Ann Copeland remembers being a young girl sitting on her grandparents' porch and gazing across a future runway as the Yampa Valley Regional Airport was being built in the 1960s.
Now, four decades later, she's finishing a career at the same airport and spending more time with her llama herd.
Copeland attended the airport's grand opening in 1966, and her grandparents, Rosella and Ernest Signs, were on the maiden Frontier Airlines flight at YVRA. They were given VIP treatment because they had sold their land to Routt County so the airport could be built.
Free helicopter rides were offered at the grand opening, which allowed Copeland an aerial view of her hometown, Hayden. The Hayden High School Band performed and visiting dignitaries from the state capitol made speeches.
"I might have gotten the aviation bug from that," said Copeland, who plans to retire May 31, after working at YVRA for the past 21 years. "The aviation thing just gets in your blood."
In recent years, Copeland has once again witnessed major construction at YVRA as the terminal and operations manager.
"It's been a pretty intense three or four years," she said, noting the airport just completed a $16 million expansion. "It's been worth it. Just look at what we've got. I feel good about being able to walk away now."
Several years ago she was given the challenge of improving customer service at the airport terminal and she took it on with characteristic enthusiasm.
Copeland said it is time to catch up on some sleep, be creative, get outside and to "reconnect with family and to reconnect with life."
"This is what I'm going to do all summer," said Copeland, pointing to a fishing scene on her office wall.
She plans to spend more time on one of her hobbies, jewelry making.
"It just seemed like a good time to take a break ... but I'm really going to miss it," Copeland said.
She also said she is going to build her llama outfitting business that serves the Flat Tops Wilderness. She owns 80 llamas.
Copeland first signed on at the airport in 1986, working mostly as a baggage handler for American Airlines. She became a manager for American's ground operations and in 2003 was offered the newly created position she holds today, a job she said requires her to be the "heartbeat of the terminal."
"Ann has been a part of the airport since its conception," said Sandy Evans Hall, who has worked closely with Copeland throughout the years as the executive vice president for the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association. "I see Ann as kind of living and breathing this airport for a long time."
Copeland's favorite coffee mug states, "I love the smell of jet fuel in the morning," but her friends and airport staff are going to be the hardest thing to walk away from, she said.
"Even when it was bad, it was fun," she said, mentioning the times when passengers were stranded or without luggage for days because of a Denver blizzard. "I've made a lot of good, lasting friendships."
Large frames in Copeland's office contain photo collages of hundreds of current and past airport staff members.
"I think she is the rock of this airport, and I think she is going to be missed by all," said Transportation Security Administration manager Ann Doolin, who has worked with Copeland for 11 years. "You can go to her and she can answer a question on anything."
Custodian supervisor Nancy Pogline, who grew up with Copeland, said she was sad to hear she was leaving but envies her because "she's going to go play with her llamas. "
"She's awesome," Pogline said. "I'm really going to miss her. Hopefully she won't be a stranger and hopefully everything will run smooth when she's not here."