Don Simonton – First Director of Rainbow Trail Lutheran Camp
In 1958, Don became the Director of Rainbow Trail Lutheran Camp where he served until 1966. Always a visionary, Don developed and shaped the first camp philosophy for Rainbow Trail as well as designed the initial programs that Rainbow Trail offered. But if there is one story that secures Don’s place in our history, it would be his part in the legendary horseshoe toss.
The Rainbow Lake Club was one of two sites the Synod was considering for a camp. Don and Leeland Soker had stopped by the Rainbow Lake Club on the way to a meeting they had in Denver. No one was on the site but they climbed up on some snowdrifts and looked in some windows. A hint of hesitation, as comes with any great investment, came over the two when talking about purchasing the site. But, as fate would have it, while they were leaving, Lee and Don came across a horseshoe pit. And Don loved to tell this part of the story: “And Lee Soker bent down, picked up a horseshoe and said, ‘If I make a make ringer, we’ll buy the place.’ And sure enough, it dropped right on. And the legend was born!”
Even in his years of retirement, Don stayed actively involved in the ministry of Rainbow Trail. In the 1990’s, Don would come and join the staff every summer during staff training to share the history of Rainbow Trail. The staff would gather around the fire circle and listen to Rainbow Trail history come to life. Don had a story for every question that was asked. Don was a marvelous storyteller and could paint a picture that would capture his audience. He told his stories not only with his voice but also his eyes and his smile. Camp’s history became personal, and it stuck with our staff.
Don was a gentle teacher. He would often mail articles to me that he had found that he thought would enhance my ministry. Don didn’t use email. That bothered me for a while until I realized that it made me stop and take the time for a true conversation when I called him. And those were rich conversations. That lesson has spilled far beyond my calls with him.
He was always aware of how God was working through us. Don would talk to our staff about the Westcliffe wave. This is that simple raising of your hand off the steering wheel as you passed a car. He encouraged the staff to do the same to every car they met. We became part of the hospitality of Wet Mountain Valley. Just another simple way that we can be the presence of God.
On every Saturday morning, up until he was no longer able to come to camp, Don would join the summer staff for the end of each week of camp and lead them in worship and Eucharist. He would share a pearl of wisdom about God and his creation, and then masterfully weave it into our life together as a faith community. And Don closed every Saturday morning with Isaiah 55:12: “You shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.”
We are still reaping the benefits of Don’s work during the early years of Rainbow Trail’s ministry. Don was a true visionary for outdoor ministry in this Synod. As the first full-time director at Rainbow Trail, he set the standard of excellence for outdoor ministry. Don modeled the passion to serve that has continued to be contagious through Rainbow Trail. Don was a great friend and mentor to me. In my early years, he walked with me and guided me. Don taught me how to be a camp director: he taught me that people are the most important part of what I do and that faith in Christ had to be central to everything I did. He taught me how to not forget the past and where we came from as we boldly moved forward. For that I am grateful.
Last summer, Nellie and I spent a couple of hours with Don in his Grand Junction home videotaping some of his stories about starting up St. Luke’s in Albuquerque. I marveled at his recollection of people’s names and their stories from over 60 years ago. After he finished reminiscing and answering my questions, I got to witness a beautiful moment. Don got a far-away look on his face, and he sort of smiled through his tears and said, “It has been a privilege to live a life of service to God.” That was so profound, and I then realized I was in the presence of a true saint.
Don, you will be dearly missed!
Join Us For A Celebration of Don’s Life and Ministry
Saturday, August 8th, 2015
4:30 pm, Rainbow Trail Lutheran Camp