Buddy King’s family, community says goodbye to local legend
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — After eight years struggling with a number of setbacks brought on by a series of strokes, local legend Buddy King never stopped reminding those around him just how lucky he felt.
“At the very end, still even with everything he had been through, he felt like he was the luckiest guy — so much because of the family that he and my mom created,” said Colleen, one of Buddy’s daughters.
On Oct. 2, Buddy passed away in his sleep. He was 72. Colleen said, even at the end, when her father struggled to complete long sentences, he kept reminding family members how lucky he felt.
He spent his final day with his wife of 32 years, Joanie, and surrounded by their children: Colleen, 29; McKenyon, 21; Brody, 23; Shannon, 31; and Tara, 33. For the past eight years, Joanie has been by her husband’s side providing care through the journey.
“All seven of us were all together in a room and having a dance party and listening to music,” Colleen said of that final day. “He was always really good about making sure he brought us together. So he brought us together one last time.”
The family made the most of their time together, and instead of sitting around and feeling sad, they followed in their father’s footsteps by finding the positive side.
“He definitely kind of took a dramatic turn for the worse,” Shannon said of the past several months. “So, all of us kids came back, and we had a beautiful day Friday with all seven of us kind of laughing and crying and sharing stories. It was a beautiful end to a pretty tough journey.”
The family has set up the Buddy King Memorial Fund at Yampa Valley Bank in Steamboat Springs. Checks can be made out to the fund and sent to 600 S. Lincoln Ave., Suite 100, or they can be dropped off at the bank. For information, call the main line at 970-879-2993.
Buddy’s longtime friends remembered him as a phenomenal athlete, a businessman, a great father and a role model.
“If there ever was anybody who qualified for the legend status, it would definitely be him,” said friend Mike Diemer. “He was a mentor to me, for sure. He helped me out a lot when I was opening our business. The proof was in the pudding with him, and if you look at his business, his legacy and his family, you can’t help but just be awe-inspired.”
Scott Fox met Buddy through softball. The two became friends while winning state and national championships as part of the Alpine Taxi men’s softball team.
“Buddy was a phenomenal athlete. He played football in high school and in college, but he was a great, great athlete,” Fox said. “He was also my role model. He taught me how to be a better dad. He taught me how to be a better husband and he taught me how to be a better man — period.”
Donald Francis King Jr. arrived in Steamboat in 1974, but nobody ever called him by his real name.
“His sister actually gave him the name ‘Buddy’ because she was calling him Bubby when he was first born because she couldn’t say brother,” said Buddy’s daughter Tara. “People called him that his entire life. We always joked that we knew it was a telemarketer if they called and asked for Donald — nobody called him Donald.”
He grew up in New York City, attended Iona (New York) College, where he played football before he explored the country, hitchhiking from Mexico to Canada.
“He was hitchhiking across country and then just kind of landed in Steamboat,” Shannon said.
Once he arrived in Steamboat, it didn’t take him long to make an impact.
A natural-born athlete, he fit in perfectly with Steamboat’s active lifestyle. He spent his summers playing softball, his fall season on the football field and his winters on the slopes.
Between activities, Buddy managed to meet Joanie and start Tin Man Roofing, which he owned and operated from 1979 to 2017. He was a generous man, according to friend Bruce Guettich, and gave many an opportunity to work.
“Buddy was a tremendously giving human,” Guettich said.
In the winter Buddy would ski with a group of friends, including Guettich and Rick Boyle, meeting nearly every morning to head up on the mountain to play in the powder or make a few turns.
“I met him in 1975 in the Tugboat, back when the Ski Time Square scene was a big deal,” Boyle said. “We started playing softball for the Tugboat team back then, and we’ve been friends ever since.
“He was the guy that was good at everything that involved a ball, whether it was football, basketball, golf or tennis.”
Boyle and Buddy, having spent a lot of time on the slopes, also shared a mutual love for fat skis.
“We would call each other ‘brother fat boy’ because he and I were some of the first people that I knew of that skied on fat skis up on the mountain,” Boyle said. “People would always make fun of us and say, ‘Hey, those are cheaters’ skis.’ Buddy would just say, ‘See if you can keep up with us’ in the Shadows or Closets.”
While Buddy was a tremendous athlete, there was much more to him.
As a father, Buddy encouraged his children to pave their own path and to love sports. He would run football plays in his living room, play pick-up basketball with his kids and their friends in the driveway and coached numerous youth teams over the years.
“He gave us a lot of room to grow and fail on our own and figure out stuff by ourselves, which is pretty cool,” said his son McKenyon. “He was always the happy, fun dad who made situations, even bad ones, fun.”
McKenyon said when things would go wrong, his dad always found a way to turn it around.
“If the mark of a man is what your family is like then his kids, every one of them, are just an awesome human being, and his wife — they’re just a great, great, great human family,” Boyle said. “I consider myself lucky, and I told him so, that it was great that he let me be part of his clan.”
Buddy suffered a stroke in 2012 while skiing on Mount Werner. The event sent him to the hospital and was the start of a journey that drastically changed his lifestyle.
“It’s crazy because we thought he was hit so hard at that point, but his recovery was really pretty miraculous,” Tara said.
Buddy and his occupational therapist created a special glove with adhesive straps so he could still grip a club with his bad arm. That allowed him to return to playing golf, Tara said.
But after another stroke in 2014 sent him back to the hospital in Grand Junction, doctors told him he would need a lift to get out of bed and into a wheelchair. Doctors in Denver told him he might be able to get out of bed, but that he would not walk.
“He never took no for an answer,” Colleen said. “He took his first steps, and then he was able to walk my sister Shannon down the aisle at her wedding, which was a really a beautiful thing for all of us.”
Colleen said she asked her dad once if he was ever mad about his strokes. She said he said, “No,” because they taught him humility and checked his ego. After Buddy’s first stroke, the girls stepped in to take care of the boys who were still in high school.
“Me and my siblings got pretty close after he had his stroke because my older sisters kind of had to take care of me and my brother,” said Buddy’s son Brody.
Even after the strokes, Buddy knew what it took to be a good dad.
“I remember one time when he was in the hospital, I didn’t know he was going to be there, but him and my mom met us at a game in Palisade,” Brody said. “It was really special because he probably broke out of the hospital. I would have been surprised if they would have let him leave, it was good because he meant a lot to all my friends, so the whole team went up in the stands and gave him a hug before the game.”
Pio Utu, another longtime friend, said Buddy’s love of sports was inspirational to the young people he coached and that his friend will be missed.
“Good friends and quality people like Buddy make Steamboat a wonderful place,” Utu said. “There is an old saying in Samoan that when people leave the islands, there is rejoicing on the other side of the island. We miss him, but he was suffering.”
John F. Russell is the business reporter at the Steamboat Pilot & Today. To reach him, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.
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