Steve Johnson lived a large life full of stories, friendships and laughter
Celebration of life
A celebration of Steve Johnson’s life will be planned this summer. To leave condolence messages for his family, visit www.kentfuneralhomes.com. Memorial contributions can be made to the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, 5490 Highway 6, Gypsum, Colorado 81637. Please include Johnson Memorial Donation in the memo line.
EAGLE — Steve “Kinko” Johnson was raised in Eagle, raised some Cain in Vail and lived his life large.
He passed away Sunday, Feb. 18, at his home in the Brush Creek Valley. He leaves behind a tight family, a wide circle of friends and too many colorful stories to count.
“He didn’t leave anything on the table. He had no regrets,” his brother, Bill Johnson, said.
Steve was born June 19, 1945, the oldest of D.E. and Jean Johnson’s four children. His mother was also an Eagle native, and his father moved to the community from East Divide Creek in Garfield County in the 1930s.
While he developed a larger-than-life persona in his later years, Bill said his brother was actually a pretty mellow kid.
“He wasn’t the one who got into trouble,” Bill said.
Together with their brother, Sam, and sister, Sally (Metcalf), the Johnson kids attended Eagle community schools, learned to swim at the Glenwood Hot Springs Pool, learned to ski at Whittaker Ranch and Cooper Hill and hung out around town.
“Our house was the gathering place because of our back yard. We had a sandbox,” Bill said.
One of Steve’s more memorable childhood moments came when his dad was teaching him and his buddy Tom Luby how to box. Steve wound up with a broken tooth at the end of the lesson.
Before he drove around the valley in his signature orange Porsche with AIA vanity plates, Steve’s first vehicle wasn’t exactly a stunner. His parents gave him the family’s green station wagon, and he was then expected to drive his siblings to school and to practice.
At Eagle Valley High School, Steve played football and was a member of the marching band. He played trumpet, and when the band performed at games, he was out on the field in his football gear.
After graduation, he headed to Colorado State University. He had to do a stint at Southern Colorado State College when he needed to beef up his grades. He did manage to earn his business degree in four years, and he served in the U.S. Army Reserves.
Once he finished college, he returned to Eagle County and moved to Vail.
When Steve became ‘Kinko’
“We were trying to figure out when Steve became ‘Kinko.’ It had to be his second year in Vail,” Bill said.
When he first came back to the valley, Steve worked as a snowcat driver. Bill recalled how Steve frequently asked his supervisor if it would be OK to bring his “cousin” up the hill. These “cousins” were always attractive young women.
In 1973, Steve took over a family business. His maternal grandfather, Joe Allen, was the former manager of The First Bank of Eagle County, and the insurance business was part of the bank operation. Steve’s dad had been running the Allen Agency Insurance since 1964.
“Steve definitely ran the business differently than dad did,” Sally said. But that’s not to say his methods weren’t successful.
Because of his Vail nightlife, he knew a lot of business owners in the community who then became insurance customers. Steve, Bill and Bill’s wife Raenette eventually formed a partnership and purchased the former Serv-U-Shop in downtown Eagle in 1978. They then opened two businesses at the site — Allen Agency Insurance and Kuttin’ Korner. Both still operate in the same storefront today, 40 years later.
Steve was one of the valley’s first reverse commuters. He worked in Eagle but lived in Vail. Actually, he lived it up in Vail.
“Those early days in Vail were wild but it was a controlled wild,” Bill said.
Steve purchased a condo in Red Sandstone where he lived for 20 years. His palled around with “Packy” Walker and “Blinky” Blunk, and thoroughly enjoyed the Vail night life at Purcells, The Red Lion and Donovan’s.
“Someone told him once, ‘Look at all your friends. No one has a real name,’” Bill said.
“His dad was my insurance guy, and Kinko was living in Vail at the time,” Blunk said. “Kinko was just a good ol’ boy.”
Blunk and Walker said they had lots of great times hanging out with Kinko in Vail, but agreed many of their stories from those times are not suitable for publication.
Steve never married. He made it clear he had no intention to. It was a running joke.
His brother-in-law Mike Metcalf recalled how Steve owned a Ford Torino, and when he and Sally announced their engagement, Steve tossed him the keys to the car.
“He told me, ‘You had better take these and get out while you can.’ I have no doubt that he wouldn’t have complained if I did,” Mike said.
Kinko was a big part of Steve’s personality, but it didn’t define him.
“He was a very kind person,” Sally said. “He was overly generous, to a fault sometimes.”
For years, Allen Agency Insurance was the biggest financial supporter for the Eagle Flight Days fund, and local kids found out he was a soft touch when they were selling raffle tickets.
“To me, that was his big contribution to the community,” Sam said.
Steve also had a soft spot for his nieces and nephews.
“He loaned Sarah (Sally and Mike’s daughter) his Porsche for prom one year,” Sally said.
“He spent a lot of time hauling Andy (Bill and Raenette’s son) around. He took him to hockey games and hunting trips,” Bill said.
Steve was an avid hunter who would regale his companions with wild stories.
“About half the stuff he said probably wasn’t true, but you never really knew,” said his friend Rich Deane.
Steve particularly loved setting up hunting camps from the family cabin at Fulford, and over the years he hosted many, many friends at the site.
“He was a very personable guy. He was good at making and keeping friends,” Bill said. “There were different reasons that different groups went on our hunting trips, but we would all go to hear about Kinko’s exploits.”
“My dad called Kinko ‘E.T.’ That stood for ‘Entertainment Tonight,’” Mike said.
Inspired by the good times at the Johnson cabin, Walker built his own cabin in 1988.
“Kinko wasn’t much help. He would come over and drink a beer and watch everyone work,” Walker said.
In addition to their friendship, Walker teamed up with Steve on several swashbuckling business deals. They invested in a gold mine in Alma, a search for Japanese gold in the Philippines and the hunt for a pirate ship called the Widah.
Steve was an avid golfer, and after he moved to Eagle in 1993, he took up patio gardening.
“I would go down to Eagle about two or three times a week just to make sure he was watering his tomatoes,” Blunk said.
“With him gone, his potted tomato plants may have a chance of survival. He was the worst gardener,” Walker said.
Steve was still working as an insurance agent during his final days.
“When he got to normal retirement age, he said he’d been acting retired for so long that he had to go back to work,” Sam said.
His family and friends will miss his random phone calls. He would periodically call just to chat, forgetting why he called in the first place. They will also miss his dinner invitations. He would ask folks over to dine, telling them he planned a turkey dinner. But actually, what he planned was to cook was a turkey. If people wanted anything else to eat, then they had to bring it along.
People will remember Steve’s outrageous tales, his outgoing ways and his good nature. He was always willing to laugh with others and at himself.
“You practically couldn’t give him a hard time,” Mike said.
In terms of area, it’s the county’s smallest conservation deal ever. In terms of location, it’s one of the county’s rarest acquisitions.