It’s the rare person who can make a living at what they truly love.
Longtime Evergreen resident Pat Shea has been lucky that way. Born in Ann Arbor, Mich., Shea grew up on Detroit’s east side. He loved sports, lettering in football and track in high school. He was an avid cross-country skier and, like many in the Wolverine State, he spent countless hours on the hunt, traipsing the peninsulas’ wild ways in search of fresh game for the table. He earned his folding-money working at a local furniture store 20 hours a week all through his sophomore and senior years.
“I started out sweeping floors and taking out the trash,” Shea says. “After a while I learned to do repairs. I found out I really liked building furniture.”
He also found out he was good at it, a talent that would serve him well when he eventually transferred his academic flag to the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. First, though, Shea had to satisfy his obligation to the nation, holding post for two years on Korea’s nervous demilitarized zone with the Army’s 2nd Infantry Division. If he didn’t necessarily love staring down the North Koreans, the hitch turned out to be lucky, just the same. Back state-side on a 25-day leave, he tumbled into a very fortunate blind date with a fetching young woman named Betsy.
“I fell in love as soon as I saw her,” Shea smiles. “I knew I would marry her, but I kept it under my hat. I thought if I told her, she’d think I was a nut.” Mustering out in 1974, Shea returned to Ann Arbor and his interrupted studies. Building on undergraduate degrees in psychology, sociology and history, he financed his bid for a master’s degree in social work by dusting off his rasp and plane, building furniture as a free agent.
“I built a lot of tables in the Colonial style because you didn’t need as many tools, and I didn’t have many. Just a lot of elbow grease.”
Even so, Shea was certainly capable of more elaborate constructions. Commissioned to create a toy chest for his first nephew, the finished product featured a foot-pedal and counterweight mechanism allowing the boy to open the heavy lid easily, but at the same time preventing the top from closing unexpectedly.
“It would stay open at whatever point you left it. He could never drop the top on himself.”
With his master’s in social work administration in hand, Shea and his new, correctly-predicted wife, Betsy, began searching the national map for green professional pastures. For her part, Betsy was looking for a relatively large urban area where she could put her nursing degree to work. For his, Shea nurtured his own not-so-hidden agenda.
“I was looking at places like Wyoming, Alaska, North Dakota…places with good hunting.”
They selected Denver, a big city within easy stalking distance of one of North America’s most game-rich environments. But if the Mile High City held professional promise, the foothills held more personal appeal.
“We had friends who’d worked here as camp counselors, and they told us about this nice little ranching town not too far from the city. We immediately fell in love with it.” That nice little ranching town was Evergreen, and the couple's first piece of it was a two-room cabin high on the shoulder of Bear Mountain. Shea took a job at the Denver Child Welfare Department, personally overseeing the files of 36 families with adjudicated delinquents. It was every bit as challenging as it sounds.
“By the time a child is adjudicated a delinquent, there’s not much a social worker can do,” he explains. “There was a turnstile controlling the traffic of clients coming into the office. We used to joke that it was to control all the social workers leaving it.”
Shea stuck it out for 18 rough, frustrating months before joining the out-going flow. Happily, 18 months had been ample to introduce him to the attractions of Alpine skiing, a sport that in Colorado of the early 1970s was rapidly coming into its own. He opened a successful ski shop in southern Aurora, and would go on to spend five rewarding years on the ski patrol at Geneva Basin.
By 1989, Shea was ready to make a change. As luck would have it, the rapidly growing Evergreen Park and Recreation District (EPRD) was looking for an athletic supervisor, and the ever-athletic Shea had just the right administrative skills for the job. It was a sweet move that quickly became even sweeter.
“I found out that EPRD was taking a five-acre lease on the Alderfer Ranch House and needed a caretaker. I made it my business to convince them that I’d be the ideal caretaker.”
Lovely, scenic, and deeply historic, the pioneering homestead was nonetheless built to the standards of a bygone era, and the Sheas’ poured great quantities of time and affection into its rehabilitation. After all, it’s where they would raise their three daughters.
“It’s the oldest framed building in Evergreen, but it had some challenges. It was always difficult to heat, even after we added a lot of insulation. We also made electrical and plumbing improvements. It wasn’t always easy, but we absolutely loved living there.” And Betsy and Pat might be there still if, in 2007, the EPRD board hadn’t embarked on a campaign to reform the district along more cosmopolitan lines. As it happened, while the rest of the staff was forced to justify their continued employment or face dismissal, Shea was promoted to Manager of Parks. It was a welcome relief, but a short-lived one.
“I immediately noticed that all of my responsibilities were being shifted to other positions. I finally realized they were moving me out. My new employment contract was tied to the lease on the house, and they needed the house for the new director.”
Less than a year into his new job, the board abruptly cut Shea’s lease short, liquidated his position, and gave the house to ill-starred EPRD director John Skeel, who would himself be gone before two more years passed. It was a bitter blow for Shea, and the start of something wonderful.
Whether selling Rossignols or scheduling softball games, Shea had always devoted a portion of his yearly calendar to the sportsman’s pursuits, hunting bear in Alaska, antelope in Wyoming, pheasant on the plains and elk in the mountains. As hunters will, he made frequent calls to the Colorado Division of Wildlife for help and advice in planning his next expedition. Given his experience in the field, it’s hardly surprising that he often knew more about the subject than the person on the other end of the line.
“I know something about it,” says Shea, grievously understating the case. “I took two years of forestry before going into the Army, and I’ve been hunting all my life. I called in one day with a question, and they said ‘You ought to be doing this. Come on in and be a hunt planner for DOW.’”
He took them up on the offer, and these days Shea spends between six and nine contented months a year advising sportsmen on the ways and whereabouts of Colorado’s most delicious native fauna.
“Most of the calls are from out-of-state, and I just talk people through their Colorado hunting trip. The only big game in most of the country is white-tailed deer, and for a lot of people the chance to hunt elk and mule deer is a dream come true. I’ll even give them my old hunting spots,” he laughs. “I’m getting paid to talk about hunting. It’s pretty much my dream job.”
Luckily, there’s no law that says a man can have only one dream job, and Shea is gearing up for one more change. Like so many before, it will be a step forward that leads right back to his roots.
“I’ve been putting together a woodshop for the last several years, and I’m close to building furniture full-time in my garage.”
Fact is, when he isn’t helping some Midwestern hunter find a cabin in Kremmling, Shea is already apt to spend a solid eight hours a day sawing, sanding and staining at the Hiwan residence he and Betsy now call home. Still, to call his plans a career move would be a disservice to leisure.
“I want to build things I want to build. It’s really got nothing to do with money. If someone wants to buy one, they can buy one.
“I think a lot of people worry about finding something to do in retirement that they enjoy. I love woodworking, and I feel lucky that I’ve found a way to enjoy my life.”