Tribute Written by Richard L. Knight
Vince Kontny died unexpectedly in his sleep on August 9, 2020. The news of his passing saddened and surprised staff and supporters of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust (CCALT). In the year that CCALT celebrates its 25 anniversary, we must pause and remember how this man’s legacy anchored CCALT’s beginnings. Mr. Kontny and his family were the first landowners in Colorado to work with CCALT, conveying the first CCALT held conservation easement on their Centennial Ranch near Ridgway, Colorado.
Vince was born the ninth child on a ranch in the northeastern plains of Colorado. After receiving his degree in civil engineering from the University of Colorado, Boulder, he was commissioned a naval officer in the Civil Engineer Corps and volunteered for the Vietnam War. Commanding elite Seabee units Vince reenlisted four times but with the provision that he remain in the war zone.
Following his military duty, Vince found himself in Australia and in twenty-nine years rose from a laborer on a railroad crew in the Australian outback to become the president of the world’s largest engineering and construction company at that time, overseeing more than 30,000 employees working in 67 different countries around the world. Approaching retirement, and with their three children off to college, Vince and his Australian-born wife, Joan, retuned to Colorado and purchased two historic cattle ranches near Ridgeway.
Tim Wohlgenant, as CCALT’s first employee, and part-time at that, worked with Vince and his family to conserve their Centennial Ranch. The project was completed on November 12, 1995 – sealing CCALT’s first conservation easement. Because Colorado state law requires a land trust to have a second party hold easements during the first two years of a trust’s existence, Colorado Open Lands generously held the Kontny easement before it came home to stay with CCALT in 1997.
CCALT offers its most heart-felt condolences to the family of Mr. Kontny. Vince may have had a gruff exterior but for those who knew him, his heart was as big as the American West. And his generosity. His legacy includes family, land, agriculture. How many of us can claim a life dedicated to those higher purposes? Perhaps all we can say in memory is the likes of Mr. Kontny will not soon come again.