Leaving a legacy

Legendary Coloradan John Eilts, 88, dies in Florida

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One of Northwest Colorado's best known and "ornery" men died this week, and his nieces say he'll be remembered fondly and comically.

John Eilts died Monday in a hospice in Fort Myers, Fla., after a short illness. He was 88.

Born in Nubbin Ridge, Ind., near Rensselaer, on Dec. 3, 1916, Eilts was the oldest of eight children. He married twice, but never had children of his own.

He became recognized locally as an outspoken man who reliably stood up for what he thought was right.

"He loved Colorado, loved Craig," his niece Karen Eilts-Walter in Wabash, Ind., said. Eilts owned a home in Craig.

Perhaps Eilts is best remembered as the owner of Coal View Ghost Ranch, east of Craig on U.S. Highway 40. He bought the 2,000-acre property in 1964 and sold it about six months ago after moving to Florida a year and half ago.

Eilts-Walter vividly remembers her Aunt Allie driving her and Eilts to the top of the property for the pair to hike down to the bottom again. At almost 80, Eilts would beat her without breaking a sweat, while she was left behind, panting from the altitude.

He owned cows, llamas, horses and other animals and had many other ventures he pursued.

Eilts-Walter's sister, Tammy Eilts-Helm of Greenwood, Ind., particularly remembers the disputes with a coal company that landed him in jail for 10 days. Arguments about the lease agreement between Eilts and Sun Coal led to court intervention. Eilts stood his ground and did some time for it.

He was married to his first wife during part of his 12 years in the U.S. Army, and the two were divorced. He served as captain in the transportation/signal corps department during his service.

Eilts married Allie, his wife of more than 40 years, on July 23, 1955, and the two spent most of their time in Colorado.

She was an Army nurse and was present for the attack on Pearl Harbor in Oahu, Hawaii. She walked out the door after a double shift, saw the raid, turned around and worked another two days straight.

Eilts' nieces also recall stories of their aunt turning down John F. Kennedy for a date and her time serving as President Dwight D. Eisenhower's personal nurse. She diedin 1999.

Eilts was living with his girlfriend, Donna Heim, in Fort Myers, Fla., until he became ill and entered a hospice.

His nieces say his grin made him unforgettable, and his personality filled every room into which he'd walk.

"He knew pretty much everything there is to know on this Earth," Eilts-Walter said. "If he ever touched something or did something, he remembered it and told everyone about it."

He had a constant sense of humor and was known to brag about his loved ones.

He loved to swim, dance and entertain.

At one of his distant cousin's weddings, he stood up and said, "I have something to say."

Then, the women said, he broke into song with one of his favorite ballads.

He flew planes until he was 83, and his nieces say it broke his heart to lose his license.

He housed several planes at the Moffat County Airport hangar.

He ran Snowmobile Adven-tures and gave guided tours of his ranch until five years ago, when he was 84.

Eilts and Allie also made a habit of attending auctions locally.

"They didn't need a dog garn thing, but if something was going for a dollar, they'd buy anything just because they didn't want that to go for a dollar," Eilts-Walter said.

Another humorous memory she keeps with her is that her uncle refused ice water at restaurants because he preferred his beverage lukewarm.

"Everybody who's ever waited on him knows that," she said.

Eilts-Walter saw her uncle March 9, and he was in good health and high spirits.

When she talked to him on the phone Thursday, he sounded weak, and Heim said he no longer could eat.

"He was 88 years old," Eilts-Walter said. "To be in this world that long is amazing to me."

Eilts' viewing is scheduled from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at Grant Mortuary, 621 Yampa Ave. The funeral will be held there at 10 a.m. April 27. The service will be officiated by Eilt's nephew, J.P. Freeman of North Manchester, Ind.

Send condolences to Henry Eilts, 559 N. State Road 15, Wabash, IN 46992.

Michelle Perry can be reached at 824-7031 or mperry@craig-dailypress.com.

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