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Activist Robert Tyner dies at 98


By Ann Butler Herald staff writer

Living to the age of 98 provides time to accomplish much. In Robert H. Tyner’s life, that meant decades creating water storage in the arid Southwest and even more decades volunteering for a variety of nonprofits to improve the quality of life for area residents.

A native of the Durango area, Tyner died Tuesday at Sunshine Gardens Country Home.

Known as “Bob,” in recent years he was perhaps best known for co-founding and managing the Eye & Ear Program of La Plata County, an organization that continues to give glasses and hearing aids to thousands of children and adults who can’t afford them. He did it in partnership with his wife, Calla Mae, as he did many other projects.

But that was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to his volunteer work.

The Tyners volunteered together with Marriage Encounter, Big Brothers Big Sisters of La Plata County, Junior Achievement, United Way of Southwest Colorado and Parents Who Care. They were also active in the First United Methodist Church of Durango.

“He was part of the group that included Bill Mashaw that started Bright Beginnings,” said Charlotte Pirnat, the executive director of Tri-County Head Start. The program, which supports families with infants, is now run out of the La Plata Family Centers Coalition.

When his boys were younger, Tyner was involved in Boy Scout leadership. He was also a member of the Kiwanis Club of Durango for decades.

Tyner first made his mark on the area during his career in the water field, which started after he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in civil and irrigation engineering from Colorado State University in 1940.

After supervising the installment of Cortez’ first sewer system, Tyner began working for the Bureau of Reclamation in Durango in 1942, where he spent the next 30 years. He became project manager in 1963.

“He knew all about water, he’d been around,” said Steve Harris, owner of Harris Water Engineering. “Not only from his experience with the Bureau of Reclamation, but from holding water rights, too, on the Florida Mesa.”

During Tyner’s tenure with the bureau, five water projects, including Lemon, Vallecito and Navajo reservoirs, were turned over to their respective water-user management organizations and three additional projects, including the McPhee Reservoir near Dolores, were authorized by Congress.

As project manager, Tyner worked with boards of directors of nine different conservation districts, three city councils and the councils of three Indian tribes.

“He was always trying to figure out ways to get things done,” Harris said. “He was never pushy, but he worked hard to get water out to the La Plata Basin.”

After Tyner retired from the Bureau of Reclamation, he became manager of the Southwestern Water Conservation District. In 1980, he retired for the second time.

“It always takes a team to get these projects done,” Harris said. “Bob was an important guy on the Animas-La Plata Project, he worked hard to get settlements reached.”

Tyner touched the lives of everyone who lives in La Plata County in one way or another.

“He will be remembered as a family man, a volunteer and one who gave his all in everything he did,” according to his family. “Bob Tyner had a passion for helping others. He taught by example the value of both working and playing hard, and he believed any situation could be improved by a positive attitude and a dose of extra effort.”


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