Thomas H. Willetto passed away Feb. 10, 2013, at the HospiceCare Center in Louisville. He was 79 years old.
He 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’.
Tom attended primary school in Crownpoint and secondary school in Anadarko, Okla., and Putney, Vt. Starting as a teen, he spent summers at the Lowell Whiteman Ranch for Boys in Steamboat Springs as a camper and then as an employee.
Thomas served the U.S. Army during the Korean conflict as an atomic weapons inspector. Later, he attended Colorado A&M. He returned to the Whiteman Ranch and worked full time as a wrangler, counselor and teacher. He met and courted a beautiful redhead who had been hired as a cook for the summer. They explored Storm Peak and the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area on horseback, and on March 28, 1959, Tom married Jeanne Marion Lund, of Newell, S.D. They were married for 46 years.
Tom earned his Bachelor of Arts in photographic arts at Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara, Calif. He was employed by General Motors as a photographer in the defense research division. In 1970, the family moved to Durango, where Tom and Jeanne purchased a photography studio. Following graduate studies at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Tom 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 the elementary-age students, at one point serving as the first Santa Claus they had encountered who spoke Navajo.
He volunteered as a translator and photographer at countless community events.
Tom and Jeanne moved to Erie in 2004 to be closer to family. More recently, Tom lived with his son Thomas and his family in Niwot.
Tom was involved with the Widowed Persons Group and attended AA meetings in Boulder. He was in regular attendance at Rocky Mountain Christian Church in Niwot.
Tom was an avid horseman, teaching his kids 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 a birder and continued his love of photography for many years.
Thomas was preceded in death by his wife, Jeanne, on April 11, 2005; and by his brothers, Harry Willetto, of Gallup, N.M., and Frank Chee Willetto, of Crownpoint.
He is survived by his daughters, Carla Willetto and husband Todd O’Hara, of Fairbanks, Alaska, and Abbie Wolfe, of Anchorage, Alaska; sons Thomas Willetto II and wife, Linda, of Niwot, and Arne Willetto, of Gallup; sisters Jennie Begaii, of Brigham City, Utah, and Ella Mae Chischilly, of Crownpoint; nine grandchildren; 1 great-grandson; and many beloved nieces and nephews.
A celebration of life will take place for friends and family this summer. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions can be made to The Lowell Whiteman School’s endowment fund for library/technology or to the Widowed Persons Services group via HospiceCare of Broomfield and Boulder Counties. Share condolences at www.ahlbergfuneralchapel.com.