Longtime Douglas County commissioner leaves a big legacy

Jim Sullivan, who died at 92, helped build the foundation for today's Douglas County

Elliott Wenzler
ewenzler@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 4/17/20

Not everyone in Douglas County had a chance to meet longtime county commissioner Jim Sullivan, but if they have enjoyed the open space program, attended an event at the fairgrounds or driven on …

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Longtime Douglas County commissioner leaves a big legacy

Jim Sullivan, who died at 92, helped build the foundation for today's Douglas County

Posted

Not everyone in Douglas County had a chance to meet longtime county commissioner Jim Sullivan, but if they have enjoyed the open space program, attended an event at the fairgrounds or driven on E-470, they've felt the impacts of his work.

The commissioner, who also served two terms as a state representative, died in his Perry Park home April 14 at the age of 92.

Sullivan, who was born in Iowa in 1927, was an Army veteran, a family man and a public servant. He moved to Douglas County from New York in 1972, just a few years after his son and namesake, Jim Sullivan Jr., began college at the University of Denver, his son said.

Sullivan, who was serving in the Korean War when his son was born, lived in many states in his life, including Texas, California, Nebraska and Minnesota. He met his wife Donna while attending college at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.

The younger Sullivan grew accostomed to hearing stories from strangers who were affected by his father. Once, a Canadian man who was living in Douglas County told Sullivan Jr. that he had decided to take the test to become a U.S. citizen solely so he could vote for his dad as a commissioner.

“I was always astounded at how many people my dad impacted,” Sullivan Jr. said.

When his father passed away and Sullivan Jr. began sharing the news, he found himself talking to his father's banker. After hearing the news, she burst into tears.

"She said 'your dad affected me so deeply. He would always ask about my kids, he remembered their names,'" Sullivan Jr. said.

While Sullivan's exact cause of death was not disclosed, he faced health challenges in the years preceding his death, according to his son, who added that the death was not related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
 
During the 15 years that Sullivan, better known to some as Sully, served as a county commissioner — from 1989 to 2004 — he championed many projects still alive today.

“He was a visionary,” Roger Partridge, a current county commissioner, said.

Sullivan, who nominated Partridge to the planning commission in 2004, served as a mentor for the commissioner, Partridge said. 

“He was definitely one of the movers and shakers to create who Douglas County is today,” he said. 

Fairgrounds and 4-H

Sullivan's colleagues and friends knew the Douglas County Fairgrounds meant a great deal to the man. He not only loved attending events there, he also contributed to the facility's existence.

“It was really Sully who made the opportunity for the fairgrounds to be what they are today,” Partridge said. “He went ahead and pushed for the facilities that are now in the indoor arena and the event centers.”

Every year, Sullivan looked forward to the Douglas County Fair & Rodeo, a community event put on by the county that includes a carnival, rodeo, livestock sale and live entertainment.

“During the two weeks of the county fair, you never saw him without a cowboy hat,” said former commissioner Michael Cooke, who served with Sullivan for six years. “That was a signature thing for him.”

Sullivan, who served on the fair board for many years, was also a big supporter of the 4-H club, Cooke said. Every year, he participated in 4-H's livestock sale.

“It meant a lot to him. And it had a lot to do with the kids,” Sullivan Jr. said. “He thought it was a good, wholesome, all-American, constructive activity.”

The water guy

Those who worked with Sullivan during his time as commissioner also saw his dedication to conservation projects.

“Something he should be remembered for is his part in the development of the open space program in Douglas County,” Cooke said. “As a result, Douglas County can really boast that... there's a huge land mass that has been preserved.”

Sullivan also worked on securing resources like water for future generations of residents.

“He was the water guy,” Cooke said. “He had a great knowledge and a great sense about water issues.”

Sullivan also played a significant role in securing the Park Meadows mall and E-470 projects, according to his family and colleagues.

“Douglas County offers a choice of both rural and urban lifestyles and responsible development has really created that,” Cooke said. “So much of that he played a big part in during his years on the commission.”

A legacy

Sullivan was known to many as a family man with a deep sense of faith. He was the kind of guy who had a profound impact on everyone he met, his son said.

“He had deep, deep, powerful effects on people without trying to,” Jim Sullivan Jr. said. “I think it's because he was a sincere and honest person.”

Sullivan was also known for his humor and wit.

“There was never a conversation with Sully that didn't leave you in stitches,” Cooke said.

When Cooke last spoke to Sullivan over the phone in February, he was still leaving her in stitches with his one-liners and jokes, she said.

“It's hard to describe a guy as big as he was,” she said. “He was big in terms of his legacy, the people he touched, the kids he helped and the county he grew. He was big.”

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