Behind The Blue Skies

You may have heard of a donation recently to help keep the Roosevelt Park Ice Rink open this year. The good people at Mile-Hi Skydiving presented the $10,000 check to the city from the Jeff Sands Memorial Blue Skies Fund. You may have also heard of the Blue Skies Neighborhood Park on the southwest side of town, it also was in part a tribute to Jeff Sands. With the anniversary of his untimely passing coming up, I thought some of you would like to know a little more about my friend, Jeff.

In a way I think it’s pretty funny that money in his name was used this way, sort of a last laugh (possibly more to come) and a little gentle jab at the city that didn’t always make life easy on him, and vice-versa. Here, in part, are some of my comments about Jeff right after he died in an airplane accident in April 2003. Keep him in mind when you skate that ice, enjoy that park, or watch in awe as its ” jumpers away” from Mile-Hi’s airplanes.

Jeff was more than an ally, he was a friend. What you see on my site is in large part due to Jeff. Sure, I came up with the catchy name and initial website work, but Jeff contributed more than most people knew. His constructive criticism was just that, constructive. He knew I had some ideas of what I wanted to say, and he fostered our shared interests and goals as he steered and guided me in the right directions. He saw in me a fellow bulldog that would stand up for what was right, even if it wasn’t the easiest route to take. He offered his talents in web design and promotion. He gathered information, took pictures, and let me in on some of the history of the city and the airport. Many times I wanted to quit this as I find no joy in looking for and exposing the worst in people. Just as many times, Jeff would tell me I was doing the right thing, always giving positive reinforcement why we do what we do. Jeff also helped with the petition drive that was critical in establishing the Noise Abatement Procedure.

I was warned early on to steer clear of Jeff. But I wanted to find out for myself. I’m glad I did as we hit it off right away and became good friends. Prior to meeting Jeff, I had seen the skydivers at the airport. I thought it was terrific that Longmont had something like that at their airport. I’d sit on my balcony and watch them come out of the plane and watch them all the way to the ground. I could hear the chutes open, hear the jumpers whoop and holler, and it all looked great. I’d then watch the airplane practically fall out of the sky, often getting down before some of the jumpers. ” What a pilot“, I’d think.

Before I moved to Longmont, I heard what a “cowtown” it was, the armpit of Colorado. I figured with something as progressive as this operation, and all the young people it was bringing here, someone confused this city with another. Jeff created the cool center of Longmont‘s universe with this place he ran, how could anyone have a problem with it? Boy, oh boy was I in for an education.

One thing Jeff and I often agreed on was the dislike of discrimination. Narrowing it down to the aviation field, I think the best thing for any airport is to have it as diverse as possible. It’s good for its image and future survivability. While I stick to good old fashioned American built mass produced metal aircraft, just because I do doesn’t mean that all the other types of interests shouldn’t be served at the airport. Gliders, ultralights, skydivers, homebuilts, helicopters, gyroplanes, you name it. And when the federal government is kicking in millions in funds for an airport, discrimination should never even be thought of. Some people just didn’t want skydiving as one of the types of operations at this airport. Some were airport users, some were at the city level. Even though I’d never strap on a chute, I’d defend someone’s right to operate a legitimate and legal business. Apparently, skydiving was not put on a level playing field in Longmont with other aviation activities.

Jeff fought the skydiving fight before I came onto the scene, and while he infuriated a few on the ground, he more than made up for it in the thousands of lives he changed for the better with the experience of a lifetime he offered with his business.

Once Jeff asked me if people thought he was a ‘ cowboy‘. I laughed and told him that’s exactly what people thought of him, and not always in a positive way. He had just gotten a tongue lashing at City Council by some guy who didn’t care for him. I told him not to let it bother him, that the majority of people in the world only dream of doing what he’s done, and since when did other peoples opinions slow him down? One thing I never forgot was when he said those were the same people that had no joy in their lives. They were the same people who would get mad at him or his jumpers for yelling on their way down from a jump, exhilarated from the experience. You could tell from his words he was more than a businessman, he wanted to give his customers something to remember for a lifetime, and I’m sure he succeeded in that.

Right up until the end, he was giving me advice on the site. He’d pull me aside at Airport Advisory Board and City Council meetings to ask how things were, always there to support me. I’m going to miss our conversations, our common goals, but mostly I’m just going to miss Jeff. In death, as in life, he keeps me motivated to continue with this sideline I picked up, and he encouraged.

He was one of those ” bigger than life” kinds of guys; you don’t meet many like him. I’m really glad I did.

About Chris Rodriguez

Chris is the editor/publisher of LightningRod Blog - as well as founder/editor of Wrongmont, Longmont Advocate, Vote!Longmont, Longmont Politics, the LightningRod Radio Network, as well as being the original Longmont Examiner. Chris is a writer and talker - whether it be blogs, podcasts, music, or public speaking. When he's not heard on Air Traffic radio, he can be heard on his podcasts or seen in the local paper causing trouble.
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