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Rocky Mountain News (CO) – Monday, June 27, 2005
Author/Byline: Clayton Woullard , Rocky Mountain News
Edition: Final
Section: Business
Page: 11B
When Ken Cotton built something, it had to pass what his family called the “elephant factor.”

In other words, it had to be strong enough for an elephant to stand on.

“Ken was a big man and so he would want everything to be strong enough, so everything was overbuilt,” said Ann, Mr. Cotton’s wife of 37 years.

Mr. Cotton died from a heart attack June 10 at his Denver home. He was 61.

Projects, like the gazebo in the Cottons’ backyard, wasn’t all he was good at building, said his daughter, Heather Bergman. He could also construct a story like no one else.

“He had a story for every moment in his life, and they were always delightful,” Bergman said.

Mr. Cotton would tell one of those stories to explain why he never tasted cookie dough. But more than that, it was how he told the story.

“When he was a little kid and he wanted to eat cookie dough, his mom told him, ‘It will swell up in your stomach and make you sick!’ ” Bergman said, imitating her father.

Kenneth Cotton was born Dec. 6, 1943, in Kansas City, Mo. He moved frequently because his father was in the military, living in places like Japan and Germany. He finally settled in 1961 when he began attending a junior college near Kansas State University, in Manhattan, where Ann Cotton was also enrolled. The two would meet but not marry until six years later after Mr. Cotton returned from serving in the military.

The two would say Ken wasn’t ready so Ann threw him back in the water.

“We enjoyed each other’s company a lot; we just had a difference in direction,” Ann Cotton said.

Shortly after the wedding, the couple moved to Denver where Mr. Cotton worked for a manufacturer of dialysis machines and then consulted for hospitals.

His wife and daughter said his real passion was gaining knowledge and sharing it. He had three master’s degrees, in biology, business administration and public administration. He began teaching in the 1980s at the University of Phoenix, Regis University and Metropolitan State College of Denver after he became interested in public policy surrounding hospital patients’ access to dialysis machines.

He taught subjects ranging from finance and health care management to ethics.

Bergman said her father could never understand it when other teachers would say, “It’s a perfect job except for all the students.”

“He would say it’s a perfect job because of all the students,” she said.

Nancy Shanks, a health care management professor at Metro who taught alongside Mr. Cotton for about 12 years, agreed.

“He was the kind of guy who would spend a large amount of time with students trying to help them, trying to do good advising with them . . . he was just real hands on in working with students.”

Though his gazebo could support an elephant, it would likely crumble underneath Mr. Cotton’s friendliness and fairness with people.

“He didn’t see beyond a person,” Ann Cotton said. “All those other factors should not matter or change how you’re perceived in the world.”

In addition to his wife and daughter, Mr. Cotton is survived by a son, Michael Cotton; a sister, Patricia Widup, of Jacksonville, Fla.; and a brother, Willard Cotton Jr., of Leavenworth, Kan. He was preceded in death by his parents, Willard and Bessie Cotton.

In lieu of flowers or gifts, donations may be sent to American Rivers, 1025 Vermont Ave., Suite 720, Washington, DC 20005 or at


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