Community remembers Stephen Brown who embraced the Steamboat Springs spirit

Longtime local Stephen Brown died Oct. 19 after a brief illness caused by West Nile virus. A celebration of life was held Oct. 30 at the Brown Ranch west of downtown Steamboat Springs.
The Brown family/Courtesy photo

Cars packed into a large open space that had been turned into a makeshift parking lot near the entrance of the Brown Ranch in west Steamboat Springs on Oct. 30, as those who knew Stephen Brown came out to pay their respects to a man who embraced the spirit of the Steamboat Springs community.

“Enjoying life and being of value to others was very important to my dad,” daughter Lisa Brown said. “He embodied the work hard, play hard culture that made Steamboat such a unique community.”

Brown, 75, died Oct. 19 after a brief illness caused by the West Nile virus. His family said he came in contact with the virus while working at a ranch he owned in Arizona, where he spent part of his winters.

“I’m going to miss Steve,” said friend Jim “Moose” Barrows, who first met Brown in elementary school. “He had a great perspective on the valley. He was the caretaker of a lot of property in the valley, and he was always interested in making sure that that the character of Steamboat was always part of the soul of the community.”

Barrows recalls the fun times the two shared as youngsters bonding over a game of marbles, learning to play golf on a small nine-hole course located on 13th Street or racing down the face of Howelsen Hill Ski Area after school.

“He was a ski racer growing up,” Brown’s daughter Kristin Wilson said. “He raced all through childhood and into high school, and then, he also ski raced in college.”

Brown took his love of skiing to Colorado College in 1964, where he was a member of the ski team. He graduated in 1968 with a degree in economics.

Stephen Brown harvests grain on his family's ranch in Steamboat Springs.
The Brown family/Courtesy photo

“He came back here right away after college and got married and started farming,” Wilson said.

Brown grew timothy hay, alfalfa and small grains while raising horses and cattle. He married Mary Brown and started raising his family on the Brown Ranch, which was located on the west side of Steamboat. He also worked family-owned property on the south side of town.

He never faced a challenge he could not figure out, according to Lisa Brown.

Stephen Brown works to put up hay on one of his ranches.
The Brown family/Courtesy photo

“(He taught me) that there is always a solution to a problem,” Lisa Brown said. “He would say, ‘I have never seen a tractor or a hay truck stay stuck forever, even if it meant building a new route through the snow to get it out.’ He was self taught in many things, and his try-to-figure-it-out tenacity and confidence was a great model to have.”

When federal agriculture policies changed in the ’70s, Brown moved away from small grains to hay.

“From then on, his main focus has been the hay meadows south of Haymaker Golf Course,” Lisa Brown said. “The timothy hay grown at high altitude is some of the highest protein grass there is. His hay was shipped as far away as Japan and eaten by Kentucky Derby racehorses.”

Brown was also a fixture in the community known for his generous, fun and forgiving nature.

Stephen Brown grew up ski racing in Steamboat Springs and went on to be a member of the Colorado College ski team.
The Brown family/Courtesy photo

“He was the biggest supporter of causes — not in a big name on the building way — but in the quiet way of always saying yes,” Lisa Brown said. “Yes to Girl Scout cookies, raffles, 4-H auctions, aviation clubs. He really never said no to a cause, particularly if it was a kid doing the hard work of selling and asking. He liked to help others.”

When he was not on a ranch working, Brown’s family said he could be found exploring the mountains and deserts, often in a plane, on a motorcycle or horse and with a dog or two in tow. His adventures ranged from scuba diving in Cozumel to heliskiing in the Bugaboos.

Ray Selbe remembers exploring Lake Powell with his longtime friend after the dam was built in Glen Canyon.

“We started playing on Lake Powell,” Selbe said. “The first fall, we went in there for nearly a month, and we boated all over the lake for a number of years.”

Selbe said he will miss his friend’s kind and generous spirit and the many adventures they shared.

“We just did so much together, and there are a lot of really good memories,” Selbe said.

For the past 10 years, Brown spent winters in southern Arizona and summers in Steamboat.

“When he got older, he found it easier to feed horses and cattle in the warmer Arizona climate,” Lisa Brown said.

Brown also rekindled his relationship with his high school sweetheart Lexie Siegel in 2004, and the two spent the past 17 years together.

“He was my first true love, and you never get over your first true love,” Siegel said.

She described Brown as well mannered, hard working, kind and witty and said his relationships with family and friends were always a top priority for him.

“Steve was really a truly good man, and I feel so fortunate to have been able to spend the last part of his life with him,” Siegel said. “He loved his grandchildren unconditionally. He was just incredibly loyal to his family.”

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