Local ski museum founder Don Simonton passes away
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EAGLE COUNTY — Another of Vail’s pioneers has passed.
Pastor Don Simonton died peacefully Tuesday in Grand Junction. He was 86. Son Cliff writes “He is now with Mom (June) once again, astride two well-behaved horses, wrapped in the smells, sights and dappled light of the trail, heading for new adventures.”
Simonton was born March 1, 1929, in Chicago. He earned degrees from Gettysburg (Pennsylvania) College and Lutheran Theological Seminary, also in Gettysburg. Drawn by the mountains, he was the first of his family to travel west, where he spent several seasons working as a ranch hand and a seasonal national park ranger in the Tetons before deciding to become a minister.
LIFE AS A MISSIONARY PASTOR
Following seminary school, he headed west again, this time with June, and began life as a missionary pastor, founding new congregations and churches, first in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and then in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
In 1967, he arrived in Vail, family in tow, and established Lutheran congregations in Vail and Beaver Creek. His first services in Vail were conducted in Donovan’s Copper Bar (today’s Vendettas). At the time of his retirement Don had served in the (Lutheran) Rocky Mountain Synod longer than any other pastor and had organized more congregations and built more church buildings than any minister before him. “A blessing and a privilege,” he writes “for which I’m truly thankful for God’s call and guidance!”
Along the way, Simonton discovered and became the first director of Rainbow Trail Lutheran Camp southeast of Salida, which continues to operate today. In retirement, he returned each summer to serve as camp chaplain and is known to have closed his Saturday sermons with an excerpt from Isiah 55:12: “Go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst forth in song, and the trees of the field will clap their hands.” Many stories can be found about Don on the Rainbow Trail Facebook page.
CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE VAIL VALLEY
Locally, Simonton did much more than pastoral work. According to a family biography, Simonton was the founder and first director of the Colorado Ski Museum; the creator of the Vail Ski School’s Meet the Mountain program; a co-founder of the interfaith chapels at Vail and Beaver Creek; initiator of the annual pilgrimage to Mount of the Holy Cross; president of the Eagle County Historical Society; president of the Eagle River Scholarship program; and president of the Beaver Creek Religious Foundation. In addition, Simonton wrote and contributed articles on a wide variety of topics to local papers, Ski Magazine and other publications. Don and June also co-authored four books about the history of Vail and Beaver Creek.
In 1993 Don and June retired to Grand Junction, but they still spent summers in Hillside, near Rainbow Trail. June passed away in February 2013. Sons Cliff and Denny live today with their families in Eagle.