Selfless devotion earns Steamboat’s Pio Utu recognition |

Selfless devotion earns Steamboat’s Pio Utu recognition

Pio Utu's contributions to the community have garnered him a lot of recognition in the past, but being named Philanthropist of the Year stirs up emotions, and, honestly, it makes him a little uncomfortable.

That’s because Utu's urge to mentor local youth and empower them to become accomplished adults has been 100 percent selfless, and being recognized goes against that.

"I've been rewarded just seeing the kids be successful," Utu said. "That's one of the highest rewards you can get."

Utu was honored by the Yampa Valley Community Foundation on Sunday, along with the Business Philanthropist of the Year and the Young Philanthropist of the Year.

Utu, a native of Samoa, started coming to Steamboat in 1980 to do geology work, and he moved here permanently in 2002.

Utu always wanted a large family, but after having two children with his wife, Rebecca, the decision was made not to grow the family further.

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Instead, Utu said, Rebecca told him to adopt the children of Steamboat Springs.

Since then, Utu has volunteered countless hours to train local youth with the hope they will become more than just great athletes.

This summer, local students wake up early to train with Utu three days each week at Howelsen Hill.

His philosophy behind nurturing future generations is simple.

"It's a must," Utu said. "It's not 'We got to do it.' It's as much as having oxygen in our system."

Steamboat Spring High School volleyball coach Wendy Hall said the recognition Utu received is well-deserved.

"He helped me with the first team I took to the state tournament in 1991," Hall said. "He's amazing. He's such a giver, and he's really great with the kids."

Hall said Utu's work with the kids goes beyond helping them become faster and stronger.

"It's about him creating relationships with kids and helping them grow up," Hall said. "He really is a teacher at heart. He gets the big picture, which is really, really valuable in our school."

Utu credits his contributions to his supportive wife, as well as his parents and grandparents.

"It's not a lifestyle," Utu said. "It's our way of life in my family."

Utu's giving and mentorship was at the heart of a graduation speech given by Steamboat valedictorian Charlie Harrington.

"Since the sixth grade, Pio has made me sweat, puke, wanna lay down and cry and ultimately become a better athlete," Harrington said.

Harrington has been working out with Utu this summer to prepare for the United States Military Academy at West Point.

Harrington said that, after a brutal workout, Pio would tell the kids to stretch, then take them out to breakfast.

"When you consider how much money Pio probably spends on breakfast a year, he loses money the more he spends time with us," Harrington said. "Yet, he does this, and he loves it, because he truly puts service above self. He gives and gives and gives."

Young Philanthropist of the Year

Aside from giving accolades to Uto, Harrington is being recognized as this year's Young Philanthropist of the Year.

"Growing up with two parents who served in the military, my motto has always been service above self," Harrington said.

Harrington has spent four summers working with Steamboat Adaptive Recreational Sports, or STARS, which provides adventures to people with disabilities, including many children.

"You've never seen so many smiles in one place," Harrington said.

Harrington won over those who run STARS.

"Charlie was an exceptional mentor and counselor for our clients," STARS  executive director Julie Taulman said. "He is caring to everyone, and there were no challenges that he would not take on."

In addition to STARS, Harrington has worked with St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Boys and Girls Club of Steamboat Springs and the Rotary Club of Steamboat Springs.

"Community is a group of people who support one another and are committed to helping each other succeed and thrive," Harrington said."

Business Philanthropist of the Year

Among other things, Debbie Aragon empowers her employees to volunteer, earning her State Farm insurance agency the recognition of Business Philanthropist of the Year.

The staff at the Yampa Valley Community Foundation visited with Aragon and said they could not think of a better recipient.

Aragon had a more modest reaction.

"We are not deserving," Aragon said. "There are so many more deserving businesses."

Aragon moved to Steamboat in 1997 and believes that giving time is more valuable than giving money.

Her eight employees are encouraged to volunteer on the clock for at least three hours each week.

Aragon, herself, has helped with Strings Music Festival, the Rotary Club of Steamboat Springs, Old Town Hot Springs, Routt County United Way, Horizons Specialized Services and the high school booster club.

“I have a need to give back, as I have been so blessed in life," Aragon said.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247, email or follow him on Twitter @SBTStensland