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Homeless community pays tribute to Durango man with ‘traveling heart’

Friends, family remember Dean Allen Littrell as generous
Friends and family gathered Tuesday for a memorial service where Dean Allen Littrell died next to the Animas River behind Walmart in Durango. Littrell, who was living homeless, died from hypothermia.

Close to 25 people gathered Tuesday afternoon in the woods behind Walmart to commemorate the life of Dean Allen Littrell.

Littrell, 57, was found dead last week at his campsite between Walmart and the Animas River. The official cause of death was hypothermia, according to La Plata County Coroner Jann Smith. Littrell had been living at a makeshift campsite behind Walmart for at least three months.

Richard Dilworth, who works as an advocate for the homeless community in Durango, started the service and spoke about Littrell’s kindness, sense of humor and love for country singer Randy Travis.

“(Littrell was an) amazing guy, he would literally give the shirt off his back if that’s what it would take,” Dilworth said.

Pictures of Dean Allen Littrell during his memorial service Tuesday next to the Animas River behind Walmart.

Dilworth said he had known Littrell for nine or 10 years while living in Durango, but had lost touch with him during some of those years.

Littrell’s sister, Bobby Jo, also spoke and recounted a number of different stories from Littrell’s life. She said he had a “traveling heart,” and although he would disappear at times, he always came back home. Country music and singing were important to Littrell, and Bobby Jo recalled a number of his favorite tunes.

Bobbie Jo Littrell tries to hold back tears while talking about her brother, Dean Allen Littrell, who died from hypothermia while camping next to the Animas River behind Walmart in Durango.

Allen Kirk of Bayfield said he met Littrell a little over a year ago outside a grocery store. Littrell noted how cold it was and upon request, Kirk gave him a sweatshirt. They quickly struck up a conversation.

“(Littrell) never met a stranger,” Kirk said, with a laugh.

Littrell ended up living with Kirk’s family off and on for four months, and Kirk said he was always respectful, “a great friend” and an “awful lot of fun to be with.” Kirk also noted Littrell’s great singing voice.

“I’m gonna miss him,” Kirk said.

Kirk said he never saw the hoodie he had given Littrell again. Judging from his character, Kirk said, Littrell had found someone else to give it to.

Kirk recounted another story to showcase Littrell’s generosity. One morning, Kirk met Littrell at a diner for breakfast and told him he could order whatever he wanted as it was clear Littrell was not eating enough. After eating some of his meal, Littrell put the rest, still a sizable portion, in a to-go box. When Kirk returned from the restroom, the to-go box was gone. Littrell had seen a friend outside the diner who had not eaten for two days and had given him the rest of the food.

Allen Kirk, with his family, says a few words during a memorial service for his friend, Dean Allen Littrell, at the site where Littrell died next to the Animas River behind Walmart in Durango.

A number of other people shared stories about Littrell, all centered around his kindness, generosity, humor and love of music.

Marsh Bull, a member of the Neighbors In Need Alliance, spoke about the lack of local attention on homeless people. Bull said towns should be judged by how their poorest residents must live, and said contrary to the popular notion that Durango is a wealthy town, it is a poor town.

Dilworth echoed Bull’s sentiment about the need for community assistance.

A memorial service for Dean Allen Littrell was held Tuesday next to the Animas River Trail behind Walmart in Durango.
Jerry Noble, Patricia Noble and her daughter, Alicia Hollenbeck, attend the memorial service for Dean Allen Littrell on Tuesday next to the Animas River behind Walmart.

Citing Littrell’s cause of death, Dilworth said, “The most important thing we need this winter is a warming shelter so folks can come in out of the cold.”

“When are we going to stop kicking the can down the road and open a managed campsite or a warming shelter?” Dilworth asked, with frustration.

The memorial ended with those gathered singing “Amazing Grace” and listening to Littrell’s favorite song, “Yard Sale,” by Sammy Kershaw.

smarvin@durangoherald.com

Friends and family gathered Tuesday for a memorial service where Dean Allen Littrell died next to the Animas River behind Walmart in Durango. Littrell, who was living homeless, died from hypothermia.
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