‘Papa George’ retires after 20 years as Birth Center nurse in Steamboat

Tracie and George Detwiler visit with Blaize Hilton, who was born on Feb.19, and his mom Kendra Huyard inside the special care nursery at the Birth Center at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. George, a registered nurse, is retiring after 20 years working in Steamboat Springs. His wife, Tracie, who is neonatal nurse practitioner at the hospital, is expected to follow him into retirement this summer. (Photo by John F. Russell)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — After 20 years caring for the tiniest and most vulnerable of Routt County residents, George and Tracie Detwiler are saying goodbye to the special care nursery at the Birth Center at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat Springs.

Best known as “Papa George,” George, a registered nurse, retired Tuesday.

“He’s a big teddy bear,” said co-worker Kelli Beckvermit-Prine. “He’s the most caring and conscientious person, with a heart of gold.”

She said she’ll miss his personality, fun and laid-back spirit and ability to go with the flow.

“And his level of expertise,” Beckvermit-Prine added.

Tracie, his wife of eight years and a neonatal nurse practitioner, will officially retire this summer.

George began his career as a psychiatric nurse in Pennsylvania, before deciding to take a break and move to Colorado. In Durango, he worked for his cousin’s flooring business.

After a few years he was ready to get back into health care and decided to head to the Yampa Valley, where his sister Faith Detwiler worked as a nurse.

Doing an initial phone interview, George recalled, “They said, ‘We love your sister. If you are anything like her, we’ll take you!’”

George didn’t have much experience with babies, but when he saw Faith sitting in a rocking chair bottle-feeding a baby, he was sold.

And working with babies came very naturally to George. His favorite part about caring for “God’s little miracles,” he said, is the incredible potential waiting in those tiny wriggling figures. He also loves interacting with the families.

“I think fathers really appreciated having a man with big hands caring for their babies,” Tracie said. “And saying to them, ‘Come over here and change a diaper.’ He helps fathers get more comfortable in taking care of their babies. It’s a huge bonus for our team.”

The close-knit unit is tasked with caring for babies 32 weeks and older and over a certain weight specification. They also care for babies born with health issues.

“It’s great to be able to keep those babies here,” Tracie said, as opposed to being transported to Denver.

The babies stay under the watchful care of George, Tracie and the rest of the team until they are strong and stable enough to go home. Mothers usually stay nearby.

The nurses provide feeding and respiratory support, monitor vitals, help new mothers and stabilize babies who have to be transported to Denver.

A newborn can get very sick very quickly, George said, and they’ve had “a lot of close calls but always with happy endings.” George remembers one particularly harrowing night caring for a 28-week-old baby that had to wait out a snowstorm before going to Denver.

As a guy surrounded by women, George said he learned kindness, compassion and caring.

“And it spilled over to the rest of my life,” George added.

George and Tracie also find great joy when grateful parents come up to them around town, proudly showing them their growing children. It happens about once a week, they said.

Growing their own relationship within the walls of the Birth Center, George and Tracie were friends for about 10 years before they started dating.

When Tracie was deep in grief after putting down a beloved dog, it was George whom she instinctively called. After he helped her through the particularly traumatic ordeal, she thought, “This is more than a friend. This is a really good guy.”

When George says he “owes a big debt of gratitude” to his sister Faith, it is not only for leading him to a new professional calling and a community he loves, but also to his wife.

As for what’s next, George first will get used to sleeping in.

The couple plans to stay in Steamboat and do some traveling. One of the things George is most looking forward to in retirement is more volunteering.

“He’s Mr. Volunteer,” Tracie said.

To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email or follow her on Twitter @KariHarden.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Steamboat and Routt County make the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.