Dee Williams has driven the successful campaign to purchase and preserve Ouray’s historic Wright Opera House. She is a founding member of the Ouray County Nordic Council. A stalwart of Ouray’s Community Development Committee, she helped implement the city’s economic development plan.
She has achieved all that, and more, while working full time. Since 2003, she has served as coordinator for the School to Work Alliance Program (SWAP), which helps high school students with special needs prepare for graduation and transition to the workplace. The program’s service area ranges from Ouray to Nucla and Naturita.
For the previous 28 years, she and her husband, Glynn, operated a beloved Main Street establishment, the Ouray V&S Variety. In 1975, the couple moved from Los Angeles to Ouray and with her parents, John and Margaret Petty, purchased the Story Block. The Williams ran the Variety Store on the corner, which had once housed the city’s Post Office, until they decided to liquidate in 2010.
“When I first said I wanted to live in Ouray, Glynn said, ‘Are you kidding? Our [L.A.] city block is bigger than Ouray,’” Williams said. “But we’ve been here ever since.”
Despite a demanding day job, Williams maintains a second career of community involvement for the benefit of Ouray, city and county.
“Dee is an absolute powerhouse,” said Lyn Meinert, who has served with Williams on the Nordic Council board and various committees. “As chair of the board of the Friends of the Wright Opera House, she is actively involved in nearly every detail of the board’s initiatives including fundraising, event planning, grant writing, and planning with the architect.”
Williams’ organizational skills and infectious enthusiasm saved the 124-year-old opera house from becoming another casualty of the economic downturn.
In 2007, she joined with people who shared her vision and formed the nonprofit FWOH. Building on a $225,000 matching grant from the Colorado Historic Fund, the Friends undertook a three-year fundraising campaign. By 2010, they had reached their goal and purchased the Wright.
“I saw this unique building on Main Street as a perfect opportunity to expand Ouray’s short tourist season and help the local economy,” Williams said. “The Ouray Performing Arts Guild and Weehawken Creative Arts need a suitable venue to showcase both local and international talent. The Wright was designed as a center for cultural activities and will continue to serve that purpose.
“I’m amazed at the generosity of all those people who helped us save this iconic old building.”
Williams and others spent hundreds of hours planning fundraisers and consulting with people who had restored performing arts centers in other Colorado communities, such as Creede and Aspen.
Now the Friends have hired a local architect and embarked on a multi-phase renovation process (estimated at $1 million). A recent $60,000 donation is earmarked for an elevator. Other plans include improving lighting and sound in the auditorium, adding balcony seating, expanding the upstairs lobby, and restoring the building’s iron Mesker façade. And then there’s the roof and foundation…
“I hope I’m still alive when it’s done!” Williams laughed, admitting that she’s not the world’s most patient person.
Williams is attracted to projects that fill what she perceives as a gap in local offerings to both residents and visitors. She helped found the Nordic Council because she saw the need for “less extreme adventure opportunities” in the area. She observed that not all skiers want to fly down steep slopes in avalanche-prone backcountry. Twenty-seven years later, the Nordic Council still maintains popular cross-country ski trails in Ironton Park and along the river corridor in Ouray.
Williams’ long list of service activities also includes two years on Ouray City Council and two years as co-president of Women in Support of Education (WISE). She and Glynn volunteered as counselors for Ouray High School students until a fulltime counselor was hired. She served on Ouray’s Home Rule Charter Commission, which drafted the city’s Home Rule Charter, adopted in 2009. She and Glynn even established Ouray’s own version of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade – the Variety Store Parade. Their first float featured a turkey fashioned from colored napkins on a jeep, Williams remembered.
“We had the only parade in the country that required four-wheel drive.”
Each year, ROCC honors those who have made a perceptible difference over time through their services to the community at large, or for the benefit of humanity. The Outstanding Citizen award was created to thank individuals who have made sustained contributions to Ouray County’s quality of life.
Following the award presentation, Peter Shelton, Ouray County Editor for The Watch newspapers, will speak about the 10th Mountain Division, a military unit of skiers and mountaineers that served in World War II and later played a major role in shaping the recreational landscape of America. Shelton and his wife, Ellen, have lived and skied in the western San Juan Mountains since 1976. He has written numerous books and articles about skiing and the outdoors. Shelton has been named National Ski Journalists Association Ski Writer of the Year four times.
Admission to the ROCC Spaghetti Dinner is $10 per adult, free for children under 12. The dinner includes spaghetti, a variety of homemade sauces, salad, garlic bread, and homemade desserts. Beer and wine may be purchased.
For more information, contact Kate Kellogg at: firstname.lastname@example.org