spirits and Tavern and Bird’s, after Peak was named Business of the Year.
“We’ve helped people get through college, we’ve helped people raise families. We wouldn’t be in business without them,” he said.
Through an employee-ownership plan, he said, Peak is now slightly over 40% employee owned.