A Lasting Legacy
By Christina Freeman
Mike Roberts selected post-and-beam construction for the Rotary Peace Pavilion. Photo courtesy Rotary Club of Steamboat Springs.
By Gena Fischer
On a cold November night last fall, floating lanterns drifted in the dark sky over Howelsen Hill, lit and released by friends and family of Steamboat Springs’ builder Michael Roberts. It was a touching tribute to a man whose love for Steamboat and green building has left a legacy that will continue on.
Roberts, who died from injuries sustained in a hiking accident last October, was well known in the Steamboat area for his talent as an environmentally conscientious home builder and a dedicated and passionate community activist. Roberts arrived in Steamboat in the 1970s as a builder, who also happened to be a graduate of Princeton University. Happenstance took him from his plans to attend medical school at Johns Hopkins University to the foothills outside Denver, before settling in Northwest Colorado.
Roberts owned and operated Habitat Design and Construction until 2010, building many homes in Steamboat and other Colorado communities, always striving to focus on conservation, energy efficiency and building healthy homes for both the environment and the occupants. The homes ranged from entry level projects like Tamarack Point to multi-million dollar estates in Dakota Ridge and the Sanctuary, with Roberts treating each home or project with intense attention to detail. Bradley Bartels, who worked for Roberts as a builder superintendent during the boom years of the 2000s, says there was somewhat of a resistance toward green building during this time, but Roberts incorporated as many energy conservation techniques as he could. Judy Ryan, who worked for Roberts for over 20 years, says summing up his contribution to the Steamboat community in a few simple words is impossible. “The depth of Michael Roberts is enormous,” Ryan says. “His commitment to this community, to green building, to quality work, and to life was unprecedented. He was brilliant, especially in science. He used that knowledge of science when he built houses, while constantly expanding his understanding of green building practices.”
“There was more of a focus on mega homes with heated driveways, and super-insulated homes with air conditioners during these years. That’s what people wanted, and that’s what sold,” Bartels says. “But as times changed, people started becoming more and more aware of green building and its benefits, more accepting of what Michael was trying to do.”
With that endorsement, Roberts decided to found Odyssey Builders Group in 2010. He would take building green homes to an even larger level, working on projects true to his heart, building homes in a way that got people thinking differently, incorporating out-of-the-box building techniques while continuing to keep pace with the ever-changing technology of construction. Kevin Rusk, who worked as project manager at Odyssey, remembers Roberts for the way he treated each project personally, like a piece of artwork. “If he did not like something, he did not hesitate to take it apart and rebuild it. He made sure it was the way he wanted. He was a perfectionist, and he was a great guy to work with.”
Roberts’ contributions to the Steamboat community went beyond the homes he built. He was involved in the Yampa Valley Community Foundation, the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association and the Rotary Club of Steamboat Springs.
He served as the club’s president for a year, dedicating his time to building the Peace Pavilion, a timber-frame project that Roberts helped design and build. Fellow Rotarian Steve Sehnert said Roberts made the building of the Pavilion happen. “He donated hours and hours of his time, from design to construction to completion,” Sehnert says. “He personally supervised the project, and made sure it was built to his high standards. It was a project he was truly devoted to and cared deeply about.”
Another Rotarian, John Kerst, has known Roberts and his family for over 20 years, and was deeply aware of his generosity with both time and money. “Michael always dedicated himself to service in the community, whether it involved helping build the Peace Pavilion and the boardwalk, or selling hot dogs to make money for a cause. He was one of those guys that not only dedicated his life to his work and community, but also found time to enjoy hiking, biking, the outdoors; everything around him, and especially his children, Ryan, Drew and Christine. Michael’s fingerprints will always be in our community, from his work as a builder to what he did at Rotary,” Kerst says. “What we can learn from Michael Roberts is to take time to enjoy the life given to us, and to understand that the legacy you leave behind is based on what you do today.”