Tread of Pioneers hands out Leckenby, Larson awards

Tom Ross
Pleasant Valley rancher Bill Gay, left, receives the Leckenby Award from Jim Stanko, representing the Tread of Pioneers Museum.
Tom Ross

— The Tread of Pioneers Museum and its admirers gathered in Steamboat Springs on Wednesday night to honor two people, each with a deep commitment to community involvement.

Pleasant Valley rancher Bill Gay, the son of pioneers, was presented with the 2014 Leckenby Award, and the family of the late Jan Prouty Vail accepted the Larson Award on her behalf.

Master of ceremonies Jim Stanko told the crowd that he had been a senior at Steamboat Springs High School when Gay was a freshman.

“I didn’t get to know Bill too well,” Stanko said, but he recalled that Gay was so deeply involved in 4-H that he was chosen to become a 4-H delegate who traveled abroad and returned to share with others the lessons he had learned.

Later in life, Stanko would call on Gay in a time of need.

“I had become the 4-H leader, and someone proposed we start a youth (livestock) judging team, and I said, ‘Fine, we’ll do that,’ but on the day of the meeting, I realized I didn’t know a darn thing about it,” Stanko recalled. “I called Bill and said, ‘The meeting is tonight. Will you come?’”

Gay not only attended that first meeting but also became the coach of the team for more than 20 years, leading them to winning performances.

“Over those years, he built a successful judging team that traveled to a large tournament on the Eastern Slope and won it,” Stanko recalled. “It really shocked the heck out of the people in Adams County who were used to winning.”

As a rancher, Bill and his family showed a deep commitment to conservation programs. He has served on the boards of the Yampa Valley Land Trust and the Purchase of Development Rights program. Gay and his mother, Elaine, received the 2002 Colorado Riparian Stewardship Award for protecting streams and the Yampa River on their ranch south of Steamboat.

Tread of Pioneers Executive Director Candice Bannister said that during his years on the museum board, Gay always backed the staff and showed an appreciation for their education and training.

“Bill brought great energy to the museum board, shaking it up and always speaking his mind,” Bannister said.

Vail also was generous with her time for community organizations, Stanko said, showing a passion for the natural world while volunteering at the environmental education organization Yampatika and serving as one of the original catalysts at the Yampa River Botanic Park.

She came to Steamboat Springs in 1956 to work for Dr. Hugh Richards after earning a nursing degree at Denver University. She stayed in the valley to marry a young rancher, Carl Vail, and together they founded an agribusiness, Kamar Inc.

Vail was active with many organizations, from the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association to Strings in the Mountains.

Longtime friend Jane Romberg said Vail always was a motivator, urging people to turn in baked goods for a fundraiser or teaching them to make stocking caps for infants while volunteering with the hospital auxiliary.

“She was a great friend, and I miss her,” Romberg said.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

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