(1933 - )
Ron Lewis grew up in Denver but became acquainted with Evergreen as a teenager when he’d stay with the Anderson family on Upper Bear Creek Road during the summers. He loved the mountains and knew he wanted to live here.
He married Carol Norman in 1955; the couple had three children.
Ron’s career as a developer began with the acquisition of a small parcel of land in Coal Creek Canyon when he was just 15. He built several small cabins while in high school. A deposit from the sale of the property a few years later funded his entry at Colorado State University.
His father had been killed in a racing accident when Ron was a child, so being enterprising about land development helped put him through college. His education would include a degree in construction management and graduate work at the University of Colorado and the University of Northern Colorado in land planning and special education.
“I always thought I’d be involved in development and the physical expression of ideas,” he says.
Operating under the name Buffalo Park Development Co., his projects include Buffalo Park Estates, Bear Mountain Vista, Wilderness Ranches (Larimer County), The Homestead, Cragmont Village, Evergreen Memorial Park, Half Moon Lakes (Lake County), Rio Grande Estates (Boulder), Evergreen South Commercial Center, and Krogh Ranch (Pine). In addition, his development companies included four to provide water to some of his construction projects.
Many parcels of land were acquired from a third party who’d assembled tracts from tax sales when property owners quit paying taxes because their land was inaccessible.
Ron’s plans for developments were often controversial; many proposals to Jefferson County were denied, so many that at one time he sued the county for having denied a vast majority of 20+ proposals up to that point.
Water was often an issue with Ron’s developments. Although late in his career he voiced a commitment to finding and appropriating sufficient water to support development, he admits, “The best opposition [to his projects] has been the demonstration of inadequate water supply.” With loss of control of his companies that provided water, he says, “The community is benefitting from a more disciplined operation.”
From a grave digger to owner of a memorial park
As a contractor in about 1960, he got a call from the Hicks brothers, who had been preparing gravesites at the Bear Creek Cemetery for the oldtimers in Evergreen and were not as eager to provide their services for those not as connected to the community. “It’s your turn,” they said. He’d just bought an electronic backhoe, which provided a new way to excavate, so he took on the job – doing exactly what he was told, digging a grave to certain specifications at a specific location. It was a few days later that Ron got a reminder call telling him he needed to cover the casket, a detail that had been assumed but not conveyed initially.
Being the grave digger was his entrée into the cemetery business. He discovered a need to accommodate the increasing population and to provide additional services not being offered at the time by volunteers coordinating Bear Creek Cemetery, i.e., transporting the casket, supplying pallbearers, coordinating services and even officiating.
In 1965 he started Evergreen Memorial Park at the intersection of North Turkey Creek Road and Hwy. 73 near Marshdale. “At its inception, it was little more than a pasture with a barbed wire fence and horses grazing in the field. Skeptics called it Lewis’ Bury Patch,” he noted. He became a licensed funeral director and provided any or all aspects of caring for the deceased.
The cemetery led to a mortuary, which led to the crematories and then the mausoleums or niches and the treatment of cremains. Evergreen Memorial Park has the capacity of accommodating almost 1 million internments and inurnments.
“Ninety percent of the deaths in Evergreen result in cremation,” Ron says. “The cremation rate is related to income levels and customs. The largest burial rate would be for Hispanics or Jewish and those with doctorate degrees.”
In 2015, area residents are burying more pets than humans, often spending more to bury a horse than a human, the mortician reports.
Over a period of 55-60 years, Ron acquired old farming equipment and abandoned buildings, moving many of them to Evergreen Memorial Park. The barn that now provides a venue for weddings, funerals, and celebrations of all kinds – roughly 150 per year – represents the repurposing of five historic barns, one church, and parts of the former Troutdale Resort. The county sued him (after he’d sought permission to use the barn), thinking he’d never use it for the purpose described.
To maintain agricultural status on the property beyond what was used as a cemetery, the ranch began raising longhorn cattle, horses and later buffalo, which were determined to be incompatible with longhorns. Ron turned to raising buffalo, elk, deer, goats and yaks, all for breeding and human consumption. The big game – including white buffalo, an animal greatly revered by the Native Americans – have attracted visitors far and wide.
Ron had attended the Denver Seminary in 1956, but it wasn’t until 1988 that he became an ordained minister after attending he Conservative Baptist Seminary. He was never a pastor but helped to start five churches including Grace Church of the Rockies and Conference Baptist Church (now known as Aspen Ridge Church). Ron identifies his passion as starting new churches but admits he’s better at implementing his ideas than running an operation long term.
“Of all the things I’ve been involved in, starting churches has been the most rewarding – the most valuable to the church universal and to the community,” Ron says. “The church is a strengthening agent of the family. If anything sustains the community, it’s the family cement that holds the physical and financial community together.”
With a history of track and wrestling in his youth, including championships and competition at the state level, Ron became the first wrestling coach at Evergreen High School back when there was just one school in Evergreen – the old brick building where the library stands in 2015. Together with E.J. Alderfer, he had formed Evergreen Recreational Association and donated funds to the subsequent formation of the Evergreen Recreation District (EPRD) in 1969.
He later formed the Turkey Creek Recreational Association that included some fields in the 285 Corridor and has been supportive in the attempt to create a recreation district in that area despite four failed attempts. For 27 years he permitted kids to play organized soccer on the cemetery fields prior to EPRD improvements of athletic fields at Marshdale.
He was involved in the unsuccessful bid in 1972 for Colorado to host the Olympics.
In 2016 he continues to be an advocate for filling the recreational needs of the 285 Corridor, reminding the Evergreen Park and Recreation District that property owners in Indian Hills and The Homestead along 285 are paying taxes into the district but not benefitting from those taxes.
Politics and non-profit organizations
For 40 years Ron was active in the High Country Republican Club, an organization he helped to found. Although still a great supporter of the principles espoused by the Republican Party, he’s finds new energy in the Tea Party, which is concerned with reviewing and assessing how true elected officials are to the principles of their parties.
Ron began attending Evergreen Kiwanis meetings when he was 19 but had to wait until he was 21 to join. He’s been a Kiwanian ever since, active in the Conifer Kiwanis in later years.
In 1960 he was appointed by the Evergreen Kiwanis to run the bell-ringing program for the Salvation Army. At that time there were just a couple of kettles, and all the money went to the district office in Denver. Enthralled by the fact that the needy were all helped but not with cash, he was inspired to form the Salvation Army Extension Unit in Evergreen, enabling most of the money raised to stay in the mountain area. He served as the leader for many years and is proud of the fact that he’s rung the bell with each of his 13 grandchildren at one time or another. He and his family often took in homeless people in the area while other arrangements could be made.
Ron was part of initiating the Palmer Drug Abuse Program, a short-lived effort. He was active in MAFIA (Mountain Area Families In Action), formed to deter use of drugs and alcohol by school children in the 1970s and 80s.
In the 1960s and 70s, Ron was involved with a group called Operation Rescue, which was committed to expressing resistance to abortion procedures in the Denver area. The group staged sit-ins at abortion clinics; but Ron’s hesitancy about obstructing the entry into public buildings caused him to become a liaison with Denver and Aurora police departments to mitigate parking, signage and access issues. He was arrested multiple times in Denver, Boulder and Aurora and was even convicted of an act of terrorism in Aurora, for which he was sentenced to six months of community service at a pregnancy center.
During one altercation, he had been challenged by a worker at one of the clinics about what he was doing to help children after they were born. As a result, he helped in the formation of the Mountain Area Pregnancy Center, providing a facility for them for 10 years in Marshdale.
Ron will surely be remembered as one of the most controversial figures Evergreen has called a local.
As the Sternbergs wrote in their book, Evergreen, Our Mountain Community, “He’s one of those strong-minded individuals that some people love, and others love to hate.”
Regrets? “It’s not the mistakes I’ve made, it’s all the things I’ve left undone,” Ron said.
Sources: Interview with Ron Lewis; Evergreen, Our Mountain Community (Sternbergs)