It is with sadness but with hearts filled with profound love and joyous memories that we announce that our husband, father, grandfather, brother, uncle, mentor, leader and friend, Dr. Duane Messner M.D. passed away on Jan. 31, 2021 at home with family. He was 90 years young.
Born on April 18, 1930 into the Great Depression on a farm in Jasper, Minn., he grew up understanding the importance of hard work, taking care of those around him and family. He and his brother Milo left Jasper in 1948 to attend the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn. After graduation, Duane attended St. Louis University School of Medicine and received his medical degree in 1956. Upon completion he was drafted into the United States Air Force and served as a flight surgeon primarily in Madrid, Spain for two years. He loved to tell wild stories of his times in Spain and the shenanigans that occurred. Upon returning home he completed his orthopedic residency at Denver General Hospital and established a private practice in orthopedic surgery in Lakewood, Colo., in 1964. He met the love of his life, Jean, in 1966 in Georgetown, Colo., and they were married in 1971. They had three children: John, Matt and Carrie. He and Jean loved to travel and spent as much time as possible exploring the corners of the world, often taking their kids and grandkids along to share in their experiences.
Duane had a passion for the outdoors and skiing in particular. While continuing to practice medicine in Colorado, he served as the U.S. Ski Team Doctor and joined the team for the Winter Olympics in Grenoble, France in 1968. Through his experiences with winter sports and his work with the Children’s Hospital Amputee Clinic, which he cofounded, he learned that recreation through skiing could help with the rehabilitation of children with amputations. With this knowledge they approached Arapahoe Basin Ski Area and the director of the ski school, Willy Schaefler. In 1969, it was decided that they would begin the program with 15 amputee children. The program remained at A-Basin for two seasons before the George Engel Ski School at Winter Park Resort was contacted and the program found its permanent home and eventually became the National Sports Center for the Disabled.
As the program grew at Winter Park, racing quickly became a large component and he became the doctor who traveled with the disabled ski team. In 1976, he accompanied four persons with amputations to France for the first Paralympic international event. In 1980, he also traveled to Geilo, Norway, for the first Disabled Ski World Championships. Duane, along with his best friend Jack Benedick, worked passionately with the International Olympic Committee to recognize disabled athletes and to propel them to the same competitive level as able-bodied Olympians. This became one of his true passions in life and he continued as a sports medicine advisor to the disabled racing program until his retirement in 2004 and in doing so made it possible for countless individuals to excel in their sport. He was inducted into the Disabled Skiing Hall of Fame in 2001.
In addition to his work with disabled athletes, he continued to have a very successful medical career in Denver for 40 years. What started as a two-person orthopedic practice evolved into Panorama Orthopedics, one of the largest Orthopedic practices in Colorado. He received numerous awards and accolades for his professional work including acting as Board President for the American Orthopedic Society for Sport Medicine in 1997 and was introduced into the AOSSM Hall of Fame in 2003.
Throughout his life he never lost touch with his agricultural roots, partnering with long family friends, the Malmkars, in a farming operation in Grant, Nebraska and the Bailey’s in a ranching operation in Longmont, Colo. Upon retirement he moved to Gunnison, Colo., to be closer to his grandkids and run a horse and hay operation in the Ohio Creek Valley.
There are just not enough words to share how amazing a husband, father and man Duane was. His compassion, caring and dedication was evident in everything that he did. While he often came across as a cantankerous old bastard, his heart was gold and those who had the honor of knowing him will always remember how special he was. He will be missed but will always be in our hearts.
He is survived by his wife, Jean, children John, Matt (Melissa) and Carrie (Matt V.), grandchildren Josephine, August, Genevieve, Carson, Tillie, Rae, Calvin, and Amelia, nephew Mike and nieces Mary, Anne, Teresa and Julie. He was preceded in death by his parents August and Genevieve and brother Milo (Pat). A memorial service will be held in the fall of this year.
The family has set up an online memorial at forevermissed.com/duane-gene-messner/about.
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In lieu of flowers contributions can be made to the U.S. Paralympics Ski Team or the National Sports Center for the Disabled, nscd.org/donate-to-nscd.