To a companion — not like those who came
To weary me with iteration tame
Of idle talk in shallow fancies bred.
From dreary moods the cheerful fire has led
Gather round my friends.
– Christopher Pearse Cranch
How do you measure the arc of a life?
You think the math is simple. Take the impact of the things you do, multiply by the love you give, and subtract the mistakes along the way.
Three fathers, husbands, sons, businessmen and public servants died Feb. 1 in an avalanche near Silverton in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado.
One of these men was my good friend: Andy Jessen, 40.
The Colorado Sun invited close friends to memorialize Andy Jessen, Adam Palmer and Seth Bossung, three influential Eagle County men who were killed Feb. 1, 2021, in a massive avalanche near Silverton. Read all of the remembrances here.
The measurement of his impact will be felt in the Town of Eagle for eons to come. Andy was, as I used to tell him, “a mystery wrapped in an enigma.”
Trained as a lawyer and tired of city life on the Front Range, he relocated to Eagle to live out a very Colorado dream with his beautiful and talented wife, Amanda. They started a brewing company in their garage, eventually growing into the community hub of Bonfire Brewing.
Slowly but surely, he became a major employer in town, pulling in those talented people who strive valiantly at making mountain life work. Bit by bit, Bonfire beer started appearing in the fancy restaurants upvalley. We all toasted his successes, as well as our luck that we were blessed enough to have his talents in Eagle.
His taproom is the town’s living room, rec room, ballroom, and sometimes courtroom.
Everyone — and I mean everyone — at some point sat at the bar and got quiet, sage advice from Andy. From champions of industry jetting into the Eagle airport en route to Vail to the truckers coming in off Interstate 70, they would sit and listen to this brewing artisan or admire artwork by his wife (really the brains of the operation) that hangs behind the bar.
It seemed like whenever I was there, he was opening early or closing late for some reason or another. Typically, those reasons were somehow connected with trying to make our little town better. A free case of beer for a fundraiser here, a few T-shirts, hats and growlers for a cause there. From that brewery, we watched the birth of a public servant.
At that very same bar we hatched a plan in 2014. Andy, another business owner in town and I would run for Eagle’s Town Council. On a joint ticket. Our platform would be the outdoor economy: How to bring it to town and how to reinvigorate a tired downtown. We would be the youngest on the council by a country mile.
We campaigned hard, stood shoulder-to-shoulder swinging at the “establishment,” and to the surprise of all of us — most of all Andy — we won.
After town meetings that would run well past midnight, Andy would often walk over to the taproom with a few of us. We’d sit around and vent, curse and discuss how we were going to move the needle. It seems like Andy was always the wise one, thoughtfully keeping us balanced and focused on the right direction.
His vision and purpose saw the town create a more integrated and expansive trail system. He guided the completion of our whitewater park. And he always had the fire going in the backyard of the taproom, a respite for weary paddlers, hikers and bikers who, again and again, descended upon Bonfire Brewing to “gather ’round.” The impact of this simple act of gathering around a firepit to share stories of adventure, life and love will continue to reverberate and regenerate for years to come.
The arc of Andy’s life in Eagle eventually turned to love. There are no words to describe how much he loved his wife, Amanda. Seeing them at the bar together on crowded weekend nights stealing glances at each other felt like the looks Adam must have given Eve and vice versa. It was the pure, loving gaze between true life partners.
As Andy’s political experience grew, he saw that the job of helping to run a town must eventually turn into taking care of the people in that town.
When Andy and Amanda saw the need for more yoga space in town, they turned the brewery floor into a weekend yoga studio. Revitalize Main Street? How about starting music festivals from scratch.
Andy had that magnetic draw, the capacity to see that a town and its citizens were a single, living, breathing, symbiotic organism. He understood that for people to fall in love with a town, they first had to see that their town loved them. Andy worked hard every day to make that a reality.
Mistakes. Everyone makes them. Some are regrettable. More often than not, some of them turn into lessons. What to do, what not to do.
Andy was so excited that he was recently elected mayor pro tem. When he sent me a message about it, I dug up an old email that he sent me talking about why he didn’t run in 2016. He felt like he had more to learn, before he could be “trusted” with the town.
We stepped on more political landmines than I could count in our first few years on the council and Andy always seemed to relish the explosion in his special, irreverent way. Back then, we were learning as we went along.
To see him choose his words so carefully about this work and then see him come to be the next in line to lead Eagle, that made all the mistakes we made along the way worth it. He reminded me over and over again that to truly be of service, you have to lead with your whole heart, mistakes and all.
The arc of Andy’s impact and love will continue to circle back to the bonfire of a bright and beautiful life. Gather ’round, my friends, gather ’round.
Luis Benitez is the mountaineer-turned-councilman who was the first director of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office. He is now the head of government affairs and global impact at VF Corporation.