Peter R. Decker, author, rancher, and longtime supporter of Fort Lewis College died on December 12, 2020, at age 86.
In 2002, Colorado Governor Bill Owens appointed an independent board to Fort Lewis College after nearly a century of governance by the State Board of Agriculture. Decker was one of the first appointees to organize and lead the FLC Board of Trustees—he served as chair for the first two years of the newly formed Board, and after a brief time away, he returned for two four-year appointments. His tenure on the Board ended in 2014.
For Decker, Fort Lewis College represented not only many of his interests but his passion for the liberal arts. Decker earned a doctorate in American History from Columbia University and taught at Duke University before establishing the Double D. Ranch in Ridgway, Colorado in 1980.
“Peter was the most influential and organized person to get the Board functioning from the get-go and he said some of his fondest memories were of those first years of the Board, getting it started,” said Peggy Sharp, executive assistant to FLC President Bob Dolphin and secretary to the Board of Trustees. “Peter loved the College and he kept track of us long after he was off the Board. If he didn’t think we were doing something right, he would call. He had a sense of humor about it, but he was also very serious about doing the right thing.”
Decker held many other public positions in Colorado, including National Western Stock Show trustee, Federal Reserve Board (Denver) member, and Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture. Though originally from New York, Decker had a unique relationship with and curiosity for the West, the heart of which came from his time ranching in the San Juan Mountains.
“Peter respected Colorado’s West Slope ranching history with its challenges and diversity, and it provided him with a variety of ingredients for his writing. He equally favored higher education, and with Fort Lewis’ roots and mission, both came together,” said Richard Ballantine, member of the FLC Foundation Board of Directors. “As a trustee, he was fully engaged in helping make the College a successful institution for its students and faculty.”
“I had the honor of serving on the Board of Trustees with Peter and we became good friends as I would often stop by his ranch in Ridgway to have coffee,” said Ernest House Jr., current chair of the Board of Trustees. “He was a great support and friend to me.”
Decker is the author of several books, including Fortunes and Failures: White-Collar Mobility in Nineteenth-Century San Francisco (1978); Old Fences, New Neighbors (1998); “The Utes Must Go!": American Expansion and the Removal of a People (2004); Saving the West (2010); Red, White & Army Blue (2014); and The Go-Backer (2017).