Betse Grassby selected as 2018 Hazie Werner Award winner
February 11, 2018
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Standing on the banks of the Yampa River in February 1969, a group of young college students vacationing in Steamboat Springs for the weekend stared up at the sky as the Winter Carnival fireworks illuminated Howelsen Hill.
"It was in that moment I decided I wanted to move here," said Steamboat Art Museum Executive Director Betse Grassby.
And as the 105th annual Winter Carnival festivities unfolded last week, Grassby was named as the 2018 recipient of the Hazie Werner Award and took the opportunity to look back on memories formed during 46 years of living in Ski Town USA.
The annual award recognizes a local female community member who represents Werner's legacy through volunteer work, community commitment and support of local organizations. Hazie Werner was famous in the Yampa Valley for her gracious and caring philosophy of giving and her tireless commitment to making Steamboat the unique, supportive town it is today.
A reception to honor Grassby will be held from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 21 at Haymaker Clubhouse.
"When I ski as an ambassador on Fridays, I put Steamboat Springs as my hometown," Grassby said. "I've loved this community since that first weekend I was here. I was drawn to this community – the people, the things we do and the crazy way we look at the world."
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During her time in the Yampa Valley, Grassby has shared her passion for the arts and enhanced its presence in Steamboat in a myriad of ways.
In 1988, Grassby took a $4,000 grant from the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association's community development fund and co-founded the Strings in the Mountains Music Festival. She served as Strings’ executive director, chief operating officer and program and production director for non-classical concerts until her retirement in 2013. She left behind a legacy as well as a $1.5 million budget and year-round programming.
After retirement, Grassby continued giving back to the Steamboat arts community by consulting for the Steamboat Symphony Orchestra and eventually accepting the Steamboat Art Museum’s executive director position, where she spearheaded a major capital campaign and renovation of the historic Rehder Building.
In addition to her work at Strings and now SAM, Grassby has dedicated time to serving numerous organizations, including the Steamboat Springs Board of Realtors, Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club (including chairman of the Winter Carnival in 1977 and 1978), the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association, Yampa Valley Electric Association Operation Round Up and two stints on the Steamboat Springs Arts Council.
"There was a wonderful group of people who moved out here in the ’70s, and we saw things we could do, and we did it," Grassby said. "I see it a lot now in the community with the young people who are starting to make a difference, and I feel so lucky I was able to be a part of creating and building the amazing cultural institutions that are part of this town now."
"I have personally witnessed her drive, dedication and passion in enhancing the character of community institutions such as the Strings Music Festival, Steamboat Chamber Resort Association and, most recently, the Steamboat Art Museum," said Charles Porter, who nominated Grassby for the award. "Betse has made a measurable impact as a passionate advocate for the arts and entertainment in Steamboat Springs."
When it comes to living in a ski town, Grassby said she's seen the struggles of working multiple jobs and issues with housing younger generations face now.
"I moved here when the lodging was so tight and was living with eight people in the Milner Schoolhouse," she said. "Then I moved into an Herbage town home making merely $300 a month in the early ’70s."
When it comes to words of advice, Grassby said, "No one is going to wait for you to make things happen in your life. You have to go and get after it.
"I was the youngest of four kids, and my mother used to always say, 'Make it better because you are there,’" Grassby said. "That's what the women of this award have done … It's about doing something for this community and trying to make a difference. I just try to do my best because I care about this community and the people in it."
Grassby joins 29 other recipients who have received the Hazie Werner Award since its inception in 1989.
Previous recipients include: Skeeter Werner Walker, Katy Rodolph Wyatt, Eleanor Bliss, Carol Baily, Lucile Bogue, Criss Fetcher, Dorothy Wither (posthumously), Sureva Towler, Rita Valentine (posthumously), Geneva Taylor, Carol Schaffer, Gloria Gossard, Jayne Hill, Elaine Gay, Millie Beall, Arianthe Stettner, Wanda Redmond, Margi Briggs-Casson, Margaret ”Poogie” Dawes (posthumously), Nancy Stahoviak, Carol Booth Fox, Diane Moore, Susan E. Birch, Christine Painter, Marsha Daughenbaugh, Sarah Floyd, Nancy Kramer, Deb Werner and Jane Howell.
"I feel truly humbled and honored to be a part of this amazing group of women who have come before me and who have given so much to this community," Grassby said. "Hazie was a wonderful woman, and it means so much."