Steamboat Magazine pays tribute to long-time leader
By Deb Olsen
Michael Barry, who owned Steamboat Magazine for more than a decade from 1987 until 1998, died on Saturday, July 18, 2020.
Like so many of us, Michael first visited Steamboat Springs during a ski vacation and fell in love with the powder, the people and the small-town lifestyle. He moved here in 1970 and purchased the magazine 17 years later. With editor Rolly Wahl, he helped to establish Steamboat Magazine as the premier award-winning lifestyle publication of Northwest Colorado. Michael and Rolly emphasized lively writing, compelling photography and sophisticated design, which are still the hallmarks of the publication today.
Michael’s interests in Western art, rural living, skiing and the outdoors have had a continued influence on Steamboat Magazine. When we celebrated our 40th anniversary two years ago, we looked back through the entire archives and realized that we have put together an impressive body of work, especially in the areas of art, Western lifestyle, the outdoors/open space and skiing, both competitively and recreationally.
I first met Michael when I interviewed for the position of interim editor after Rolly resigned in 1997. He was direct and to the point. It would be difficult to fill Rolly’s shoes, he said, even for a short period, which is all he could offer me. He was planning to sell the magazine and was in negotiations with potential buyers, who did, in fact, purchase the magazine the next year.
In the short time I worked with him, I learned that Michael supported his employees. He took us all to Boulder one time to hear the Colorado Symphony play at CU. He not only picked up the tab for the tickets, but he also paid for our hotel rooms. He helped employees continue their education, he was generous during the holidays and he was willing to step in when needed.
Early in my tenure, the longtime art director and I discovered that we had differing opinions of good cover art. Looking back on it all, I’m sure the staff saw me as the rookie with a lot to learn. But I stuck to my guns, as did my colleague. Michael came into the office, took one look at the two cover mockups, pointed his finger at the one he liked and said, “We’ll run this one.” It happened to be my choice, but I don’t think he knew that. He just wanted to ensure that right up to the end of his tenure, the magazine would stay true to itself.
Years went by before I saw Michael again. This time, I was a member of the nonprofit Friends of the Chief Foundation, which was seeking to purchase the historic Chief Theater building from him. He was a tough negotiator, and he was not naïve as to what we were asking: we needed a smoking deal to save the theater. In the end, his love for the community swayed him, and we were able to purchase the building. The Michael Barry Auditorium is named in honor of his philanthropic legacy.
Cheers to you, Michael Barry. May you rest in peace.
By Deborah Olsen