After 31 years in the trenches dealing with frozen pipes, flooded classrooms, fire alarms that go off in the middle of the night, vandalism to various schools and the 2008 tornado, Steve Denny plans to take all those stressful times and sail into retirement.
Denny, 53, the director of maintenance and operations who graduated from Windsor High School in 1979, is purchasing a sailboat and will sail around the world with his wife of 31 years, Lillie, where they plan to live off the sea. When they’re not sailing, they’ll be living on 10 acres in a home at Crystal Lakes.
Denny, a native of Windsor, is moving away from the only place he knows at the end of the month. His last day on the job will be Friday.
While working for the school district, Denny went to school at the Aims professional pilot program and earned his commercial pilot’s license and certified flight instructor’s license. He’s built three planes and has since sold them. A couple of years ago, Denny and his wife flew over H.J. Dudley Field on the first day that staff returned back from summer vacation as his wife took photos of the entire staff.
Denny started working for the school district at the age of 22 as the night custodian at Skyview Elementary School in 1983. He eventually took the day custodian position and then was promoted to assistant director of maintenance and operations in 1990. He replaced John Moore as the director in 2006. He said he knows this is the time to step aside and start phase two of his life. Denny’s wife, a registered nurse in Fort Collins, will also retire.
LIVING OUT A DREAM
“I’ve had this dream of seeing the world on my own, sailing as much of the world as I can see,” Denny said. “I’ve always been a speed and horsepower kind of guy, fast boats, jet skis. I grew up competition water skiing here in Windsor.”
Denny said that around 2000 he started sharing with his wife the crazy feeling he had of adventure.
“That’s when we made the decision to sell the jet skis, sell the boat realizing there’s not a gas station in the middle of the Atlantic, and we better learn how to sail,” Denny said. “We sold everything, and we went out and bought the biggest, most capable sailboat that we could afford ... still neither one of us ever having been on a sailboat. That’s when our life took a big shift. Instead of the jet skis, the fast boats and the water skiing, we wanted to really have a self-contained vessel even though we’re here in Colorado. It stayed on a mooring up at Carter Lake, and we launched it once in the spring.”
Denny outfitted the sailboat with an autopilot, GPS, solar panels, microwave oven, fresh-water system, on-board cell phone, marine radio, full-cooking capability and bathroom. For the last six years, Denny and his wife have chartered a sailboat and sailed to various locations.
“It seemed ridiculous on Carter Lake to have a boat equipped like this, but it was a test. We wanted to see what it was really like,” Denny said. “Every weekend for the next 14 years in the summertime from about mid-April until the end of October, if we didn’t have something else going on we spent Friday night through Sunday evening on the boat.”
Denny sold the sailboat called Paradise Too last fall because it wasn’t the vessel they wanted to live on, and he’s planning on purchasing another one to start off his retirement.
THREE DECADES OF LABOR
Before he retires, though, Denny became emotional thinking about the last three decades working for the school district.
One person who has known Denny the entire time is Re-4 Superintendent Karen Trusler.
“I met Steve when he was a custodian at Skyview back in the early 1980s. He has always approached life with positive energy and sets the standard for problem-solving,” Trusler said. “He sees obstacles as opportunities, and during his tenure at Skyview he supported everyone not only in the maintenance of the building but in repairing broken equipment. Now this was the era of record players, tape recorders, rotary pencil sharpeners and film projectors.”
Trusler said Denny is the type of guy who can fix anything that comes his way.
“Whether it was equipment or a broken toy, Steve could repair anything,” Trusler said. “Nothing was discarded unless Steve could not fix it. His positive demeanor and good sense of humor contributed to Skyview being a great place to work and learn. He became friends with whomever he met, and this continues to this day.”
Trusler began teaching kindergarten at Skyview in 1986, and she has a funny story involving Denny.
“I had taught for nine years, but not in kindergarten, and this level is quite a different world for a teacher,” Trusler said. “One morning I heard a boy call for me loudly from the bathroom. I thought that he needed help with a locked door, but he actually wanted some help with personal hygiene. After coaching him through the closed door, he exclaimed that everything was fine, and I heard the toilet flush. Then water streamed out under the door. When he came out of the bathroom, I saw that we would need a plunger and a mop. Steve came to the room, and he worked on the toilet while I began mopping. At that moment in time, I wish I would have known back then what was to happen to both of us in our careers, because I would have replied while I was mopping and he has using the plunger, ‘You know Steve, someday, you’re going to be the director of maintenance, and I’ll be the superintendent.’ ”
Trusler said Denny has been a valued staff member who has made the community a better place to live and work.
“He is respected and appreciated by his staff members because of his respect and loyalty to each one,” Trusler said. “He is the epitome of a selfless leader and we are all better because of him. I will miss him, but am thankful to have worked with him.”
PROUD OF WHAT HE’S LEAVING
Denny said he’s most proud of the health of the buildings, the HVAC systems — air conditioning and ventilation systems.
“I don’t think there is a single space that I have any health concerns for maintaining a healthy environment,” Denny said. “Overall, I am very proud to say that all the facilities are in better condition than they were when I took over. Now that’s nothing against John Moore, but it was a different time. We’re growing and we’ve built some beautiful new schools and I had a very big part of building those two new schools in Severance. I don’t have anything that I feel like I’m walking out leaving it half done.”
Denny’s staff has doubled to 47 employees since he’s started as the director in 2006.
“I’ve seen a lot and am very proud to be a part of all that in the school district,” Denny said. “It is hard to take these plans and these dreams and realize what we’re leaving behind. I get asked a lot: ‘What makes a kid that grew up and spent his whole life in Windsor want to do something as adventurous as this?’ I’ve had a job for 31 years. I’ve been married for 31 years. There’s a lot of constants in my life. People think there is something wrong that I’m not happy with life that I’m doing something so drastically different, but that’s not it at all. In a lot of ways, I have done what I’ve done with consistency so I that I can get to a point where I can do the things I’ve dreamed of and had a lot of fun along the way. Leaving the community behind that has been so good to us, the closer we get to that reality is tough.”
Denny said working with the people in the school district was the best part of his 31 years.
“I met so many good people. I don’t care if they’re teachers, principals, janitors, they’re all here for the same purpose,” Denny said. “It’s pretty cool to think my contribution to the school district has affected a lot of lives, a lot of kids in maybe some tiny little way, but still it was there.”