New Eagle County Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry has deep local roots
EAGLE — Sometimes life’s adventures take you to far flung locales and sometimes they bring you back home.
And, as newly-seated Eagle County Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry has discovered, a big adventure can materialize right across the street. Literally, right across the street.
From the back porch of her home, Chandler-Henry can observe the comings and goings at the Eagle County Building in downtown Eagle. While her home is at a high profile corner — the intersection of Sixth Street and Capitol — the property itself is actually in unincorporated Eagle County. Chandler-Henry joked that living in such a visible locale has been great preparation for her new job in the public eye.
In illustration, Chandler-Henry noted the controversy that ensued when she and her husband were forced to remove a number of dying willow trees from their property. When the ditch that had historically fed the trees was closed off, the couple tried to keep the willows alive for several summers. But even when they spend upwards of $600 per month to water the willows, the trees simply couldn’t survive without the ditch. After the Henrys started pulling down the dead trees, residents of Eagle vocally objected both in person and in writing. Chandler-Henry said some of the comments were quite mean-spirited, but she has opted to take a positive view of the issue.
“I think it’s indicative about how much people care about their community,” she said.
The high profile house where Chandler-Henry and her husband, George, now live is the new commissioner’s childhood home. The Chandler family moved to Eagle back in 1959. Her father worked for the Federal Aviation Administration and her mother was a nurse.
Chandler-Henry has great childhood memories of growing up in Eagle — riding her bike everywhere and taking piano lessons from Jean Price. She recalls purchasing her Levis from the Lewis Store downtown under the watchful eye of Theresa Lewis, who insisted teenage customers try on their jeans before they bought them and she wouldn’t sell a pair of jeans if she thought the fit was too tight.
One of Chandler-Henry’s favorite family photos shows her parents and their three daughters skiing at Vail during the resort’s first season. Her parents bought two lifetime passes from Pete Seibert that first year. The passes cost $700 each, and while they could afford to pay cash for one, they had to take out a loan for the second pass. As for the girls, they could buy student season passes for about $25 each. For the past 50 years, the Chandlers and their children have spent a lot of time on the local ski hill.
Top of her class
Forty years ago, Chandler-Henry was the valedictorian of the Eagle Valley High School Class of 1973. The class had a total of 31 graduates and the entire population of the high school (which included grades 7-12) was just 330. Not only did Chandler-Henry take top honors from EVHS, but she also received a prestigious Boettcher scholarship. She enrolled at Fort Lewis College when she earned a bachelor’s degree in political science, graduating in 1976. She also met her husband while attending college in Durango.
With encouragement from one of her professors, Chandler-Henry applied to graduate school at Duke University. She eventually earned her master’s in political science and health administration.
During the early to mid 1980s, cable television was taking off nationwide and there was a gut of work for installers. The Chandlers launched an installation business which eventually took them to Nebraska and then back to Colorado.
“We built a house south of Silt and closed on our 18 percent home loan the day oil shale crashed,” Chandler-Henry said.
Her husband eventually went to work as an electrician and Chandler-Henry began teaching at Colorado Mountain College. Their son, Zach, and daughter, Hilary, joined the family.
“Then, when the kids were 2 and 4 years old, Eagle was calling.”
Who says you can’t go home?
While her parents had moved from Eagle several years previously, they never sold the family home. Back in 1992, George and Kathy moved back in to her childhood home.
“I though it would be really different than when I lived here,” she said. “But then it was the same ladies I remembered still serving the Methodist Chicken Noodle Dinner.”
Chandler-Henry continued work at CMC and eventually launched Black Diamond Research — a data analysis, survey research and group facilitation business. Through that work she became involved with the Eagle County Economic Council, which was her launching pad to county involvement.
“Back when I was working for CMC, a colleague and I always used to talk about becoming county commissioners, but the timing never seemed right,” Chandler-Henry said. Then, suddenly this spring, that changed.
When Eagle County Commissioner Jon Stavney resigned his seat to become the new Eagle town manager, Chandler-Henry was initially a member of the Eagle County Democratic Vacancy Committee. “At some point, I just decided I should apply.”
During the interview process, Chandler-Henry vowed to make the commissioner job her full-time focus and after a thorough vetting of the five candidates, she was selected by the committee to fill out Stavney’s term. She will have to seek election for the post in 2014.
These days, if Chandler-Henry has a spare moment, she is likely spending it getting up to speed on various county issues. The large Wolcott development proposal is a particularly daunting file, and she must listen to all of the testimony compiled to date before she can vote on the matter.
She has joined Sara Fisher and Jill Ryan to comprise the first all-women Eagle County Board of Commissioners. While that makes for an interesting factoid, Chandler-Henry doesn’t believe the all-female board means a gap in representation.
“There are also no Republicans, no Hispanics and no Roaring Fork representatives on the board,” she said. “With only three commissioners, there are always going to be groups that are not represented. Besides, when people talk about there being a problem with all women on the board, it makes my 88-year-old mother mad. She said if people have a problem with it, they need to call her.”