Making history on his terms
Steamboat Springs — “Single!” Such a call was customary before the advent of separate singles lines at ski resorts. And on a beautiful bluebird day in early February 1976, barely a moment passed before Bill McKelvie’s request for a lift companion was answered.
“A young lady also said ‘single’ about the same time I did,” McKelvie said. “She was cute as a button with a funny Wisconsin accent.”
Fate, which already had its hands all over this chance meeting, officially made itself known as the strangers rode the lift together.
“The first words out of her mouth were, ‘are you really Bill McKelvie?'” he said. In those days, putting your name on your skis was standard procedure.
“I just thought that was the strangest opening line,” McKelvie said.
The woman, as it turned out, was Christine Derscheid, a Hayden Valley Press reporter assigned to interview McKelvie, a Steamboat Springs High School history teacher, about a class magazine project he had undertaken.
“So that’s how I met my wife,” McKelvie chuckled. “We skied all afternoon together, then we had a beer at the Afterglo (Pub). The rest is history.”
History. It’s an appropriate word when discussing McKelvie, who retires at the end of this school year after 30 years with the district.
History is full of great stories, as McKelvie says, which makes it fitting that McKelvie — a passionate history teacher — is full of them.
Like the one about how he first came to Steamboat.
The year was 1973, and after two years teaching history in the rural, northeastern Colorado town of Holyoke, McKelvie knew it was time to move on.
One of his Holyoke students moved to Steamboat with her family during the school year.
“I thought, ‘oh, geez, Steamboat Springs. When you’re way out there (in Holyoke), it sounds like heaven,” McKelvie said.
He had already signed an employment contract with the Rock Springs, Wyo., school district when he learned of a history opening in Steamboat.
McKelvie called then-Superintendent George Sauer, who happened to be reading McKelvie’s resume at the time of the call.
“History is full of timing and fate,” McKelvie said.
One interview later, McKelvie had a new position as a U.S. history teacher here.
“It meant I had to call the superintendent at Rock Springs and tell him I wasn’t coming, but I just couldn’t pass up teaching in Steamboat Springs,” McKelvie said. “Everything I love to do is here.”
McKelvie cherishes the rich outdoor lifestyle that thrives in the area.
“I love the outdoor sports. I don’t think you can find a better place to hunt and fish in the state than Routt County,” he said.
While an active lifestyle has always been an interest of his, teaching hasn’t.
Born in Colorado Springs, the son of an Air Force officer, young Bill McKelvie struggled through school, where history was his least favorite subject.
“When I was in high school, I hated history,” he said. “I thought it was the worst course you could possibly take.”
He enrolled at Western State College in 1966, but not for educational purposes.
“The only reason I went to college was to get out of the Vietnam War,” he said.
When it came time to register for classes, none of his preferred choices were left. So he registered for a junior- and senior-level history course.
He loved the teacher, and the rest is, well, history.
“I have a passion for U.S. history,” McKelvie said.
Despite 32 years teaching it, the passion hasn’t faded.
“I feel I have the same passion now, teaching history, that I did back in 1971 at my first year in Holyoke,” he said. “I thought I’d only be a teacher four or five years. I never thought I’d last 32 years total, much less 30 years in the same town.”
Teaching has its fair share of obstacles and challenges, but none are as tough to overcome as getting through to the students who are just like McKelvie was at their age, he said.
But when he does get through, the joy of making that impact outshines all the difficulties.
“When all of a sudden you see that light bulb kind of go on, that’s what makes teaching so rewarding,” McKelvie said. “I want my students to have that individual self-confidence that comes from knowledge, and not just history knowledge.”
The mark McKelvie has left on Steamboat is unmistakable. About 3,500 local students — including his son and daughter — have passed through at least one of his classes over the years, leaving one hard-pressed to find a local who doesn’t know McKelvie first-hand.
While eating lunch at a local restaurant recently — McKelvie is known so well by the restaurant’s staff that no menus or orders are necessary — McKelvie bumped into former student Lilia Utu.
“He’s awesome,” she said. “He was my favorite teacher. The way he tells stories, it makes history come alive. Everyone I know loves Mr. McKelvie.”
Like McKelvie, Steamboat Springs Middle School teacher Winston Walker has educated local children for 30 years. Also like McKelvie, Walker is a member of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Needless to say, the two know each other well.
“He loves helping kids and teaching them about our past, as well as predicting the future,” Walker said.
And McKelvie’s as reliable outside the classroom as he is inside of it, Walker said. “He’s as good a friend as you can ask,” Walker said. “If you’re in need and you know Bill, he helps you out.”
Circumstances within the school district have told McKelvie it’s time to move on, but his second job is sure to keep him entertained. For the past five years, McKelvie has worked at the Wild Horse Gallery in the Sheraton, where he sells art.
But wherever life away from the classroom takes him, history will always be part of Bill McKelvie. And here’s to guessing that McKelvie will forever be a part of Steamboat history.
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STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Explore a mix of in-person and virtual events happening this weekend in Routt County.