Tag Archives: Doug Sheffer

Ann Sheffer: A True Westport Playhouse Star

In the mid-1960s, Steve Gilbert was a beloved Staples High School art teacher. After school — as technical director for Players — he taught students how to create the remarkable sets that gave that drama troupe some of its early renown.

Each summer, Gilbert had another job: general manager of the Westport Country Playhouse. His Staples connection gave him an easy pipeline to willing workers. He hired set builders, ushers, even parking lot attendants.

Some of Gilbert’s teenagers — like Lindsay Law and Ann Sheffer — went on to careers in theater or TV.

Nearly all recall those summers as defining moments of their lives. They learned so much about the arts. They interacted with stars, and struggling actors. They hung out there together after work, and formed lifelong bonds.

“That’s where we grew up,” Sheffer recalls.

Staples Players received a replica of the Globe Theater. Steve Gilbert is at far left; Ann Sheffer is on the far right.

On Saturday, September 9, she returns to the Playhouse. As part of the annual gala — which this year features “Hamilton” Tony Award nominee and Grammy winner Jonathan Groff — the 1966 Staples grad receives the Leadership Award.

It’s been in the works even before Sheffer was born. 

Starting in the 1930s, her grandparents spent summers and weekends in Westport. (Their property, on the corner of Cross Highway and Bayberry Lane, predates the Merritt Parkway and Nike site — which became the Westport Weston Health District and Rolnick Observatory.)

As a child, Sheffer’s grandparents and parents took her to the Playhouse. She still recalls sitting in those red seats, for Friday afternoon children’s shows.

The Westport Country Playhouse, back in the day.

At 15, she became one of Gilbert’s ushers. The Playhouse calendar included 12 shows every season, from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

The set would be struck Saturday night. A new one was constructed on Sunday. On Monday, the next play opened.

Going to the Playhouse was “the social event” of the week, Sheffer remembers. “People kept their own seats, and their own days of the week, for years.”

Much has changed — from summer habits to entertainment options to theater itself.

But Sheffer’s commitment to the arts — and the Westport Country Playhouse — never wavered.

Ann Sheffer

After graduating with a degree in theater from Smith College, she earned a master’s in theater administration from Tufts, and an MBA from the University of Washington. Sheffer worked with many non-profit arts groups, serving on boards at the local, state and national levels.

In 1999 — after decades assisting a variety of Westport organizations — Sheffer was asked to help plan the Playhouse renovation. During that long but fruitful process, she championed its history and cultural significance. That includes preserving posters from the Playhouse’s long history. They’re now displayed in the lobby.

She helped procure $5 million in bond money from the state. She also negotiated a $2 million grant to name the adjacent barn for Lucille Lortel, along with annual funds for new plays.

Sheffer has long supported the Playhouse’s education programs. Her brother Doug was a props apprentice in 1968. (That’s why every play featured furniture and other items from the Sheffer’s home — including Sheffer’s mother’s high school diploma, which hung on the wall when Shirley Booth starred in “The Desk Set.”)

In 1968, the Westport News profiled Playhouse apprentices. Doug Sheffer is shown in the photo at right.

Sheffer was a trustee until 2015 — “15 amazing years working with Joanne Woodward, Annie Keefe and a dedicated board” that completely transformed an old, leaky and unheated barn into a theater for the next generation.

When she accepts her award at the September 9 gala, Sheffer will no doubt speak about what the Playhouse has meant to her, for so many years.

She may also weave together some of the strands that continue to tie the Westport Country Playhouse to the rest of the community. For example, the Susan Malloy Lecture in the Arts — named for Sheffer’s aunt, and set for September 11 — will feature a panel discussion on “Falsettos.”

Interestingly, in 1994 Staples Players presented that groundbreaking show about gay life as a studio production. The principal did not want it to be shown at the high school — so the Playhouse offered its stage.

The same stage that — 30 years earlier, and more than 50 years ago now — was a home away from home for a generation of Staples Players.

Including a very passionate, and impressionable, Ann Sheffer.

(The Westport Country Playhouse Gala on Saturday, September 9 begins with a 5:45 p.m. cocktail party. A presentation to Sheffer, a performance by Groff and a silent auction follow. All proceeds benefit the WCP’s work on stage, with schools and throughout the community. For more information and tickets, call Aline O’Connor at 203-571-1138, or email aoconnor@westportplayhouse.org.)

The Westport Country Playhouse today.


Honoring Doug Sheffer

It took 4 different gatherings to fully celebrate Doug Sheffer’s life.

The 1st — in honor of the 1968 Staples grad killed last January in a Colorado helicopter crash — took place at the Waldorf School on the Roaring Fork, where his generosity and energy had inspired generations of students.

The 2nd was at the hangar of his helicopter business, where fellow pilots and members of Colorado’s search and rescue teams paid tribute to Doug’s amazing flying ability. The 3rd drew over 100 members of the Aspen/Snowmass ski schools.

Doug Sheffer

Doug Sheffer

The 4th — also at the Waldorf School — was held earlier this month. His younger brother Jonathan spoke of Doug’s skiing, boat racing, sailing the Atlantic, hiking the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails, windsurfing in Maui and flying on a trapeze, as well as his earlier days at Staples: wrestling, working on the Staples Players tech crew and playing the clarinet.

As an adult, Doug acted, directed, choreographed and ran the lighting booth during Waldorf plays.

John Kantor — owner and director of the Longshore Sailing School, which Doug ran as its 1st general manager — described his sailing to Bermuda, and racing in Antigua as waves crashed over the bow.

Doug was so nimble and light, John said, that “he was the first to be hauled up to the top of the mast in the bosun’s chair for race adjustments.”

Doug Sheffer, in front of his beloved helicopter.

Doug Sheffer, in front of his beloved helicopter.

He traveled to 6 continents, and both poles. And, his daughter Brooke said, he wanted to go with his family into space, with Richard Branson.

A 5th memorial service will be held for Doug Sheffer this summer, here in Westport.

(To read a much fuller description of Doug’s memorial services in Colorado, click on the Aspen Business Journal.)

Contributions In Doug Sheffer’s Memory

Donations in honor of Doug Sheffer — the 1968 Staples grad killed last week in a helicopter accident — can be made to:

Waldorf School on the Roaring Fork
16543 Old Highway 82
Carbondale, CO 81623

Garfield County Search and Rescue Inc.
P.O. Box 1116
Glenwood Springs, CO 81602

Mountain Rescue Aspen
630 West Main Street
Aspen, CO 81611

Doug Sheffer in his beloved helicopter.

Doug Sheffer in his beloved helicopter.

A Few Words From Ann Sheffer

Ann Sheffer sent this report from Aspen. She wishes to thank her family’s countless friends for their thoughts and prayers, following her brother Doug Sheffer’s tragic death this week in a helicopter accident.

It’s early morning in Colorado — the quiet before the rest of the family begins arriving, and before the snow starts and makes it difficult to get here. In true Aspen fashion we have very little phone or internet connection. So I may not answer you right away if you call or write, as so many of you have.

The next 3 days will be a vigil for Doug. Yesterday a group of friends and family brought his body home and washed and dressed him, in a very moving ceremony. People from the community will sit and read to him as he begins what they call his “natural transition.” I can’t do justice to the philosophy and faith behind this, but know that this is what his family wanted, and Doug would have also.

Doug Sheffer, doing what he loved. (Photo/Matt Hobbs for Vital Films)

Doug Sheffer, doing what he loved. (Photo/Matt Hobbs for Vital Films)

There will be a memorial on Saturday at the school that he built and loved so much. We expect hundreds of people to attend, given the impact that Doug had on this community. I hope we can create a similar memorial in Westport this summer.

We are overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support from far-flung friends who knew him from growing up in Westport, and understood even then what an amazingly  vibrant, funny, adventure-seeking, generous, caring and just plain “good” person he would grow up to be.

We haven’t begun to absorb what his loss will mean. I will write more later, with details of how to make a contribution in Doug’s memory.

Love to you all,
Ann Sheffer and Bill Scheffler

Doug Sheffer: A Quiet Hero, Behind The Scenes

Doug Sheffer’s death in a helicopter crash yesterday sent shock waves through Westport and the Rocky Mountains. The 1968 Staples grad — son of longtime Westporter civic volunteers Ralph and Betty Sheffer, brother of Westport activist Ann Sheffer and noted musician Jonathan Sheffer — was well known for his wilderness spirit, love of the outdoors, and concern for others.

He owned DBS Helicopter Service, and served as its chief pilot. The company works in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming with ranchers, fishermen, golfing and hunting resorts, utility companies, local, state, regional and federal agencies, surveyors, photographers, videographers, filmmakers, ski resorts, realtors, outfitters, private individuals, search and rescue agencies, sheriff, police and other emergency services providers, extreme and adventure race organizations, telecommunications companies, technicians and reclamation operations — to name just a few.

Doug Sheffer

Doug Sheffer

Doug had 22 years and over 8000 hours of experience in mountains above 8000 feet. He completed 10 BELL Helicopter Training Academy Initial and Refresher courses, plus an Advanced Flying Skills course geared to accident prevention. He was a graduate of the Mountain Flying and Vertical Reference courses with Canadian Helicopter, and regularly trained on emergency procedures.

In October 2012 the Goat Blog — a Rocky Mountain publication — posted this story and interview with Doug. It was a fitting tribute to him in life — and a perfect epitaph for his untimely death.

Something about helicopter pilots chasing bank robbers, busting spies and saving castaways impressed 6-year-old Doug Sheffer. The Whirlybirds television episodes, over 50 years ago, were heroic and exciting and everything he seemed born to do. While his father tried to waylay those childish ambitions, it wasn’t too many decades before Sheffer had owned his own fleet of choppers, a crew of pilots and a backlog of dangerous jobs throughout western Colorado.

A few weeks ago Sheffer, now owner and sole pilot of DBS Helicopters based out of Grand Junction, Colorado, received a call from a Gunnison County sheriff about a hiker found below Snowmass Peak in the West Elk Mountains of western Colorado. Jeff Lodico, separated from his party, took a bad fall and spent the night out in the cold. When wilderness responders from West Elk Mountain Rescue and Western State Colorado mountain rescue team found him, he had broken all the fingers on one hand, his wrist, his arm, all of his ribs and a lower leg. He had a punctured lung and his skull was fractured. Sheffer rescued him.

Sheffer honed his helicopter skills by taking helicopter aircrew training system courses in British Columbia from flight instructors who train Chinook and Blackhawk pilots for the most sophisticated military missions, including navigating unique wind currents along sheer mountainsides. He’d need all that training to rescue Lodico.

I spoke with Sheffer about the rescue and about his work last week. He doesn’t drink. He’s not crazy, and he speaks with a level of calculation and continuity I’ve only heard in aviators.

Doug Sheffer, doing what he loved. (Photo/Matt Hobbs for Vital Films)

Doug Sheffer, doing what he loved. (Photo/Matt Hobbs for Vital Films)

Sheffer: It’s like reading a river, really, water is a fluid just like air is a fluid. Rafters can read the eddies, the boulders, the rapids cause they can see it. I have to just imagine it. All the same things work the same way a rafting guide comes down a river. And you have to respond or else you’re going to tip over.

The Goat: How do you assess whether you can make the rescue or not?

Sheffer: It starts with geography of the land. You do a reconnaissance. Light knots usually aren’t too big of a factor especially if you don’t have too many people on board. But the helicopter becomes the data collector. It bends toward the wind like a weather vane. You’ll see drift if you’re holding a straight course down a ridgeline. Then you can compare that to going into the wind, like paddling up or down a stream.

The Goat: So the first principle of first responders is to do no harm. How did you accept this mission in light of the risk to the other rescuers?”

Sheffer: We do risk assessment all the time, because crashing is not an option. You don’t want to crash because you were stupid or fearless. But ‘do no harm’ also comes into looking at the condition of patient. He was sitting there overnight and in a world of hurt. He was not going to be wanting to spend another night out there, so you have to decide on expediency. This is it. We got to do something now. I don’t think what we did was a risk to anybody down there.”

Another day, another helicopter ride for Doug Sheffer.

Another day, another helicopter ride for Doug Sheffer.

The Goat: How did you actually make that landing? Were you on just one skid?

Sheffer: I just set down and nudged into the boulders, and it was tilted 20 degrees. The back skid was on a slight slope and holding. I had full spin on the blades and 25% of the helicopter weight let down. So I was almost hovering. I would never let down 100 percent pressure.

The Goat: And then what’s it like when you lift off into the air with that patient? What’s that feel like?

Sheffer: I was ready for it. You just have to be ready. You feel it. The moment you take off, that’s a wonderful feeling. I know how far I am from Aspen – very close. You always want it to be easier and safer than people thought it was going to be and get the job done.

Lodico is recovering at home. He’s an experienced 14,000-foot mountain climber, and his compatriots have rallied around him.

Sheffer wants to give a nod to all commercial helicopter pilots – 90 percent of their work goes to public benefit, he said.

“Helicopters above all save lives. They are the most amazing vehicle that man’s ever invented,” Sheffer said.

Here’s a video shot with DBS Helicopters for the freeski movie “Days To Come.”  For more DBS videos, click here.

Doug Sheffer Killed In Colorado Helicopter Crash

Doug Sheffer — a 1968 Staples graduate, and the middle child of Westport civic leaders Ralph and Betty Sheffer — was killed this morning in a Colorado helicopter crash.

Sheffer spent many years in the state, owning and operating a helicopter service.

Here is the story from the Grand Junction Free Press:

Three people, including longtime local helicopter pilot Doug Sheffer, were killed Monday morning when a helicopter that was being used to inspect power lines in the area apparently snagged a line and crashed, according to the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office.

Sheffer was the longtime owner and chief pilot for DBS Helicopters based out of the Rifle-Garfield County Airport.

“I’ve known Doug for a lot of years since I become sheriff,” Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario said.

Doug Sheffer

Doug Sheffer

“He was certainly a top-notch pilot and good friend, and was instrumental in a lot of search and rescue efforts,” Vallario said of Sheffer’s work with Garfield County Search and Rescue.

“Because of Doug we were able to rescue many people that we might not otherwise have been able to,” Vallario said.

Sheffer was also a founding parent at the private Waldorf School on Roaring Fork, which started in Aspen and is now located near Carbondale. His daughter graduated from the school in 2002, said Karla Comey, faculty administrator at the Waldorf School, who was in touch with family members after the accident.

“He has been instrumental in supporting our school from the beginning,” Comey said. “We dearly love him, and send him on his way with much love and light for his transition.”

The crash happened at 11:18 a.m., and emergency officials were on the scene within five minutes, Sheriff’s spokesman Walt Stowe said.

The helicopter was part of a fleet that began monitoring power lines within the Holy Cross service area on Monday. All three of the people killed were aboard the helicopter when it crashed.

Officials have not identified the other two crash victims.

“There were citizens on site when the crash happened,” Stowe said, indicating that one of the people on the scene knew the three people aboard.

Dry Hollow Road (County Road 331) was closed for several hours on either side of the crash site, but was reopened to traffic at about 3:30 p.m.

Numerous emergency vehicles and personnel from multiple agencies, including the Sheriff’s Office and Colorado River Fire Rescue, will remain in the vicinity helping to maintain security overnight.

National Transportation Safety Board officials were expected to arrive Tuesday to conduct their investigation, Vallario said.

The crash also caused power outages in the area, which workers from both Holy Cross and Xcel Energy were working to restore, he said.

The power line monitoring is part of an ongoing effort that started Monday and was to continue through Wednesday to gauge the health of the Holy Cross grid and reduce outages, according to a press release sent out last week by Holy Cross Energy and DBS Helicopters of Rifle.

DBS was working with HotShot Infrared Inspections of Fort Collins to survey 250 miles of transmission lines from the air, and using infrared photography to identify potential trouble spots on power lines and at substation facilities.

Sheffer and Holy Cross officials explained the power line inspection project in a news release sent out last week, so that the public would be aware of the operation.

Helicopters were to be flying about 30 feet above the transmission poles, which are approximately 50 feet tall, he said.

The helicopters were to be traveling anywhere from 25 to 40 miles per hour.

“Unless a problem area is located, a person on the ground will just see and hear a low-flying helicopter passing by, according to the news release.

If a problem is encountered, the helicopter would circle back and hover for a few minutes to record the area with video, still shots and a GPS coordinate.

“It will then proceed along the line and away from that neighborhood,” according to the news release.

“Believe me, those two to three minutes will seem more like 10 minutes,” Sheffer commented in the release. “Our goal is to linger as little as possible at any one point during these three days.”