by Dawne Belloise
Jack Dietrich is sitting outside on his deck, overlooking the backyard Shangri-La he created. Cement Creek makes a “U” shaped border around his gardens and ponds, where pet rainbow and brown trout swim blissfully in the undulating aquatic greenery, knowing they won’t be cooked up for dinner.
Tiered waterfalls provide the background music as the creek tumbles over the rocks and a wren has built its nest on top of the outdoor speaker. Jack has disconnected that speaker because there are eggs in the nest. His hard work through the years has finally paid off, as he retired this summer, but by no means is he just sitting around in paradise.
Jack was born in Las Animas, Colo., where his dad was the city manager and Jack was the third of six kids. “So my mom was a baby maker,” he laughs. As a young boy going through Catholic school, he received the legendary spankings by the nuns. “I was spanked by the nuns from second grade through eighth grade. They were real strict and I got the back of my hands smacked with a paddle. I was a bad boy,” the altar boy confesses.
Jack played football and participated in wrestling during high school, after he transferred to public schools. He was in La Junta High School for two years before moving to Castle Rock, where he graduated from high school. “Moving from La Junta from to Castle Rock was a really big step because La Junta was just a small town in eastern Colorado. In Castle Rock, all my friends had cars and we’d drag race up the 16th Street Mall before it was a mall.”
Jack arrived in Crested Butte in 1972 for a visit when his father, Norbert, who the old-timers called “Nobby,” came here to put in some of the original infrastructure in Crested Butte South.
“There was a lot of snow that year and I went up to the old Bierstube to watch them ski the Banana. I had never skied when I was a kid and watching them ski really made me want to learn, and so I did,” he says, leaning back with a grin.
Jack joined the Navy right out of high school because his draft number was only 44, and that was pretty much a guaranteed ticket to Vietnam. “I was on the USS Johnson, the DD821, a destroyer. I was a sonar tech, part of the nucleus crew who trained the Reserves to use the equipment to look for submarines.”
His tour took him to the Mediterranean and Persian Gulf, cruising for eight months. “I was in for three years, eight months and eight days,” Jack recounts. When he finished his service in the spring of 1973, he returned to Crested Butte with his Navy severance pay.
He was working construction with Whitey Sporcich and laying pipe in Crested Butte South with Tony Verzuh because Tony had one of the only enormous backhoes in town at the time.
And, Jack started skiing. “They lent me some skis and took me to the top on the Keystone lift, dumped me off and made me ski down Twister, which was a mistake. I was falling every 15 feet for hours,” he laughs about shredding in his leather ski boots and Blizzard skis with screw-in metal edges.
By his third winter, 1974-75, Jack remembers the dry spell where there wasn’t any construction work so he started working at the Peanut Mill, up at the now-beloved Gronk. “The mine had petered out but the mill was still there. It’s where they did the gold leaching. The big mill was built into the hill and extended down. There was a giant building there that was torn down in sometime in the 1970s, and I worked there from midnight to 8 a.m. It was in January and it was 30 below zero with no heat in the building and nasty-ass chemicals. They were bringing the ore from one of the mines in Irwin and stockpiling it for winter processing. My job was breaking up the bigger ore with a sledgehammer. It was the worst job I ever had in my life, not to mention all the chemicals and crap going on there. I only lasted three weeks. I couldn’t do it. So I moved back to Denver and went to work at a paper mill, working noon to midnight, 12 hours on and 12 off. They were recycling paper and grinding it up to make pulp for cereal boxes and other paper products. I did that until the fall of 1974, when I enrolled at Western State College [WSC, now Western State Colorado University].”
Jack lived for free in an old white house just south of Jack’s Cabin and commuted to Gunnison while attending WSC, taking accounting and business management. He was there one year before moving to Anchorage and Homer, Alaska, to work construction.
In that non-stop rain and cold springtime, he only lasted six weeks. Additionally, with the pipeline under construction, there was no place to live since all the housing went to those workers. Jack decided to move back to Castle Rock, and then returned to Crested Butte in the spring 1977 to make it his permanent home.
In the new year of 1978, Jack was hired as manager of the Crested Butte South Metro District, which controls the water, sewer and roads of Crested Butte South. “My dad ended up buying like 400 lots of the 800 lots in Crested Butte South and I bought five lots from my father. My dad built his house on Shavano where there was already infrastructure and sold and traded the other lots. The goal [of the Crested Butte Metro District] was to get water and sewer to every lot, and I completed that goal as manager,” Jack can boast of the culmination of his 40 years on the job.
“Crested Butte South is gonna be pretty successful and it’s already 50 percent built out during the time I’ve been here. During my tenure as district manager, we’ve gone from six to 600 houses. I see it growing even more. It’s the best bargain by far in the valley. There’s at least 15 new houses going in this summer.”
Jack met Paula Terkelsen on the 4th of July in 1984 while she was working the front desk at the Computer Service Bureau, which did the books for Crested Butte South Metro District. They started dating and soon afterwards headed south to Mexico for an extended adventure during the once-lengthy spring off-seasons Crested Butte used to enjoy.
“We rented a car and traveled around the Yucatan. When we got back, I asked her to move into the Shavano house with me,” Jack says, and they married September 7, 1986. Their firstborn, son Rask (it means “fast” in Danish), arrived quickly afterwards, and daughter Alana was born two years later. In 1990, they bought their oasis on Cement Creek and built their home.
After the Crested Butte Fire Protection District came to one of the CBS Metro District board meetings to discuss building a fire hall there, Jack started training as a firefighter in 1998, serving for ten years. Four years after he retired as a firefighter, he was voted onto the board of directors, on which he still serves today.
“Now that I’m retired, I’m busier now than I’ve ever been,” Jack says, as he swats at the relentless biting flies and mosquitos with a tennis racket–shaped bug zapper that sparks and obliterates the insects with a satisfying sizzle. He still has a business called Water Operations, Inc., ensuring the systems are running correctly for subdivisions like Larkspur, Buckhorn Ranch and RV parks, but he says, “I try not to work on weekends anymore. Fly fishing is my passion, and I’ve been getting some good fishing days in. I travel quite a bit, been to Alaska about 15 times over the years to fish, and to Belize and Costa Rica, fishing everywhere I go. I was fishing when I was a little kid. When I moved here in the early 1970s the fishing was phenomenal and nobody cared where you fished.”
Jack feels that town is getting too crowded and his paradise south is the perfect place to be. “I like the fishing and I’m close to skiing. I can leave here and be on the slopes in 30 minutes and there are free buses, too. My grandkids live in Crested Butte South. At some point I kind of see myself going someplace warm for the winter, but I haven’t found that place yet.”