The Duke’s legacy lives on at Roundup River Ranch |

The Duke’s legacy lives on at Roundup River Ranch

DOTSERO – The John Wayne Cancer Foundation likes the way Roundup River Ranch saddles up for kids.

The foundation gave Roundup River Ranch a $125,000 grant, enough to send 50 kids with cancer and sickle cell disease to camp this week.

It’s the second year the foundation has sponsored a session at Roundup River Ranch.

Ethan Wayne, John Wayne’s son and director of John Wayne Cancer Foundation, volunteered last summer at Roundup River Ranch with other members of his staff. He was a cabin counselor and saw what the camp does for children.

He liked it so much, he sent them another check this year.

“The power of camp in the lives of the children with cancer and other serious illnesses is transformative, and the impact of this grant becomes fully evident when you see the campers at Roundup River Ranch, they get to just be kids again,” he said.

Cancer killed his father, American legend John Wayne, on June 11, 1979. The John Wayne Cancer Foundation was founded in 1985, after his family promised to use his name to continue his fight against cancer.

Kids with specific diseases tend to come during the same one-week session. It’s important in helping the camp staff put together volunteer medical professionals, said Ruth B. Johnson, president and CEO of Roundup River Ranch.

This week it’s kids with cancer.

“At camp, as children enjoy our fun, safe, and empowering camp programs, they will also embody the cornerstones of John Wayne Cancer Foundation’s mission – bringing courage, strength, and grit to the fight against cancer,” Johnson said.

At Roundup River Ranch, campers do all the regular summer camp stuff: archery, arts and crafts, boating and fishing, a challenge course, horseback riding. The goal is to let the kids be kids, even with what they’re going through.

During this year’s season, Roundup River Ranch will serve approximately 425 children in the Rocky Mountain region, all suffering from various chronic and life-threatening illnesses, including congenital heart disease, severe asthma, immunodeficiency, Crohn’s Disease and ulcerative colitis, cancer, sickle cell disease, and recipients of organ transplants.

Grateful Harvest

It doesn’t cost the kids or their families anything, but it’s not free.

Later this month, Roundup River Ranch will host A Grateful Harvest, a benefit Trent’s Cookhouse, the camp’s dining hall.

You’ll get a multi-course dinner prepared by some of the region’s top food and beverage professionals.

The lineup includes Kelly Liken, of Restaurant Kelly Liken; Paul Ferzacca, chef/owner at La Tour; Jason Harrison of Flame at The Four Seasons; and Tyler Wiard of Elway’s. Master Mixologist Brian Harker of Matsuhisa Restaurant Vail will prepare the event’s signature cocktails, while wine pairings will be offered by Master Sommelier Richard Betts of Betts and Scholl. Beer selections will be provided by Crazy Mountain Brewery.

The event is designed to community’s commitment to the organization, said event Co-Chair Carole Watters

Serious Fun

Roundup River Ranch is a member of SeriousFun Children’s Network, a community of camps and programs that provide life-changing support to children with serious illnesses and their families. Paul Newman founded the network with his Hole in the Wall camps.

The camp’s six cabins each house a dozen campers and six adults. Stroll into a cabin and the beds are made, everything is neatly put away and arranged including the oxygen machines beside several beds.

Defibrillators are everywhere. Doctors and nurses staff the camp. The medical center looks like a huge ranch house.

Volunteers have to be 19 years old and willing to learn.

Volunteers talk to other people they think would be good volunteers. And they talk to would-be campers, or foundations that could support the ranch. And the word spreads.

Dozens of local builders donated time, money, materials and expertise the camp.

Adrian Brink and A.J. Brink Outfitters provide the horses, tack and wranglers for most of the campers’ first horseback rides.

The local Trout Unlimited chapter is out there every day, teaching kids to fish.

“The people of the Vail Valley came together to support us and make this possible,” Johnson said. “We cannot thank them enough.”

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or