Natalie Willett Stanko (1909-2005)

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Longtime Steamboat Springs resident Natalie Willett Stanko passed away July 5, 2005, at the Doak Walker Care Center. She was 95.

Natalie was born in Woodbine, Iowa, on Dec. 12, 1909, to Harry and Agnes Willett. She was raised on the family dairy farm established by her grandfather in the 1860s.

Natalie attended a one-room rural school through the eighth grade and graduated from Woodbine High School in 1927. She then attended Parsons College in Fairfield, Iowa, for two years and taught in a small Iowa school for the next two years. She later returned to Parsons College and graduated with her teaching degree in 1933.

She came to Steamboat Springs in the summer of 1933 to help her uncle, Dr. F.E. Willett, at his hospital on Seventh Street, later the Seventh Street Playhouse. That fall, she became the teacher at the Southside School. During the year, she met a young rancher, Peter Stanko Jr. She then taught at the Mesa School from 1935 to 1938.

In June of 1938, she married Peter Stanko Jr. in Woodbine, Iowa, and took on the role of the typical working ranch wife. To fill a teaching vacancy in the Steamboat School, she taught the sixth grade during the 1938-39 school year.

Even though ranch life was demanding, she always found time to become involved in community activities. She joined the Congregational Church, later known as the Euzoa Bible Church, in 1938. During World War II, she served as a Red Cross Volunteer and coordinated activities from Steamboat to Hayden. Also during this time, a son was born in 1940, but he did not live. Son James Willett Stanko was born in 1944 and daughter Mary Ann Stanko (Enyeart) was born in 1947.

In the 1950s, she was a mom, was involved in school activities, served on the Southside District School Board, and was an active participant in the Ground Observers Corp. group that was formed in Steamboat Springs. She substitute taught in Steamboat Springs schools throughout the 1960s.

During the 1970s, she started volunteering at the senior citizens extended care center. This became a Friday morning ritual of reading and visiting with the residents that lasted until late 2004. She also helped care for many of the children in the neighborhood. She became a charter member of the local Chapter of the American Association of University Women and joined the LLRCs.

Recently, she volunteered at the museum and worked with the group, which saved and refurbished the Mesa School House. In 2003, she was honored by the Tread of Pioneers Museum with the Leckenby Award.

Natalie is preceded in death by her parents; husband, Peter; and daughter, Mary Ann.

She is survived by her brother, Dwight Willett and wife, Della, of Woodbine, Iowa; son, James and his wife, Joanne, of Steamboat Springs; grandson, Patrick James Stanko and his wife, Jan, of Fort Collins; great-grandchildren, Taylor Ann and Justin Stanko; nephews, Gary Willett and his wife, Barbara, of Jefferson, Iowa, Don Price and his wife, Eleanor, of Spring Valley, Ariz.; and many great-nieces, nephews, cousins and close friends.

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