Steamboat philanthropist Joe Bishop remembered for his quiet giving
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Jim Boyne, former executive director of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, described Joe Bishop as a good friend — a man who will be missed by many.
“They don’t make them like Joe anymore,” Boyne said. “He was a special guy. He had a tough outer shell, but inside, he was just a very generous and giving human being. I’m really sorry to see him go, but his legacy is going to be felt for generations.”
Bishop, 82, died peacefully in his Steamboat Springs home Wednesday, Jan. 2, after a yearlong battle with cancer. He is survived by his wife of 26 years, Sara, five children and nine grandchildren.
The Bishops’ generosity has been making an impact on the Steamboat community since he moved here with Sara and their sons Hunter and Phillip in 2000.
Bishop loved spending time tinkering with old steam engines and would often take motors apart simply to put them back together again. He traveled to places like Africa, Asia and across North America chasing his passion for hunting.
Over the past couple of decades, he developed the Engadin Farm in Namibia’s Okahandja District, where he was working to restore the native species of animals on his ranch. In 2004, Namibia’s Ministry of Environment and Tourism recognized his efforts with a Conservationist and Game Rancher award.
“He was honest; he was caring,” Sara said. “He had a huge heart.”
While living in Steamboat, the couple became huge supporters of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club where Hunter and Phillip both skied.
Bishop, who was also well known throughout rodeo circles where he won numerous regional and national titles and events with the Western States Cutting Horse Association and the National Cutting Horse Association, also supported the Steamboat Springs Pro Rodeo Series.
Bishop didn’t always like the attention that came from giving, but he liked doing it.
“He always kept $2 bills in his pocket,” good friend Tim Borden said.
Borden is director emeritus at with Yampa Valley Bank where Bishop banked and would often request the bills that lined his pockets.
“When he would see little kids, whether it was in the supermarket or the post office, he would give them a $2 bill,” Borden said. “That was kind of his nature in terms of being generous. He supported a lot of our skiers and some of our Olympic candidates throughout their careers. He did it very quietly — I knew about it because I was a close friend — but he didn’t publicize any of that kind of stuff. I think there are a lot of people in this town that would vouch for his generosity that he spread around town.”
Bishop was born in Weatherford, Oklahoma, and moved to Denver in 1946 where he graduated from Wheat Ridge High School in 1955. He spent several years in the U.S. Air Force, where he served honorably as a jet engine mechanic. He returned to the Denver area after his military service and went to work for a small contracting business that his father started.
Through the business, Bishop established a successful career developing housing in the Denver area before he retired in 1987 to focus his attention on philanthropy.
“He didn’t want anybody to know about it; he would never brag about anything,” said Steamboat veterinarian and good friend Mike Gotchey. “He was just this huge, huge presence. He did so much for so many people but didn’t really want anybody to know.”
Bishop’s giving spirit made him one of the top donors at the Winter Sports Club, and he financially supported Olympic athletes like Johnny Spillane, who carried a bear claw that Bishop had given to him in his bag for luck. Bishop also supported Jaelin Kauf during her Olympic run in 2018.
His support also helped UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center make the daVinci surgical system a reality, and he played a huge role in the creation of the UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center’s Jan Bishop Cancer Center, which was named for his sister who lost her battle with cancer at age 27.
“Joe lost his sister to cancer, and he was looking for a way to honor her,” said Ellen Campbell, who worked with Bishop as part of the creation of the cancer center. “This was such an easy fit for him to do the naming for her in her memory.”
Campbell, who now serves as the Winter Sports Club’s director of development, said Bishop was one of several people who helped the club with its transportation safety initiative that replaced all of the club’s aging vans.
“He was a very determined person, and he just doesn’t give willy-nilly. He had to feel that passion,” Campbell said.
While Bishop was never drawn to the spotlight, Campbell recalls him beaming last year when he and Sara were named grand marshals of the Winter Carnival Parade. Campbell said she will always remember Bishop’s smile as he handed out $2 bills to the Winter Carnival princesses.
Nancy Spillane got to know Bishop when she was leading the Lowell-Whiteman Primary School, now known as Steamboat Mountain School.
“There is going to be a hole in our community,” said Spillane, who had two of Bishop’s children in the school when she was in charge. “It’s a hole that nobody else can fill.”
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