Family, town honor Tito Montoya at 80
At an age when most people are happy to be alive, Tito Montoya is happy to be working.
Four generations of family and dozens of friends and co-workers from the town of Vail gathered Friday at the Donovan Pavilion to give Montoya a surprise 80th birthday party. Montoya, a member of the town’s custodial staff, started work for the town in 1984, having been among the last people on the payroll at the mine at Gilman.
While Montoya continues working long past the age when most people have retired, he works, it seems, because it comes naturally.
“I think he just likes to get up in the morning and come to work,” said Diane Stanek, Montoya’s supervisor on the custodial staff. “He likes the people, the people like him and he likes the work.”
With as many as 100 people waiting at the Donovan Pavilion, Montoya was caught completely off-guard, thanks to a tidy bit of deception by stepdaughter Geneva Duran.
Montoya was supposed to visit the Durans at their home in Grand Junction over the weekend and she had driven to Minturn to pick him up. On the way, Duran, who retired recently from the Vail Recreation District, said she had to run into Vail to sign a final set of documents. She ran into the office for a moment to cement the illusion. On the way down South Frontage Road, Duran asked her dad if he’d ever been inside the Donovan Pavilion. He said he hadn’t, and the trap was ready to be sprung.
When Duran and Montoya walked in, dozens of people sang “Happy Birthday,” then let the guest of honor go to the front of the line for a lunch catered by Fiesta’s in Edwards.
While Montoya shows no sign of slowing down, he’s already been down a long road in his working life.
Born in New Mexico, Montoya’s family moved to Colorado in 1940 to work on farms. By 1954, drought had gripped the Front Range, putting a big dent in the region’s farm economy. Montoya’s brother worked at the mine at Gilman, and the New Jersey Zinc Company was hiring. Montoya moved and stayed at the mine until it closed for good in 1983.
Over the past 50 years, much of Montoya’s family has remained in the area. Among family in attendance were Duran and her husband Dick, Vail’s former fire chief, and former Vail postmaster Ernie Chavez. Between kids, grandkids and great-grandkids, four generations came to wish Montoya a happy birthday.
“I didn’t know about any this,” Montoya said. But over a plate of rellenos and tamales from Fiesta’s, with numerous cards and a small bottle of Jack Daniels at the head table at the Pavilion, Montoya was all smiles.