Frisco memorial dedicated to “Zeke,” Nordic skier, coach and longtime local
August 6, 2016
At the Frisco Peninsula, the sheet was pulled away, revealing the memorial below. A large stone with a pair of Nordic skis reads "Zeke's Place," named after Jon "Zeke" Zdechlik, a lifetime Frisco resident with a storied family history in Summit County.
Zeke, former general manager of Frisco's Adventure Park, Nordic ski athlete and coach, died on July 18, 2015, after a two-year battle with lung cancer. He was diagnosed with stage-four, small cell carcinoma in November 2013.
He is survived by his wife, Sherri Steeves, and their four children: Kaitlin, Lauren, Andrew and Eric.
"As all of us know, Zeke was all about family," Frisco Councilwoman Kim Cancelosi said. "He really, truly believed all of Frisco — all of us were his family. That's just how he did things."
All of Zeke's family and friends, a crowd exceeding 100, applauded after the memorial was revealed. Designed by Roger Cox, the owner of House of Signs in Frisco, the view looks upward to Peak One from the Frisco Adventure Park.
"This was a complete surprise to everybody," said Dave Zdechlik, Zeke's younger brother. "It just amazed me, all of the lives he had touched. It was really special."
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Zeke's wife, Sherri Steeves, thanked the town and Cox for their work on the project.
"Roger was able to encapsulate everything Zeke represented," Steeves said. "It's just beautiful. We know Zeke would be really excited."
A LIFE OF ADVENTURE
At the time of his passing, Zeke had worked at the Frisco Adventure Park for three years. He continued to work even after his diagnosis, while undergoing radiation and chemotherapy treatments.
"He worked right to the end. He was a pretty tough guy," said Mike Kendrick, the best man at Zeke and Steeves' wedding. "He never asked anybody to do anything he wouldn't do."
Jon Zdechlik was born on Aug. 7, 1960 in Denver. Growing up in Summit County, he attended the local schools before competing internationally with the U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team.
Kendrick and Zeke first met in high school, shortly after Kendrick's family moved up to Summit. The two became fast friends on the slopes — Kendrick recalled coach Gary Giberson said, "Jon, show Mike how to ski," before taking off down the mountain.
"He did; he showed me how to ski and how to race," Kendrick said. "We were together in high school and college — every day, pretty much. He was a very good friend."
Throughout high school, Zeke was one of the top cross-country skiers in the region at the Junior Nationals. Later on, he attended the University of Vermont as an NCAA Nordic athlete, where he studied recreation management.
"He was a very talented skier by the time we had met," Kendrick recalled. "That really shocked everyone that an American could ski at that level."
Returning home for his senior project, Zeke helped run the Frisco Nordic Center and built several of the existing trails on the peninsula, two of which are named after his parents.
"His biggest asset was his desire to get the community out here," Frisco recreation director Diane McBride said. "It was an honor to work with him every day."
Later on, Zeke was elected to Frisco's Town Council, shortly after the Adventure Park was built.
"He took it to a whole new level," McBride said. "He had this dream — he wanted to connect everything. He wanted a boardwalk from the Marina to the Peninsula."
The focus of his adult life, Zeke teamed up with Jon Kreamelmeyer and Scott Peterson to form the "three amigos," serving as Nordic coaches for the U.S. Paralympic Team. Traveling the world, they brought back several stories — and some gold.
"Jon really enjoyed being with those people. To help them succeed, it meant a lot to him," Kendrick said. "He had a gift for teaching, for coaching and getting more out of people than you thought you could do."
Zeke was also remembered as an exemplary leader, who took care of his friends, teammates and coworkers.
"He believed all ages, all abilities, should enjoy the outdoors," Cancelosi said. "He wanted to make it possible for all of us to do that."
Zeke wasn't the first in his family to leave a mark on Frisco. The entire family played a role in the town's development and the growth of Nordic skiing in the area, Kendrick said.
"Jon used to talk about his parents being pioneers. And when you think about what the 1940s and 1950s were like in Frisco, they were," Kendrick said. "They didn't have all of the niceties of life. They just had that real positive spirit about them that's so fantastic, which Jon exhibited every day of his life."
Zdechlik's parents met in the former mining village of Climax, now a ghost town on Fremont Pass. Zeke's father, Robert, worked as an engineer at Climax mine. His mother, Marie, worked as a mine nurse.
"Climax in those days was a town on top of the hill associated with the mine. They had everything — a school, a hospital…" Kendrick said.
He explained that Marie moved to Colorado just after World War II; trained as a nurse in Minnesota, she got a job at Climax. She and Robert Zdechlik spent much of their lives and careers there, with Marie promoted to head nurse as the mine expanded to 3,500 employees.
"You can imagine the cross-section of people who were there," Kendrick said. "She was a very important person at that time."
Years later, the two moved down to the town of Frisco.
"They literally cut logs on the property," Kendrick said. "That was a real pioneers' house."
The old cabin still stands just across from the Zdechliks' house in Frisco.
"It's important that we recognize what a great thing the town has done by naming this after him. It was a real honor for Jon," Kendrick said, gesturing to the memorial. "I think over time, people will go there and enjoy it, learn about that history and really appreciate it."
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