After successfully raising four children and earning a good living in eastern Colorado, as my wife and I were approaching retirement, we found ourselves questioning where we were living, and why.
You hope that, once your kids are grown, they’re a little smarter than you, especially after paying for all that higher education! Oddly enough, they did all leave home — two settled on the Western Slope of Colorado, while the other two chose distant destinations: one across the country and the other half way around the world — which led us to question if they were indeed smarter than their parents!
The two who chose western Colorado made us take stock: we wondered what they knew that we didn’t about this part of the state. Visiting in all seasons during those last years of financial preparation for retirement made it clear what attracted them: natural beauty beyond compare, the friendliest people in the world, a relaxed pace of life that we hadn’t known since our childhood years in Montana, and “traffic jams” consisting of three or four cars that gave new meaning to taking a ride for the sheer fun of it! As we researched, we discovered that Montrose, a city of about 20,000, was home to a first-class hospital (ranked one of the best in Colorado), a medical community rivaling anything on the Front Range, a lower cost of living, and an airport with more commercial flights per day than any other airport in Colorado after Denver International Airport — all things that were especially important to us in selecting a retirement home.
So in 2014 we packed up and headed west! The misadventures of moving were sweetened by the warm reception we received in Montrose. Retirement came, as it does to many young 60-somethings, as a shock: after working 60- hour weeks for 40 years, sitting around is a cruel option.
Not long after getting settled, I saw an ad in the newspaper seeking volunteers at the Downtown Visitor Center. They were looking for outgoing people to share their enthusiasm for the area, and I thought, “How better to keep active learning about our newly adopted home and sharing relocation experiences with others contemplating a similar life change?” There’s so much to love about Montrose, and talking with travelers is always fascinating because you learn as much from them as you might hope to share. I worried that being new to the area would hinder my ability to answer visitor questions. Once I got started, though, I quickly realized just how many resources are available at the center — and that there’s always a staff expert nearby and willing to assist the visitor and me at the same time!
One of the things I enjoy most about volunteering is the chance to visit with international guests, especially when they are from southern Germany where I lived and worked for a time while with Hewlett Packard. These folks always seem stunned to hear me talk about their home with such fond memories — it makes for fun, engaging, and often lengthy conversations — and they especially appreciate the secrets of our area that I can share with them!
The marketing skills I developed during my career at Hewlett Packard found a natural outlet at the center — what marketing professional doesn’t love talking?! — I also took advantage of the opportunity to branch out. I’ve contributed photographs and taken the opportunity to research and craft content for several travel brochures on scenic drives, rock crawling, and wine tasting — fun subjects I never encountered in high tech!
A personal highlight occurred after several visitors asked if we sold holiday ornaments. We did not, so I suggested that the center might create and sell some depicting local attractions. I soon forgot about the idea. About a year later when I came into volunteer, a large box was on the reception area floor. One of the staff asked if I would like to open it, and as I did, a crowd gathered to watch. I was shocked to find inside marvelous 3-D, painted brass ornaments beautifully depicting the nearby iconic Painted Wall at the Black Canyon National Park!
We regularly welcome folks who are thinking about moving to Montrose. My recent first-hand relocation experience often lends itself to long conversations with these guests. I share what appeals most to me since relocating: the gentle four-season climate, the Uncompahgre River that runs through our special Riverbottom Park and water sports park, the fact that there are first-class viniculture establishments nearby, the variety of scenic byways in every direction, and some of the world’s friendliest people.
I find these conversations particularly rewarding. Moving can be daunting. Knowing I have helped someone — whether addressing practical concerns or alleviating angst by reassuring them through my own example — provides me with a deep sense of purpose and satisfaction.
Volunteering indeed fulfills my desire to stay active and my thirst for knowledge about our new home. I have met locals who stopped in to see the newly established Downtown Visitor Center, and soon got to know many folks in the community and in municipal government, given it is operated by the City of Montrose.
He said, “Yes!”
With about six months of volunteer experience under my belt, Bob Nicholson, the mayor at the time, encouraged me to apply for a vacancy on the City of Montrose Planning Commission. I did and was appointed to a position involving citizen representation in local development and zoning issues. In addition to volunteering at the Downtown Visitor Center, serving on the Planning Commission was an excellent vehicle to meet city staffers and gain an understanding of some of the mechanics of municipal government.
Being on the Planning Commission quickly fostered in me a sense of pride and community ownership. I was amazed at how quickly a place can truly become “home,” and how immediately and how much you can care about making it even better than it already is. Again, the friendly, welcoming people made my time on the commission an enjoyable, rewarding one.
After serving about one year of a four-year term on the Planning Commission, I was approached by several people asking if I’d be interested in running for City Council in the April 2016 election. My first reaction was, “No! What on earth do I know about running for office?”
But they were persistent. As I asked questions, I realized that serving on council would be an effective way to give back after years of career-building and benefiting from the community.
With my wife’s blessing, I started campaigning in the fall of 2015, educating myself on city topics and developing campaign literature. I was surprised by the support I received. People were, again, friendly and receptive, and the fact that I had moved here barely two years earlier appeared not as a barrier but in most cases an asset. I was ecstatic to be elected and start my four-year term in April 2016.
Being a member of City Council is exciting and educational. Every day is a learning experience — meeting new people, understanding new issues, trying to do things to improve the city and most importantly the lives of the citizens. Montrose is one of just a few cities in the U.S. — and even fewer in Colorado — on the brink of becoming a Gigabit City by partnering with private business to bring the internet over fiber optic cable to every business and residence in town. With my career in high tech, this is a natural passion, and I’m proud to be part of the team making it happen.
One of the highlights as a freshman city councilman was to represent Montrose at the Gigabit City Summit in Kansas City, where I met people from across the nation engaged in similar internet broadband development projects. I became aware of the technical and social issues they face and some of the solutions they are deploying. It was eye-opening to see that the work being done in Montrose is close to — and in some cases ahead of — what’s happening in large metropolitan areas across the nation.
In many ways life has come full circle now, from serving the nation as a young military officer, to serving my family in private enterprise, and finally back to serving my community through volunteerism and holding public office. Retirement and relocation to Montrose continues to be one of the biggest adventures of our lives. It has shown us new opportunities and new friends beyond anything we could have envisioned in our previous life. Montrose is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow!