Summit Old-Timer: Tom Sawyer
Summit Cove resident Tom Sawyer isn’t particularly old, but he has been in Summit County long enough to remember when there wasn’t a single traffic light in the whole county.He was born on October 20, 1956, to Thomas and Ann Sawyer, at Eglin Air Force Base near Fort Walton Beach, Fla.His father was an electrical engineer and, while in the Air Force, was working on the Apollo series of rockets. His mother was a full-time mom to Sawyer and his older sister, Jill, and younger sister, Heidi.After his service in the Air Force, 1st Lt. Sawyer moved his family to St. Paul, Minn., and later to Phoenix, Ariz., where he continued to work as an electrical engineer for the Sperry Rand Corporation. Though Sawyer lived in only two houses growing up in Phoenix, he went to three different elementary schools and three different high schools, because of the rural nature of the area and the quick growth in and around Phoenix.Sawyer said he had a good childhood, “a typical boy growing up in Arizona.”He was a very active bike rider and spent a lot of time hunting with his father – quail, dove, duck, elk, deer, havalina (wild pig).”If we ever went on a vacation, it would be camping,” he said.He graduated from Arcadia High School in 1974, and that year bought a ’63 green-and-white Volkswagen van.
“That was my house for three years,” he said. “Everything I owned was in it.” He said he traveled from city to city (all in Western states), and got part time jobs. “It was very cool. I would never change any part of it,” he said, adding that he was just looking for freedom back then.He spent three summers working in Teton National Park as a camp host, where visitors could rent structures that were half log, half tent.In 1976, the last summer he was at Teton National Park, a recruiter from Keystone personnel department came to the lodge looking to fill lift operations and front-level maintenance jobs.Sawyer drove out on Oct. 5, 1976, in a driving snowstorm. “Couldn’t see a thing going up the hill on Highway 6, which then was just a two-lane road.”The next morning, when I walked outside, it was one of the Colorado bluebird days,” he said. It was his first time in Colorado. “I looked at Buffalo and the Gore Range to the west, and Grays and Torreys to the east, and thought to myself, ‘Oh my heavens, is this going to be a fun winter.'”Sawyer interviewed for a lift operations job, though he had never been on alpine or cross-country skis, and got the job. He lived in a trailer in Silverthorne that first winter. He said the only place to buy groceries was at Pirate Peaks in Frisco, up in Leadville or down in Denver.”It was the winter from hell,” said Sawyer of the drought conditions.
Nonetheless, he learned to ski and “skied absolutely as hard as I could.””I wanted to become ski patrol and those guys really took me under their wing,” he said.He later decided to work for Keystone’s lift maintenance because it was year-round work, whereas ski patrol was seasonal.”It was a good choice,” he said.That winter he met his wife, Micki, while he was with lift maintenance and she was a liftie.That summer, Sawyer rode his bicycle back to Tetons National Park, a three-week roadtrip. “The first thing I did when I got back was to take a shower, then go down to her condo,” he remembered.The following summer, the couple gave notice at Keystone, flew to Phoenix, then rode their bikes up to Canada – Banff National Park, Glacier National Park (which straddles the U.S./Canadian border), back through the Tetons and home to Cañon City where Micki was born. Sawyer said they were gone for three months and covered 4,000 miles.The couple married June 12, 1982 in Micki’s parent’s backyard.They moved to Ft. Collins, where Micki enrolled at the university to study in the forestry program, but later switched to study physical education.
They stayed there for two years, then in the summer of 1983, went to Denali National Park, where Sawyer worked as a kitchen supervisor, and Micki in the gift shop.”The opportunity came by way of mouth from a friend, who said we would love it, so we went,” said Sawyer. “But we were disappointed. We flew up there, so we had no toys – no bikes, no fishing equipment – only our clothes. We were looking for things to do. But I did fall in love with photography and spent every dime I had on equipment and literature.”After their summer in Denali, they returned to Summit County, where they have remained ever since.Sawyer took a job for a couple of years at Copper Mountain as a food service supervisor, and Micki spent three years at Beaver Run as an assistant controller.Sawyer’s passion for photography eventually turned into his profession and the next 12 years he made his living shooting everything he could from weddings and portraits to conferences and working as a darkroom technician.The couple had their first child in 1990, and Micki quit working full-time so she could be a stay at home mom. They now have three boys: Thomas, a freshman at SHS; Clinton,a sixth-grader at SMS; and Joel, a third-grader at Summit Cove elementary.All the boys are active athletes and excel at school. “It is so worth the sacrifice. She has been home for all three of those boys,” said Sawyer, obviously a proud father. “They are all so structured and so happy.”Sawyer eventually returned to Keystone, where he supervised “basically anything outside” at River Run Village, and now is with Keystone’s building and maintenance department.He said he thinks Summit County is an absolutely fabulous place to raise a family. “Once the kids are all gone, we might move to somewhere that’s more quiet,” said Sawyer. “But Summit County is home for now. It has been good to us.”
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