Betsy and George Wiegers named 2019 Vail Valley Citizens of the Year - Vail Valley Foundation

Betsy and George Wiegers named 2019 Vail Valley Citizens of the Year



Betsy and George Wiegers
Betsy and George Wiegers at the Vail Dance Festival gala in 2012. Photo by Holly Cole.

Avon, Colo., Jan 4, 2019 — It was the mid-1800s when Benjamin Jowett first coined the phrase, “The way to get things done is not to mind who gets the credit of doing them.”

In the Vail Valley community, it is Betsy and George Wiegers who are the embodiment of the concept, coining it anew through incredible acts of philanthropy throughout Eagle County and beyond.

Betsy, in particular, has spearheaded a quiet yet forceful, compilation of philanthropic work here in the Vail Valley. Together, Betsy and George have created and supported a body of work in this valley and beyond that has impacted countless lives across a broad spectrum of giving.

“There is virtually no area of community life that they have not elevated through their giving, Board service, vision, and foresight,” said Ann Smead, Chairman of the Vail Valley Foundation Board of Directors. “We are so thankful to them, and I feel, in truth, they are honoring us by allowing us to honor them as Citizens of the Year.”

In the arts, in education, in mental and physical health, and in the overall development of this community and others, the Wiegers have been a stalwart and largely unseen force for positivity across all fronts, and have notably, and characteristically, eschewed accolades or recognition throughout.

For their good work in this community and beyond, the Vail Valley Foundation today named Betsy and George Wiegers as the 2019 Vail Valley Citizens of the Year.

The pair will be honored at the Vail Valley Foundation’s 2019 Black Diamond Ball, Feb. 15 at the Park Hyatt in Beaver Creek.

“Betsy and George join a highly unique and select group of people who have, through their tireless support have changed our community for the better. They are also humble, and I can be honest in saying that it was a years’-long process to finally convince them to allow us to present them with this much-deserved award,” said Mike Imhof, President of the Vail Valley Foundation, which has delivered the Vail Valley Citizen of the Year award since 1981. “We are grateful, not only for their philanthropic giving, but also for their time and guidance, and for allowing our community to express our heartfelt gratitude.”

Improving the community

Betsy and George have each specialized in various areas of work. Betsy’s impact on the community has been immeasurable, and while she has focused largely on the arts, education, and overall beautification of the communities she touches, her philanthropic giving has spanned nearly all walks of life in the Vail Valley.

She has been instrumental in the flourishing of the Vail Dance Festival, Bravo! Vail, and support of classical music and dance in general, including her roles in strong support of American Ballet Theater, the Denver Art Museum, the Betty Ford Gardens, the Philadelphia Philharmonic, the New York Philharmonic, and the New York Historical Society. She plays a crucial role on the Vail Dance Festival committee, and as underwriter for countless performances in both dance and classical, including the creation of the Betsy Wiegers Choral Fund, in honor of John W. Giovando, which brings choral work to Bravo! Vail each summer. She has been a trustee of Bravo! Vail and served on the Board of Directors for the Vail Valley Foundation since 2007.

“Betsy responds to the idea that the arts should be there for everybody,” said Damian Woetzel, Artistic Director of the Vail Dance Festival. “Her support comes in so many forms, not only in helping create the artistry on the stage, but also by ensuring that those who wish, can come and enjoy the arts, grown and learn from them, no matter what their cultural or economic background.”

For newcomers to the Vail Valley, it can come as a serendipitous surprise that the venerable New York Philharmonic has a summer residency here, and has since 2003. It has become one of the cultural crown jewels of the community. Only a very few are aware that it was Betsy who played the pivotal role in instigating this program; providing the time, vision, impetus, and funding required to get the program under way.

In addition, Betsy has been an ardent supporter of the Vail Valley Foundation’s mission to raise the quality of life in the Vail Valley through arts, athletics, and education. Along with her aforementioned support of dance and the arts, Betsy has been a steadfast supporter of all the organization’s endeavors, including a legacy of giving to YouthPower365’s education programming.

In fact, both Betsy and George have been strong supporters of the Vail Valley Foundation’s mission, and their work often crosses over. For example, both were among the original supporters of building the Vilar Performing Arts Center, both have been involved with the work of the Eagle County Land Trust, helping create conservation easements throughout the valley, in particular at Bair Ranch, and both have been active in support of Vail Health.

Taking care of heart, mind, and body

It has largely been George who has spearheaded the couple’s work in mental and physical health, environment, and veteran’s affairs.

George was the visionary behind the creation of the Helen and Arthur E. Johnson Depression Center at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. George wanted to create a Center focused on improving the lives of people with depression, mood, anxiety, and related disorders through clinical excellence, innovative research, community programs, and education. His original vision continues to drive the Center, which has treated thousands of patients who may not have otherwise received care since its opening, including services in Eagle County through telehealth.

In the past two years the Center has trained, for free, more than 9,000 Coloradans through various mental health education programs including suicide prevention. The Center is nationally known for its research into new service delivery models such as integrating primary and mental health care and was one of original members of the National Network of Depression Centers. George has been a steadfast advocate of this national network, which now includes 22 members and three partner organizations. The work of the Johnson Depression Center continues to grow and in 2018 a partnership with the Cohen Veterans Network afforded the opportunity to open a new clinic focused on providing outpatient mental health services to Veterans and their families.

“I think George’s legacy is huge, and it’s really changed the face of mental health care in Colorado and beyond,” said Heather Mulvihill, Chairman of the Depression Center.

George’s philanthropy doesn’t end there. Like Betsy, he has had an immeasurable impact on multiple communities throughout the country. He has been a major funder of Dr. Karl Deisseroth, whose laboratory at Stanford is globally recognized as an epicenter of new research in the fields of optogenetics and CLARITY mapping, both of which are cutting-edge technologies to support our understanding of neuropsychiatric disease.

George has also helped create a theater at Niagara University, his alma mater, and has been a strong supporter of Vail Health Hospital, Howard Head Sports Medicine centers, and the Vail Veterans program. George was also finance chairman for the University of Colorado in 1991, helping bolster funding for the University.

Betsy and George met in New York, soon after George left the Army. They were married there in 1965. Their son Alex was born in 1968, and is now married to Connie Wiegers. Betsy and George are now loving role models to granddaughters Hanna Wiegers and Lizzy Wiegers, as well as to the extended Wiegers family that gathers often at the family ranch.

George received his masters at Columbia Business School, where he helped found a series of classes helping teach the principles of capitalism to students at the renowned journalism school there. Later, while at Lehman Brothers, George took part in a series of major deals, including the sale of Pebble Beach to 20th Century Fox in 1978, and helping finance the beginnings of cable TV.

During her career, Betsy was active at Time Life Books, eventually taking a leadership role at the company as Director of Strategic Planning for the Time Inc. Books Group which included several subsidiaries in Europe, Japan and Mexico. She was also on the board of the Book of the Month Club; Little, Brown & Company; and Navarro S.A. publishers.

Both Betsy and George have a lifelong love of skiing – first in Vermont, then in Colorado, where they quickly fell in love with Vail Mountain. Through their friend, Jay Precourt, they began visiting Colorado in the late 1970s, and joined Precourt in purchasing the Skylark Ranch in 1980. In 1991 they bought a lot in Vail, and moved permanently to Vail in 1993.

“We were partners in many ventures together,” said Precourt, a longtime business partner, friend, and also the 2017 Vail Valley Citizen of the Year recipient.  “He’s not only a great partner, but he’s a terrific friend. He’s active, generous, and a great philanthropist.”

Betsy and George Wiegers join a distinguished list of previous recipients of the Citizen of the Year honor:

Previous Vail Valley Citizen of the Year honorees:

1981      Peter Abuisi
1982      E.B. Chester
1983      Jack Crosby
1984      President Gerald R. Ford
1985      Harry Frampton
1986      Helen Fritch
1987      George Gillett
1988      Merv Lapin
1989      Sheika & Pepi Gramshammer
1990      Paul Johnson
1991      Kent Rose
1992      Rod Slifer
1993      Dr. Richard Steadman
1994      John Garnsey
1995      John Horan-Kates
1996      Vi & Byron Brown
1997      Gil Giordano
1998      Barbara Treat
1999      Judy Alexander
2000      Pete Seibert
2001      Mary Louise Shaw
2002      Gerald Gallegos
2003      Cathy & Howard Stone
2004      Oscar Tang
2005      Diana Donovan
2006      Chupa Nelson
2007      Erik & Kathy Borgen
2008      Jack Eck
2009      Beth Slifer
2010      Martha Head
2013      Ann Smead
2014      Amy & Steve Coyer
2015      Pat & Pete Frechette
2016      Mary Sue & Mike Shannon
2017      Jay Precourt
2019      Betsy and George Wiegers

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