DENVER - Freshman representative Barbara McLachlan sat before the House Transportation and Energy Committee Thursday morning to present her first resolution: a measure to honor Blue Angel pilot Capt. Jeff Kuss.
McLachlan began the presentation of House Joint Resolution 1015, which would rename Colorado Highway 3 as the Capt. Jeff Kuss Memorial Highway and was passed unanimously by the committee, by channeling her 20 years of experience at Durango High School.
"Today, I'm just going to just tell you a story, and that's all it is, because I think as teachers, we do that," McLachlan said. "This is a story of a wonderful student of mine named Jeff Kuss," she continued. "He was a kid with a great smile and a quick wit. He graduated from Durango High School in 2002 and then from Fort Lewis College in 2006. He married his high school sweetheart, Christina, and they had two beautiful children. He was a real homegrown boy."
McLachlan then relayed to the committee how Capt. Kuss had joined the U.S. Marine Corps and the things he achieved, such as participating in Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan), graduating from the Navy Fighter Weapons School in 2012, being selected to join the elite Blue Angels in 2014, and his inclusion in the group of pilots chosen to fly over Levi's Stadium during Super Bowl 50.
At that point in the story, McLachlan began to choke up as she remembered Kuss, who was killed when his plane went down during a training exercise on June 2, 2016, in Smyrna, Tennessee.
McLachlan said the resolution was difficult for her to present because of the connection she had to Kuss, a former pupil. She said her connection wasn't centered around some paper he had written or test he had taken, but rather the attitude and enthusiasm Kuss brought to the classroom.
It's a connection she has with many former students. "You just become close to all of them, that's why you teach: You just love the kids," she said. "To have one of them die like this was really hard."
McLachlan shared quotes from friends of Kuss such as one from Eric Hassel, who told The Durango Herald in June of 2016 that Kuss "was a pilot before he could drive. We all wanted to be pilots, but he actually did it."
Janet Kuss, Jeff's mother, said his surety of purpose was one of her son's many remarkable aspects. "He was a friend to all. He went out of his way to figure out what you needed that day or remember little things about you. He was just a really kind, special person," she said.
The resolution is not something the Kuss family sought but rather something McLachlan wanted to do for them.
"I know his family, and I know the community loved him, and I think they've done so much for him on the local level. The have a scholarship at Fort Lewis, a playground at the (Sunnyside) elementary, and I just thought as a state, we all need to recognize veterans and students and people who are very, very brave," she said.
Janet Kuss said McLachlan called her before drafting the resolution to ask for permission to put the measure forward. She said she was touched by the sentiment, as her family regularly uses the highway. "We have Durango Glass that's on Highway 3, and we live south of town, so we drive that highway," she said.
The continued support for the Kuss family by the Durango and La Plata County community is a testament to the kind of man he was, McLachlan said. "They created this young man who was just kind and giving, and sometimes you have to teach that, and then hope that your kids carry that on, and he did."
An anonymous donor has committed to pay for the cost of the signs, estimated to be $300, that will be posted on either end of Highway 3 should the resolution gain approval.