The family of a young accident victim works to help others in his honor
Sometimes bad things happen to good people. Losing a child in the prime of life has to be one of those times.
In dealing with that difficult circumstance, good people can sometimes find ways to turn the bad situation into a positive force. The members of the Mikesell family are such people. And the death of their oldest child, 23-year-old Chris, in a tragic Snocat accident in Crested Butte two years ago has resulted in the formation of a charitable foundation meant to help those who need it and had interests similar to Chris.
Chris was a graduate of Western State College who over the course of several years worked a number of places in the Gunnison Valley. He was on his first season as a Snocat operator for Crested Butte Mountain Resort, he guided rafts with Scenic River Tours, he did some carpentry and worked behind the scenes for Marchitelli’s Gourmet Noodle. In January of 2007, he was tragically killed while working on the mountain for CBMR. Chris’ parents, Sherry and Kendall Mikesell, were in Crested Butte and Gunnison this week to announce the formation of the Chris Mikesell Foundation. In 1989, when Chris was six years old, the Mikesell family bought a vacation home in Mt. Crested Butte. Chris, along with his parents and his sisters, Laura and Julie, began spending a lot of time in the Gunnison Valley. “Even when he was a little boy, Chris wanted to be a Crested Butte local,” said his father. “He couldn’t wait to move to Crested Butte,” added his mother. “He was totally taken by Colorado.” After graduating from Western, the kid who grew up in Clearwater, Kansas took a three-month backpacking trip around the world, visiting England, Scotland, Belgium, India, Thailand, Laos and New Zealand. According to his parents, he made many friends along the way and had a skiing reunion in Montana with some of those friends just weeks before the tragic accident. The official Foundation statement says that “in keeping with the kind of person Chris was, the vision of the Chris Mikesell Foundation is to help people enjoy the journey of life, to climb the mountain, and see the view. To honor his adventurous spirit, passion for travel, and love of people, the Foundation will provide: opportunities for young people to experience nature; assistance to organizations dedicated to preserving and protecting the environment’s natural beauty; scholarships at Western State College of Colorado; and assistance to people in desperate need around the world.” “The purpose is to honor Chris,” explained Kendall. “We feel it’s an important part of having the community move on together. We wanted the Foundation to be reflective of the things that were important to him.” Contributions will likely be made to support Western State College scholarships for programs like Wilderness Orientation and Wilderness Pursuits, the Crested Butte Land Trust and other such outdoor organizations.
In an excerpt from the Crested Butte News story at the time of the accident in January 2007, his parents talked about Chris’ love of being in Crested Butte: “He loved his work on the mountain and the people he was working with,” says his mother, Sherry Mikesell. Mikesell’s parents describe him as very outgoing and adventurous. “His is a life to celebrate for sure,” his father, Kendall, says. Both say he packed a lot of spirit and energy into everything he did. His favorite activities were hiking, mountaineering, rafting and skiing. “He loved to ski, he would normally ski 90 to 100 days a winter. Anytime he wasn’t working, he was on his skis,” Sherry says. As such, his parents say, Crested Butte was the perfect place for Chris to be. “He loved people. He just wanted to know everyone’s story and never met a person he didn’t like,” Kendall says. His mother and father say that they gave Chris an old sign they found last month at Christmas that sums him up in one sentence. “It said, ‘If you don’t climb the mountain, you can’t see the view’… That’s the way he liked it. He was always a little on the edge, living life to its fullest,” Sherry says.
The Mikesell family has provided initial funding of the Foundation. In addition, a significant contribution has been made by the Tim Mueller family, owners of CBMR. “We are pleased that the Muellers have chosen to participate in our efforts to honor Chris,” said Kendall. “This gracious gesture on their part helps in the ongoing healing process for his family and friends, and the communities he called home.” Regular yearly distributions will commence in the fall of 2009. Under the current funding structure, the initial distribution will be about $20,000. Once the Foundation is fully funded, the family expects the distributions to exceed $30,000 per year. “We wanted the money to go where he’d be happy and we think we have accomplished that,” Kendall said Tuesday afternoon. “Part of our mission was to support Western State and we met with representatives of the school this morning. We also wanted to give to people who need it all over the world. He was a traveler.”
While Kendall and Sherry spent part of their honeymoon in Crested Butte in 1977, they still live in Clearwater, Kansas. Daughters Laura and Julie are now residing in Colorado. Laura lives in Crested Butte, while Julie is attending school at Fort Lewis in Durango. “We have friends with long-time ties to Crested Butte,” Sherry explained. “We know people who bought a house in town for $700. We have wonderful ties to Crested Butte. It’s been an important part of our life. Chris knew he wanted to go to Western State when he was probably in the eighth grade. All the kids fell in love with it.” “As much as we loved Crested Butte, we weren’t sure we’d be able to keep coming here after the accident,” Kendall said. “But we worked through that. It’s a great place and it’s important to us. It’s brought us closer to a lot of the people here. I also want to say it was a really difficult thing for CBMR to deal with as well and we appreciate the significant contribution from Tim and Diane to help start this Foundation.” “This is a work in progress for all of us,” said Sherry as she teared up. “It is good to get it going and it’s been a lot of work, but it is great to honor Chris.” “This was a tragic loss for our family,” continued Kendall. “It was important for us to work on it as a family. But if Chris is remembered every time we use the Foundation, we will have accomplished our goal.”
A token of honor in the form of a river rock with the Chris Mikesell Foundation logo is being distributed by the Foundation along with money. To contact the Foundation, write to William McVey, 112 S. Lee, P.O. Box 800, Clearwater, KS 67026-0800 or email