Former Durango resident Thomas H. Willetto passed away Sunday, Feb. 10, 2013, at the HospiceCare Center in Louisville. He was 79.
Mr. Willetto was born March 3, 1933, near Crownpoint, N.M., to Chee and Lucille (McCauley) Willetto. He was a member of the Navajo Nation and was “born to” the Bit’aahnii clan and “born for” the Todich’inii clan. His maternal born for clan was Ta’neezahnii, and his paternal born for clan was ‘Naakaii Dine.’”
Mr. Willetto attended primary school in Crownpoint and secondary school in Anadarko, Okla., and Putney, Vt. Starting as a young teen, he spent many summers at the Lowell Whiteman Ranch for Boys in Steamboat Springs, first as a camper and then as an employee.
He served the U.S. Army during the Korean War, where one of his duties was as an atomic-weapons inspector. Later, he attended Colorado A&M, now Colorado State University.
He returned to the Whiteman Ranch and worked there full-time as a wrangler, counselor and teacher. He met Jeanne Marion Lund from Newell, S.D., who was hired as a ranch cook for the summer, and they were married March 28, 1959.
Mr. Willetto earned a bachelor’s degree in photographic arts from the Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara, Calif. He worked for General Motors as a photographer in the defense research division.
In 1970, the family moved to Durango, where the Willettos purchased a photography studio. After graduate studies at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Mr. Willetto worked as a librarian and media specialist on the Navajo Reservation, spending many years in Rough Rock, Ariz., and Borrego Pass, N.M. He especially enjoyed elementary-aged students and was the first Santa Claus they had ever encountered who spoke Navajo.
He volunteered many hours as a translator and photographer at countless community events.
Mr. and Mrs. Willetto moved to Erie, Colo., in 2004 to be closer to family. More recently, Mr. Willetto lived with his son Thomas and his family in Niwot.
Mr. Willetto was active with the Widowed Persons Group with Hospice of Boulder and Broomfield Counties and attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in Boulder. He attended Rocky Mountain Christian Church in Niwot.
Mr. Willetto was an avid horseman for many years, teaching all of his children how to ride and care for their animals. He was a skilled artist, handyman, guitarist and outdoorsman. Along with his wife, he taught the family to enjoy music and sing around the campfire, was an accomplished birder and continued his love of photography for many years.
He was preceded in death by his wife of 46 years, Jeanne Willetto, on April 11, 2005.
He is survived by daughters, Carla Willetto of Fairbanks, Alaska, and Abbie Wolfe of Anchorage, Alaska; sons, Thomas Willetto II of Niwot and Arne Willetto of Gallup, N.M.; sisters, Jennie Begaii of Brigham City, Utah, and Ella Mae Chischilly of Crownpoint; and nine grandchildren, one great-grandson and many nieces and nephews.
A celebration of life will be held for friends and family later this summer.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to either The Lowell Whiteman School’s endowment fund for library/technology or the Widowed Persons Services group via HospiceCare of Broomfield and Boulder County. Visit www.ahlbergfuneralchapel.com to share condolences.