EAGLE COUNTY - George Jouflas seemed to have nine lives and lived them all.
He died Saturday, surrounded by family and friends. Services are scheduled for this Saturday in Grand Junction.
The Jouflas family and other local ranching families were pioneers before there were Vail Pioneers.
George was an entrepreneur, pilot, sheep rancher, bought and sold real estate, and was the eldest son of Greek immigrants. But more than all that, he was one of the all-time great characters and charming deal-makers. The man could play strip poker with the devil and never feel a draft.
The three Red Sky Ranch golf courses are built on part of the Jouflas Ranch.
"Who would have thought there would be three world class golf courses where we spent all those years running sheep?" George used to ask, smiling.
George's son, Greg Jouflas, tells about the time George's father, Peter, was driving around with sheep in the back seat of his new Cadillac.
Peter used to buy a new Cadillac every other year and this one was a deep maroon road yacht - a thing of beauty.
A man named Nicholson owned the gas station/soda fountain/grocery in Avon. One time when Peter pulled in to the fill up the tank, he had three lambs in the back seat.
Nicholson came out to pump the gas, spotted the lambs and acted horrified. "Why do you have sheep in your beautiful new car?" he asked.
"Why shouldn't they ride in it? They paid for it," Peter retorted.
"My dad never stops talking about his dad. He loved his dad so much. It makes me think I'll be talking about my father for the rest of my life," Greg said.
The stories change and grow, as do the people in them.
There was the time Greg was fly fishing and stuck a hook in the back of his head.
The valley was a rough and tumble place back then and medical care was pretty much theoretical. George drove him toward the nearest doctor and as they rolled past Eagle headed west on Highway 6, they spotted a big cardboard sign reading, "Doctor Wanted."
They had to drive all the way to Grand Junction to roust a veterinarian to cut the hook out.
He owned his own plane and was a pilot. He loved cars, fishing, hunting and his family.
He helped Eagle County transform from a ranching community into a world class, year-round resort.
In the Jouflas family, "ranch" is an action verb.
"You worked at it every day. You ranched," said Chris Jouflas, George's younger brother.
George, Chris and the rest of the Jouflas family built one of the nation's largest sheep ranching operations. At its peak, the ranch ran more than 20,000 sheep on tens of thousands of acres.
"Land, that's real. You can't sleep or grow anything to eat on a stock certificate," George was fond of saying.
If you've skied Vail, you've skied on some of that land.
George and Chris's mother, Dorothy, used to marvel that people came to the valley in the winter.
"Are these people crazy? Even the birds fly south for the winter," she said.
George married Helen Arlene Horton Oct. 18, 1953. She died in 1965; he did not remarry.
They had four children, Peter John Jouflas of Wolcott, Greg Jouflas of Grand Junction, Michael James Jouflas of Wolcott, Jan Marie Jouflas of Wolcott, his brother Chris of Grand Junction, and six grandchildren.
George was a member of the Ancient Free and Accepted Masons in Grand Junction and Eagle, and was a 50-year member of Castle Lodge No. 22 in Eagle. He was a member of the Elks Lodge and a lifetime member of Red Sky Ranch, which works out well because it built on their ranch.
"He took great pride in the stewardship of the land he loved," his family said. "His most treasured role, however, was that of Papu (grandfather), father and brother."
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or email@example.com.