Pam Boyd

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April 11, 2012
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Remembering Dick Turgeon

Richard "Dick" Turgeon packed a lot of living into his 91 years.

When he died last November, his obituary noted his work as a logger and a construction manager as well as his military service and his community involvement. He also was a devoted family man and a constant tinkerer and never were those two parts of his character more on display than in Fulford - the abandoned mining camp located in the shadow of New York mountain that spoke to Turgeon's soul.

While he was born in South Dakota, Turgeon saw the world during World War II when he was stationed in Guadalcanal, India, Alaska, Australia and Hawaii. He returned to his home state when the war was over and one of his employment experiences is the stuff of Turgeon family legend. As the story goes, he was working for the town of Pierre, S.D., and one week the community resources couldn't cover payroll.

"They didn't pay him because the town didn't have any money, so he turned off the electric power," said son Rick Turgeon. "The mayor came down and said 'I need the power' and dad said, 'I need my paycheck.'"

Turgeon married his wife, Frances, in 1947 and the couple would eventually celebrate 60 years together. In 1949, the couple left their home state behind and Turgeon went to work on a logging and sawmill operation in Fulford. The work didn't last, but his time in the area lead to a lifelong love for Fulford.

During the 1950s and 1960s, the Turgeon family - which included daughters Betty, Eileen and Margie along with son Rick - lived in Denver where Turgeon worked construction jobs. But the family made frequent trips to Fulford where they built a cabin. The Turgeon kids fondly remember countless trips where they would load up the car right after their dad got home from work. Sometimes it was a bit of work to get to the cabin and even more work to get home to Denver. One particular Thanksgiving weekend, the family had just arrived via Jeep when snow started falling.

"Dad started building something and we didn't know what it was. It was a snowplow for the front of the Jeep. He knew we were going to get snowed in," said Margie. "Still, it took us eight hours just to get to Yeoman Park."

"During the summer, we came over about every weekend," Rick said. Even during the summer, that was no small feat, as the family had to travel over Loveland Pass in those pre-tunnel years. They often towed one contraption or another, built by their dad for installation at Fulford. The most memorable trip of all involved the transport of a six-foot tall waterwheel.

"He strapped it on the top of the car to bring it up here," said Margie. "I remember I would not get in that car. I thought we were going to die."

Once he got both the kids and the equipment to Fulford, Turgeon had limited success with his handiwork. "We got it up there and got it in the creek," said Rick. "But I don't think there was enough water to push it consistently."

Turgeon was undeterred. He continued tinkering and eventually built a hydroelectric system that provided electricity to his cabin.

The Turgeons moved to the area permanently in 1969, purchasing a strip of land that included a number of cabins located on the east side of U.S. Highway 6, just south of the railroad tracks in Gypsum. Eventually the property would become commonly known as "Turgeonville."

Turgeon was an active member of the Gypsum community, serving on the town council and the sanitation district board of directors. He was a member of the Eagle County Planning Commission for nine years. Turgeon worked as a carpenter and helped build several of the original structures in Vail. In 1979, he was on the job when he fell off a three-story building.

"He broke everything except his right arm," said Eileen.

Today his children marvel at that story.

"He was up on a roof at 59 years old," said Margie. "And he remembered the helicopter ride and the ambulance ride from the helicopter pad to the hospital in Denver."

Turgeon spent 10 days in intensive care, but even before he was loaded onto the Flight for Life, medical personnel advised his family members to tell him their good-byes. Those folks did not account for Turgeon's toughness.

He returned to the Vail Valley Medical Center for later recuperation and Rick recalled that he critically watched crews at work on the hospital from his bed. After the accident, Turgeon spent two months in a full body cast.

What does a 60-year-old man living with the aftereffects of a catastrophic accident do for his retirement? In Turgeon's case, he decided to move to Fulford full time.

Frances and Dick lived in the remote area for a decade. They saved several people who had lost their way or fallen victim to the elements. Turgeon also looked out for the town, keeping watch on other people's cabins.

One winter, someone made away with one of his two snowmobiles and Dick and Frances loaded up on their other machine and followed the tracks to a nearby cabin. Turgeon walked right up to the offender and confronted him.

"He told the man 'Don't be stealing from people and don't be breaking into cabins,'" said Margie. Luckily the offender was not armed and he took his scolding before accompanying Turgeon down the hill.

Eventually the Turgeons were no longer able to maintain full-time residence in Fulford and in 2005 they moved to Wichita, Kan., to live with daughter, Betty. Frances passed away shortly after the move.

As they think about their father, the Turgeon children remember how he never threw away anything and how he was constantly building something. They remember a gregarious guy who nonetheless opted to live in a remote locale.

"He was just fun, and he helped people but he didn't take any guff," said Eileen.

Rick noted that not long after his dad died, a woman came up to him and offered a great testament to Dick Turgeon. "She told me, 'I've always said that when I grow up, I want to be just like your dad.'"

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The VailDaily Updated Apr 11, 2012 01:38PM Published Apr 11, 2012 01:34PM Copyright 2012 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.