Karina Wetherbee: Max Dercum: A student of life
Ryan Summerlin October 1, 2011
Today would have been the 99th birthday of my grandfather, Max Dercum. He passed away peacefully on Friday with his daughter, Sunni Tieze, at his side. Before his eyes closed for the last time, he gazed at the photo on the wall at the foot of his bed at the Life-Care Center in Evergreen. It was a photo of Dercum Mountain, one of my grandfather’s many legacies to Colorado and Summit County, in particular.
As soon as he arrived in the Colorado High Country in the 1940s, with his wife, Edna Dercum, and their young infant, Rolf, at his side, Max’s every thought was fixated on his beloved mountains, where he raised two children, Rolf and Sunni, and, with Edna, ran Ski Tip Lodge, a cozy place where people arrived as strangers, but left as family … if they ever left at all. The life trajectory of many a ski enthusiast began within the humble walls of Max and Edna’s home.
Max’s zest for adventure soon had him exploring the high Summit County peaks, rummaging for gold and silver, his youthful enthusiasm never wavering. His imagination and eagerness eventually helped birth two of Colorado’s legendary ski areas, Arapahoe Basin and Keystone, as well as the Professional Ski Instructor of America organization. With Edna ever at his side, Max lived his dream of skiing the great ski areas of the world, competing late into his life, bringing home trophies that now fill an entire room.
But skiing was just a small part of what made my grandfather so special to so many people. What really set him apart was his incredible mind and his passion for learning, something he shared with Edna and instilled in his entire family. This summer, with his guiding presence ever in our minds, we started The Dercum Center, an Arts and Humanities Center that takes its inspiration from these two remarkable people. The idea that learning should last one’s entire life, was a guiding philosophy of Max’s, and he lived that idea to the fullest and to the very end, engaged and passionate about all the world had to offer. From his ski slopes, to his model trains, to his bonzai trees, to his clarinet duos with Yours Truly, to his films of family history, Max approached each undertaking with the enthusiasm of a child, and the eager mind of a student of life.
He left us all in awe, and we will think of him often, waving to his photo (with Edna) on the Summit Stage bus as it drives by. He has passed on, but his legacy remains, more endearing than ever. Max is survived by his son Rolf and daughter-in-law Judy, his daughter Sunni, and his son-in-law Alf Tieze, five grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren, and many, many more family members who will miss him terribly.
A memorial service has yet to be scheduled, but we will share information once a date is set, which will be later in the month of October, just as the first flakes begin to fall on Max’s beloved mountains. Join me for a ski run in his and Edna’s honor this winter in Dercum’s Gulch at A-Basin or on Dercum’s Dash at Keystone. Hope to see you on the slopes! I know “Boppa” and “Nana” will be there forever, in spirit.