"Every town has a story. We're creating a legend!"
That ringing endorsement of Cortez played out Saturday night during the annual Chamber of Commerce community celebration and fundraiser held at Fiesta Mexicana.
The "Tombstone Style Justice is Coming" theme featured a healthy dose of showdowns, shootouts, duels, lawless behavior and gambling that would have made Cortez outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid proud.
An open bar, card tables, and a "full house" of 300 local outlaws dressed in period costumes reminisced about the train-robbing, cattle rustlin', and bank looting days of their relatives and predecessors. Sheriff Dennis Spruell put down his badge and dealt cards, and in support of his Second Amendment cause everyone was packing six-shooters, some fake, but not all.
But far better than Butch Cassidy's fortune hidden along "Robbers Path" in McElmo Canyon, is the Chamber's award ceremony.
Citizen of the Year, Business of the Year, and many other 'of the Year" awards were presented to hoorahs, smirks, hee-haws, and drunken bellowing, but to a somewhat lesser degree than the Wild West days, and thankfully without the usual gun slinging tradition, although that may have happened later.
Keenan Ertel, who normally dresses in the period styles of the Old West, appropriately arrived at the saloon as himself, but left as Citizen of the Year.
Ertel was raised in Montezuma County and had a long career as a funeral director, bringing closure and peace to thousands of grieving families. After retiring, apparently his hobby blowing up pyrotechnics at events and the Fourth of July did not have enough bang, so he went for the more explosive political arena and was voted in as Montezuma County Commissioner in 2013.
"I'm speechless for the first time in a long time," Ertel said. "I love this community, this county and could not have gotten by without the support of my family. Thank you very much."
Ertel governs with a sense of fairness and responsibility, voting to uphold unpopular planning and zoning laws and respecting the public right to be heard on controversial issues. He relentlessly presses federal public land official to keep open access to public lands. And he intelligently argues for practical management policies that coincide with local traditions of hunting, ranching, water rights, firewood gathering and recreation.
True to Western adage "Whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting" Ertel has steadfastly fought the BLM in court for control of water rights in Yellow Jacket Canyon historically relied on by ranchers. One of his campaigns is to re-open the Sage Hen area on the north shore of McPhee Reservoir. An original "straight shooter" he governs seeing the bigger picture, for example supporting oil and gas and mining, but condemning the illegal Red Arrow mill outside Mancos that threatened health and safety of the public.
Ertel has also served two eight year terms as a board member of the Cortez Fire Protection District served as a Cortez councilman and is a board member of C&G Health Care.
KSJD Dryland Community Radio earned the business of the year award.
Director Jeff Pope pointed out that it is the First Amendment of free speech that radio provides for the community, giving people a voice and keeping everyone informed.
"KSJD is honored to serve the community through free speech, entertainment, education, and local information," he said. "Thank you. We will keep at it because we believe in this community."
KSJD has studios in Cortez, and have built studios in Rico and Dove Creek. Their media coverage now covers the entire Four Corners, reaching 60,000 listeners. The community radio outfit does more than just on-air news and entertainment. They have invested $1.5 million in the rehabilitation of their downtown Cortez facility, which includes a "story vault" where the community can record local histories for the archives and airways. Also slated to open in April is a 125-seat venue next door to the studios for arts and culture.
"We will soon be bringing live theater to downtown Cortez," Pope said.
The Green Business of the Year award went to Red Wagon Energy, a Mancos company that sells solar arrays. The Unsung Hero award went to Dr. Robert Heyl for his selfless contributions towards a free health clinic and work with the Child Advocacy Center.
Chamber Director Dena Guttridge, decked out in a flowing dress and a lady's western hat, eyed the scene of laughing card players, impressive costumes, and clusters of old and new friends around the bar and nacho buffet enjoying the unique evening.
"This is a hit. People anticipate this night have a good time with the casino games and costumes," she said. "The proceeds will go towards programs like Leadership Montezuma and a new Young Professionals program that mentors our younger leaders to step up."