Cutting his own path with his brilliant and curious mind, welcoming personality, and resolve to succeed, I found Colorado native entrepreneur and philanthropist, James Holmes, one of the most fascinating people I have met. As the CEO & Executive Director of the Cherokee Ranch & Castle Foundation, he is compelled to make sure founder Tweet Kimball’s legacy not only survives and goes on throughout the generations, but meets with her expectations. Energized by all the projects taking place at the “Ranch”, Holmes, along with his board and staff, are the overseers of 3,400 acres of the panoramic, privately-owned property gifted by trailblazer, cattle ranch pioneer - and visionary Tweet Kimball.
Along with his broad background in the professional, public service and charitable world, Holmes is passionate about his position and responsibilities and says: “I fall in love with the Ranch more every day…. I’m living my dream and see myself coming to the Cherokee Ranch & Castle for at least the next 20 years of my life.”
Much of his philanthropic career has been spent with public art organizations; and Holmes’ own remarkable past history reads like a great adventure. James is a former race car driver, equestrian athlete, cyclist and entrepreneur who became a corporate sponsorship developer for Indy Car Racing teams. He spent 26 years in the mortgage banking and real estate industry and volunteered for many philanthropic organizations, political candidates, and other worthy causes. With his expertise in fundraising for public art, Holmes helped raise $1 million dollars for the Martin Luther King “I Have a Dream” monument in Denver’s City Park, and he has been on the Board of Trustees for the Denver Art Museum since 2004.
The Castle built in 1924 by the Johnson family was bought by Kimball in 1954. She purchased adjacent land and renamed it Cherokee Ranch. The Ranch is protected through a Conservation Easement, and the Foundation purchased an additional 300 acres near the Ranch. Holmes is doing more cultural and educational events at the Castle while growing the cattle operation, and he has built many great relationships with the corporate and charitable community.
Since 1996, Tweet worked to establish the Cherokee Ranch & Castle Foundation to protect the land as a wildlife sanctuary. She passed away in 1999, and the Board of Directors, staff, and volunteers have been keeping her legacy alive since. Holmes said: “Her passion for music, art, and literature has inspired us to make Cherokee a prominent venue for music, art and culture.” Holmes added. “She also wanted Cherokee Ranch to become a world-class education center. It’s what she would have been pleased to see, and we all have an obligation to uphold what Tweet would have wanted.”
Tweet Kimball rest easy, your vision, pride and joy are in good hands with James Holmes.
James, you have been intrigued with CR&C since you were young, tell us about that? I first got a glimpse of the castle on my way down Santa Fe Drive on a bus to a sporting event while I was in middle school. Now I’m doing purposeful work here and happy to embrace all the challenges and opportunities I have as the CEO of the Foundation.
Tell us a little about your Colorado history? I was born and raised here in Englewood and went to Sheridan High School. My Dad who is 80, and my mom who is 77 still live in the same house we all grew up in. I spent some interesting times with my grandfather, Clinton Thomas, on my mom’s side. He would cut lawns in the summer, and I would help him then we would go watch the horses run at Centennial Race Track. I had the same teacher at Sheridan High as my mom did, and my dad had the same teacher as his dad did at Englewood High School. My father, Kenny Holmes, operated a service station along Santa Fe Drive for many years which became a bit of a gathering place for his friends for many years.
Beyond all of the fabulous events you do at the castle, you have put more emphasis on the unique cattle operation that made Tweet Kimball famous. Give us some examples of what you are doing? With the help and guidance of Karla Raines of Corona Insights, a Denver based strategic and long-range planning and research organization, we completed a 14 month strategic plan process that laid out a long-range vision for the foundation with emphasis on the next 10 years of accomplishments. The Foundation is taking the unique assets of CR&C, such as the cattle operation with its long history, the legacy of the castle, and the science and resources on the ranch….which go back 55 million years, starting with its petrified wood, Native American artifacts that go back thousands of years, twenty two historic structures like the original homestead that Fred Flower lived in; and the vast variety of wild life. We were seeking a way to tie a thread together for the cattle, science, castle history, and wildlife to be relevant for the future. We found the common thread is education. We are modernizing our cattle operation to include advanced genetics in our breeding program and launching a branding direct to consumer beef program. When I’m faced with any decisions about the Ranch, I go back to Tweet’s documents to try and understand how she may have thought about it. I have consulted with Tweet’s two sons to see how she would have felt about our vision. We also have the knowledge of Rafael Miranda who started as Tweet’s Ranch Foreman over 25 years ago and is still with us.
All of Tweet’s cattle had names, do you have names for any of the Santa Gertrudis herd now? Yes, a lot of them have names but most are referred to by their herd numbers. Tweet, who was well-read in literature and the fine arts would name them after famous literary or arts figures such as Rhett Butler from Gone with the Wind, or a name that was tied to where they originally came from. This year, we ended up with 98 new Santa Gertrudis calves so there are allot to name.
Give us a rundown of your summer events at the Castle? The Waterloo Event in honor of Tweet’s Birthday, which takes place in June, is a fundraiser to help preserve Tweet’s legacy, and the proceeds benefit the Foundation. Peter Kater, 14 time Grammy Award pianist, performs annually. We do land and historical programs, educational workshops, concerts, brunches, teas and tours all year long; and we have been known as a unique wedding destination. We have an upcoming workshop event with Dr. Temple Grandin, and Curt Pate. He is a renowned stockmanship expert using horses and Dr. Grandin’s methods to humanely handle cattle.
What boards are you serving on or have previously been involved with? Currently the Denver Art Museum Board, and previously I was on the Colorado Ballet Board. I’ve Served on the Mayor’s Office of Art Culture and Film, and on the Denver 1 Percent For The Arts Program - a bill first enacted in 1977. I also served for 3 terms on the Colorado Board of Appraisers for the DURA office under Governors Romer and Owens. And, I served on the Citywide Bank community board among others.
Who is the most interesting person you have ever met, and what did you learn from them? Of course, I learned so much from my dad. As far as my career, I learned a lot about business from Denver real estate developer, Hamid Simantob, whose family owned the largest distillery in Iran. John Frohnmayer, former Director of the National Endowment for the Arts, taught me how to interpret the role of activism through the arts. Also influential to me was Alex Gross who used to own the nearby property Castle Cliff Farm. He was a real estate developer, equestrian, and he was really very kind to me as a friend, he was influential with my start in show jumping horses.
What one book with advice on “how to live your best life” would you recommend everyone read? The Bible…. There is so much relevance spanning the history of time. It’s irreplaceable.
If you had gotten to know Tweet Kimball while she was alive, what would the two of you had in common? I’d say we would have gotten along really well…. Our love of horses and equestrian activities, an appreciation of art and history, our strong interest in Sir Winston Churchill…. We both have a collection of rare and first edition books by and about the late English Prime Minister. With a similar vision for Cherokee Ranch, I feel like Tweet and I were kindred spirits.
Is there a saying, motto or "words to live by" that is your favorite? Yes. “Win The Day” which means to simply complete one meaningful action each day that draws you closer to your ultimate goal. The key to success in life is consistency.
What is your ultimate goal? Professionally, I am obligated to Tweet Kimble to fulfill her vision embodied in a 4-page covenant she left for us to follow. Personally, I want to successfully manage my career, finances, and time while fully embracing life to serve others and get the most out of what I am passionate about.
What would you still like to learn how to do? About 3 years ago, I had an ambitious goal to learn to play guitar - hopefully well. , I really enjoy playing, and I built a studio in the basement of my house and had a goal that within 1 year, I would compose the music, write the lyrics, orchestrate the arrangement in order to record an original song which I accomplished. It is called “Summer Day,” and I am grateful to my friend and teacher, Eric Davies, who believed in my goal and helped me bring it to reality.
What is one of your favorite childhood memories? Along with my parents, one of the most influential people in my childhood would be my grandfather, I remember many great times spent with him. I remember one of the treats for him and I was going to eat at the (then famous) Denver Drumstick Restaurant. I grew up by the Englewood Speedway, and my dad it seemed knew everyone in both Sheridan and Englewood. He knew the Codner family who owned the track, and they would let me go into the pits on my own at the age of 12, and I’d have the run of the place. I met a lot of interesting people, and I did spend several years driving race cars as an adult and getting to know all these great race car drivers who had been my childhood heroes. Don Wilson, Sr., a Champion during that time, helped me build my first race car. Twenty years later, I was honored when his family asked me to give his eulogy when he died.
James, what can we all learn from how Tweet Kimball lived her life, and what is your vision for the Ranch? We are going to make Cherokee Ranch & Castle Foundation sustainable for the foreseeable future. The idea that we are stewards of Tweet’s vision must remain at the forefront of our vision and ideally embodied by every member of our board, staff and volunteer corps. One of my primary objectives is to restore Tweet’s vision fully, as well as ensure her legacy stands the test of time. Tweet is the reason Cherokee Ranch has become a Colorado treasure and a gift for all of us today.
What is something no one knows about you? When I was in my late teens and early 20’s I competed in bodybuilding contests. I started out my freshman year of high school a soaking wet 105 pounds and ended up weighing 185 the day I graduated. The valuable lessons I learned about the body and mind through bodybuilding remain with me today.
What qualities do you look for in a close friend? Inside any good friendship, there should be an intellectual honesty which can remain open to constructive criticism. Integrity and loyalty is also important.
What advice do you wish you were given years ago that you would like to give to a young person today? Two pieces of advice: Three or four years ago, a former classmate submitted my name to Sheridan High School to give the commencement address the following spring. When I talked to the kids, I followed the role model of the farmer and what farmers had done for decades. The farmer had a big responsibility to feed America, and they took it very seriously. The message is, whatever your purpose, take it seriously, it can have a big impact on others. Whatever path you choose, like the farmer, plant good seeds as you develop relationships, water them, nurture them, prepare like the farmers prepare the soil, then as does the farmer, expect a good harvest. Whether it’s going to college, enlisting in the military, or launching your career, think about your mission, do the work, then put yourself in the best position in life to enjoy the abundance of the harvest you created and worked to achieve.
And second: Realize how much time you actually do have. I didn’t go to college right away. I had created obligations and responsibilities, and when I wanted to enroll in school at age 21, I actually thought I was too old. I ended up starting when I was 25. The lesson I learned here came from my interest in politics. Richard Nixon talked about Winston Churchill in the forward of his book “In The Arena”. Winston Churchill who is a role model for me, was born in 1874. In 1940 he was 66 when he became Prime Minister of England for the first time and everyone today knows him from that period of time forward and most of his famous quotes were stated when he was the Prime Minister. Many didn’t know about his many remarkable accomplishments before he was the PM. He was a war correspondent during World War One, he served in the Government during and predating that time, he wrote many books, was a painter, but the most significant time in his life was from age 66 to 90. He taught us that it’s never too late to take a bold stance to accomplish your goals or indulge your curiosities no matter what age you are. This truth changed how I look at age and time.
What should the President of the United States make his #1 priority? The President should recruit the most knowledgeable subject matter experts he can to his administration and trust them to give him the sound advice and not let his ego or insecurities get in the way of doing the best job he can to serve the broadest number of Americans he can while remaining engaged in leadership on the global stage.
What event do you look forward to attending each year? In addition to the Waterloo Event at Cherokee Ranch, I look forward to Otis Taylor’s Trance Blues Festival. I’ve known Otis since I was 18, and he does a one day festival experience, no matter at what age or musical level you play, everyone is invited. He teaches people how to find a progression and play together. There are musicians there from 8 to 80, he divides the group up, and each group goes with one of the professional artists who are invited as teachers, and then all come back together to perform for the entire group. One or two of the standouts will actually get to perform in a concert with Otis Taylor. I also enjoy the activities of the Douglas County Fair Foundation. We donate 2 calves to the Douglas County Fair Foundation’s Live Stock Education Grant program each year and help the 4H or FFA student raise them.
What do you make time for every day? Embracing my passions and recognizing the gift of each new day. My wife and I share in making each day special whether we are doing things together or separately. I also make an effort to ride one or more of my horses each day.
Does that help you find balance in life? Yes. It doesn’t matter what is going on in my world, you go down to the barn and from the moment you start tacking up the horse the ride is all you think about…. you are so purposeful. It’s the best mind cleansing endeavor for me.
What do you consider your greatest accomplishment so far? Probably being able to fulfill a number of goals around my interests and passions through the years, and I also would say I made a great choice when I married my wife Wendy. I owe it all to God’s grace.
You are a native of the Denver area – and do you ever think about moving elsewhere? As a Coloradoan through and through, my family and I are completely happy here. I’ve never given any consideration to living anywhere else.
You have done many incredible things in your life, what gave you the strength and determination to go out and pursue so many challenging things? I consider myself to be a person of strong Christian faith; my faith is definitely a factor in how I see the world. My driving desire to pursue what I’m curious and passionate about; and having faith the doors will open when you put yourself out to pursue great things. And – a belief that once you make up your mind about what you want, the right people, resources and opportunities will show up in your life.
What will your legacy be? Professionally, I would want people to look back and say that James Holmes fully restored Tweet Kimball’s legacy, and that I made decisions that were thoughtful, and that those decisions were made with the long-term view in mind. I want to make decisions and put policies in place that make it easier for future Executive Directors here to make good decisions. I also would like to have made a turning point financially for Cherokee Ranch & Castle Foundation so that we can fulfill our potential and fully realize Tweet’s dream.” Personally, I want to be remembered as a person who lived live fully, who pursued goals with conviction and served others with integrity and passion.