This is the story of an AAPG member who came to work in a city, and then he provided food and drink to the city, and now he runs the city.
Meet AAPG member John Hickenlooper, who started his career as an exploration geologist for an energy company in Denver more than 20 years ago.
This past summer, in a landslide victory, Hickenlooper was elected the 43rd mayor of Denver. He took office in July.
Between his geology career and his political one, he established the first brew pub in Denver and expanded that business to include seven restaurants and brew pubs.
Opening those doors led to more doors; Hickenlooper, 51, then helped come up with an affordable housing project that helped save historic buildings in the city.
Active on some arts and community boards, Hickenlooper had never even considered entering politics.
"Then several civic leaders asked me if I might consider running for mayor," he told the EXPLORER. "I had never even run for class office in school."
His election marked the first mayoral transition in Denver in 12 years. Even in his mayoral campaign, Hickenlooper brought a fresh, quirky image to the race.
His first campaign commercial showed him trying on goofy outfits to look more "mayoral." These folksy ads appealed to many Denver voters who have weathered a downturn in the high-tech economy here in the last couple of years.
While other politicians arrived at promotional events in luxury sedans, Hickenlooper kept his travels simple during campaign visits by riding in a Kia, a Honda or even on his Aprilia scooter.
Hickenlooper's new digs at Denver City Hall -- located directly across a park from the Colorado State Capitol -- encompass a large oval-shaped room with an elegant chandelier hanging from the ceiling. The stately, traditional mayor's office is in sharp contrast to the personality of the innovative new mayor.
Tall and trim, Hickenlooper looks much younger than his 51 years. His relaxed manner is one of a successful entrepreneur rather than a politician, even as he mused over his beginnings as a geologist and what he learned from that vocation.
In his job as mayor and as a business man, Hickenlooper said he has used geological principles he learned in his first career.
"As a geologist, I take the longer-term perspective," he said. "I don't expect change to happen overnight."
In fact, he often considers the value of investments for the city over a 50- to 100-year time span.
He also uses the principle of multiple working hypotheses in his job as mayor.
"Every time you have a problem, you devise several experiments to find several possible best ways to solve it," he said. "I use that all the time, and tell my staff to use it, too. That's an early principle of geology."
Perhaps better known in Denver as a restaurateur than a geologist, the new mayor already has stunned some city public works officials with his well of knowledge.
"When I met with the city's public works professionals on an underground water problem, I asked them a question on Bernoulli's Equation, and their jaws just dropped," he laughed.
He also credits his geology studies for teaching him to write well.
"Clear writing leads to clear thinking," he said. "I learned to write in graduate school. My adviser was such a stickler for clear communications -- and he was a tireless editor of my thesis."
Hickenlooper's master's thesis was on "Welded Ash Flow Tuff," or ignimbrites.
On the Rocks
The son of a mechanical engineer, Hickenlooper grew up outside Philadelphia, Pa., and majored in literature at Weslayan College in Connecticut. Later, he contracted an interest in geology and decided to go for a master's degree.
"I never took an undergraduate course in geology," he laughed -- which meant he spent another three years taking the requisite courses so he could enter the geology graduate program at Weslayan.
"Basically I spent five years getting that master's degree," he said. "It was brutal."
He not only studied classic depositional systems; he discovered that he really liked it. He spent summers during his graduate program exploring volcanic rocks northwest of Yellowstone Park in Montana -- and he knew where he wanted to go after graduation.
"I really wanted to live in Denver, so I came out here for a bunch of interviews," he said.
In 1981 Hickenlooper was hired by Buckhorn Petroleum and moved to Denver. He worked as an exploration geologist for Buckhorn for five years until oil prices collapsed. Then in 1986 the company was sold and he was laid off.
However, a provision called for many employees to receive one to two years of salary if the company was sold and they lost their jobs.
"I've never seen so many people so happy to be losing their jobs," he said.
But in the midst of the downturn, there were no geology jobs to be found in Colorado. By then, Hickenlooper was a confirmed Denverite, enjoying the city's numerous days of sunshine and the healthy lifestyle.
"I didn't want to leave Colorado," he said, "(and) there were no jobs in geology anywhere."
That's when fate intervened. During a visit to California, he spotted a brew pub.
"There was nothing in the Rocky Mountains like that at the time," he said. "I had never even considered opening a restaurant."
He decided to open up his own brew pub in Denver with a partner, a geophysicist who had also lost his job. In 1988 they opened the Wynkoop Brewery in what is now Denver's LoDo, or lower downtown district.
That first year the Rocky Mountain Association of Geologists met at Denver's convention center, so Hickenlooper and his partner went over and handed out fliers about their brew pub. The attendees were quick to patronize a brewery that was started by fellow geologists, he said.
"The geology community has always been so supportive," he said.
Good start. And then ...
"Then the city of Denver decided to build its new baseball stadium Coors Field just two blocks from our front door," he said, ensuring continued success.
Hickenlooper has expanded his restaurant business to now include seven restaurants, taverns and brew pubs.
And just to complete the Hickenlooper's Renaissance-like experience, the geologist now has tried his hand at film acting, playing the Pottery Store manager in his cousin George Hickenlooper's film The Man from Elysian Fields.
(In the movie, he interrupts a discussion between stars Andy Garcia and Julianna Margulies, and says his two-word line: "Excuse me.")
As a lark, he recently auditioned for a small part in the upcoming movie Silver City starring Oscar winner Chris Cooper. The film was shot this past year in Denver, and the mayor won a role as a reporter. (Unless he ends up on the cutting room floor, he will have a total of five lines in that movie.)
Just as he had never considered becoming a restaurateur until he became one, Hickenlooper had never given any thought to running for mayor.
He had been active on the city's art museum board and a downtown partnership and had also taken the helm of an effort to keep the "Mile High" name in the city's new football stadium. In the end of that campaign, the group compromised with the name Invesco Field at Mile High.
As he began to seriously consider running for mayor, he spent free time for two years visiting 15 other cities to meet with mayors and find out if it was worth the sacrifice -- and "if one person could really make a difference," he said.
As a successful restaurateur, he had no trouble getting in to see mayors from Boston to Portland, Ore.
"I got more and more excited the more I learned," he said. "I really believed in the city (of Denver) and its potential."
Denver's government calls for a strong mayor/weak council structure, so the mayor has a great deal of influence. In fact, Hickenlooper had to hire 60 people to run the various agencies and departments in his administration.
But Hickenlooper said he misses the reflection that accompanies a geology job.
"I miss how much of the day I would imagine what's going on underground with very limited facts and data," he said. That business of reflection is missing from the mayor's job where he is called upon to make decisions constantly.
"Being in the oil business was one of the greatest careers for a young person in the West," he said.
Of all the things he misses about being in the oil business, Hickenlooper said he misses the people most of all. Many of them served as role models to him because they believed in giving back so much to the community.
"There are no better people than the people in the oil business. They are so generous and sometimes bigger than life," he said. "They were role models and helped me get involved in the community."