Joseph Hugh Danni, born Sept. 26, 1927 in Gunnison, passed away Jan. 17. He was loved and admired by his children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, extended family and all who came in contact with him. He led by example and quietly inspired many with his humor, patience, work ethic and genuine care for all who interacted with him.
He was born to Anton (Tony) and Isabella Danni, an Italian immigrant and daughter of a Scottish immigrant, respectively. He grew up on a ranch on the East River and rode to school at the Jack’s Cabin one room schoolhouse on a mule. In an interview with Sandra Cortner he said that “the kids teased me about riding a mule so I challenged one of them to a race and beat him. After that, those kids thought my mules were pretty good.” He also told Cortner that the Danni family always alternated naming children between Anton/Tony and Joe, “all the way back.” He laughed and added, “I messed up. We named our sons Joe and Jerry. But I do have a grandson named Anthony Joseph Danni.” Tony visited grandpa nearly every day of his last two years at assisted living. He also has a grandson named Joseph Anton Danni in Denver, so the tradition has been continued into the following generations.
Joe went to high school in Gunnison and boarded with a family on Pine Street. The Dean family lived across the street and had an eldest daughter by the name of Gwen. They walked to school together their junior and senior years and determined that they would get married after the end of World War II. The decision to wait was driven by the fact that Joe enlisted in the Navy at age 17 following graduation from high school. He passed a number of rigorous psychological and physical tests (the wash out rate exceeded 90 percent) and qualified for the submarine service where he served on the USS Flying Fish diesel submarine in the waning days of WWII.
Gwen and Joe were married in 1948 and he began working as the third generation on the Danni Ranch and continued to do so for much of his life. Life on the ranch consisted of hard work from sunup to sundown if not earlier and later. Hay had to be raised, cut and stacked, then fed to the cattle throughout the long winters at over 8,000 feet elevation.
When Jeff Jacobson moved into the neighborhood on Apache Road where Joe lived after selling the ranch, he inquired of a friend about his new neighbor. He was told that Joe would be the “best neighbor he ever had.” And, that Joe’s irrigation skills were unparalleled, “he could take a gallon of water and spread it over an acre of ground.”
Joe was actively involved with the U.S. Soil Conservation District, served on the Colorado Mined Land Reclamation Board, and was active in the American Legion and Masonic Lodge. He and Gwen also found time to travel, including exploring Turkey and Greece, and frequent camping trips from northern Canada to Mexico. Joe and Gwen were very active in the Union Congregational Church in Crested Butte throughout their life.
After over 50 years of marriage, Gwen died of cancer in 1999. Throughout their married life Joe and Gwen loved to polka and could be found frequently at Frank and Gals in Crested Butte and anywhere else an accordion was playing. Their kindness and love of music is reflected in their granddaughter Cathryn (Jeremiah Hoagland).
Joe loved dogs and they reciprocated. He could immediately name every dog in the neighborhood on Apache Road, but had to think carefully before naming their owners. Joe and Gwen loved to climb mountains and he could name every mountain peak and lake in the Gunnison Country and way beyond. His love of mountain climbing has been transferred to his grandson Nick who continues that endeavor with a passion.
His granddaughter Sara (Nick Mirolli) in Pennsylvania posted a touching message of love and admiration on Facebook the night of his death and was not amazed to find over 70 responses in the first hour.
Another granddaughter Angela (Chris Hart) in California wrote the same evening a message that succinctly captured the essence of Joe Danni. She wrote: “Tonight I lost one of the greatest men in my life. He was a WWII vet, a cattle rancher, one of the kindest, hardest working, loyal, funny and most loving humans to walk this earth. He will forever be my mentor, a teacher, a hero and a legacy to me and my children. He taught me how to ride horses, to love nature and to dance the polka. We bonded over ketchup sandwiches and Willie Nelson. The world is a better place because he was here and we will forever aspire to live a life in his footsteps.”
Joe is survived by his son Joe and wife Susan, Jerry and wife Cheryl, six grandchildren and eleven great-grandchildren. All will miss him greatly and will not let him down as they strive to live the manner of life he lived.
The family wants to express its appreciation to all of the caring staff and residents at GVH Assisted Living. We also want to sincerely thank the Vader family (Joe’s sister Anna Marie married Paul Vader – both deceased). The children of Paul and Anna Marie have been unwavering in their support and love for Joe.
Services will be held on Jan. 28 at 11 a.m. at the Community Church of Gunnison on Iowa Street. A reception will follow at St. Peter’s Parish Hall. A celebration of life and interment of ashes will occur in June. Details will be published later in the Gunnison Country Times.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Gunnison Pioneer Museum that Joe so faithfully supported for many years.
Maybe only once in a lifetime do we get to meet, know and claim friendship with someone like Ray Hellinger. Ray was born on Aug. 30, 1975 and passed on Jan. 11.
From the moment he would meet you, he had a smile on your face, and it was his greatest joy in life to see others’ happiness. In his last years, he could be found walking downtown, stopping for an apple cider at Tributary, or grabbing some tacos at Back Country or The Dive. And you always knew when he was “in the house” because his laughter echoed in every corner.
Ray started life as a small town boy on a dairy farm on Oswego, N.Y., where he found and fell in love for the first time, with nature. He loved the woods around his home and became fascinated with how he could push his body and his mind at a young age. And that fortitude paid off. In high school, he was the state champion for the mile–– earning himself a scholarship and a place on the UConn track team. While his running career ended after an injury, Ray used his same intense focus to earn a bachelors and then masters in biochemistry. And then he set his eyes to the west.
After moving to Utah to pursue a doctorate in biochemistry, Ray fell in love a second time — this time with climbing. Deciding he didn’t want to be a biochemist, he moved back to New York and completed studies to become a paramedic, another love story in the making. Ray loved being a paramedic as much as he loved being a climber and mountaineer. But really any adventure or work that took him to new places and let him meet new people was what Ray lived for.
Through these expeditions, Ray brought, to all of us, the stories of his life, which he so generously shared. After his diagnosis of brain cancer in 2015-2016, Ray moved to Gunnison, Colo., to attempt the ultimate come back. And while cancer was too much for this Superman, there was one more love story in the making… and that’s the story of how Gunnison fell in love with Ray.
So in the end, it’s all of us, who knew and loved him that get to carry on his legacy. To all those he met and loved, to all those who Ray helped and then in turn helped Ray, a huge thank you. And let us all go on with the gratitude, love and joy Ray showed us all, everyday, with every smile.
On Saturday, Jan. 25 at 5 p.m. there will be a party to celebrate Ray's life at Tributary Coffee. Anyone is welcome.