Letha Marian Phelps Vader passed away in the presence of family members on June 11.
Letha was born in Powderhorn, Colo., probably with (as she said) the help of her older sisters on March 9, 1929. She was the tenth of 12 children born to Helen (Rouviere) and Jesse Phelps. Her family has a long history in the Gunnison area.
Her parents were married in Powderhorn in 1908 and her mother had moved to Iola in 1890. Letha attended Gunnison High School where at age 14, she met the one and only love of her life. She said she “liked his personality, his looks, he was very nice, and my mother liked him.” They dated for four years and she married Daniel Isiah Vader on June 7, 1947 in St. Peter’s Catholic Church shortly after graduating from high school. Six children (also known as their half dozen) were born of the union: Connie, Vallerie, Roxanna, Daniel I., Jr., Timothy, and Trudy.
Letha’s accomplishments were many. She was very proud of being the first woman to hold the position of Drum Major for the Gunnison High School Band in 1947. The band competed in and won the State Competition two weeks before her wedding. She was also responsible for starting the first School Hot Lunch Program for the Gunnison School District.
As a ranch wife she cooked for large hay crews, served along with Dan as a 4-H leader from the time their oldest entered the program until the youngest completed her tenyear enrollment. After that they served as adoptive 4-H parents for many youngsters. She and Dan sponsored a “Hard Luck Award” for the 4-H Horse Show for many years. She was an accomplished seamstress, having been taught by her mother. She made her wedding dress and was known for making matching outfits for her girls. She made sure she passed the skill on to her daughters.
Later in life she and Dan took a pottery class at Western State which led to the purchase of a kiln and wheel that they set up in their garage. It was a hobby that she re-engaged with the last year of her life and sold over 300 pieces at the High Octane Arts & Crafts Show in City Park in August 2018. Dan and Letha loved to travel during their empty nest years and were especially fond of their Winter Texan status in Port Aransus, Texas where they took their fifth-wheel trailer from January to Easter every year. She had continued to enjoy traveling with her daughter Trudy over the last few years.
The most profound gift both Dan and Letha gave their children was a strong work ethic. Letha worked at Fleetwood’s drug store starting in the sixth grade, followed by Miller’s Dry Goods during high school. She loved math in school and put it to good use by keeping books for Cranor’s Garage early during her marriage. Later when her first five children were in school, she became a bookkeeper at Safeway part-time. When the kids were grown she worked as book-keeper in the mornings and as a checker in the afternoons. She retired in 1992.
When the children were young, in addition to being a housewife, ranch wife, and mother, she started selling worms to tourists coming to the Gunnison area to fish. The were sold to fishermen who drove by the ranch and to businesses in town. She made a science out of raising large healthy worms and had repeat customers year after year. Each child was required to dig a certain number of worms each day based on their age. They had the choice of doing it in the morning when it was cool or in the hotter afternoon, but it was absolutely required. The money was used to buy school clothes and any personal purchases.
Dan and Letha prioritized their family. Not only did they all work hard on the ranch, but they played hard as well. Sunday drives and fishing trips were frequent in the early years, but the money earned on the worm business allowed the family to purchase season passes to Crested Butte each winter. Every Sunday the family would put on their ski clothes and go to the earliest mass. They sat in the back of the church and left when the service was over. All eight of them loaded up in the camper and drove to Crested Butte. A morning of skiing together with lots of laughter was followed by lunch and hot chocolate in the camper and an afternoon again filled with family fun on the slopes. Summers were spent preparing for and attending horse and 4-H shows.
When asked in an interview by her daughter in 2018 what advice she would give about being a parent, she said: “The advice I would give on being a parent: give them a job by the time they are two, picking up their stuff and by first grade they can help with housework. In the third grade they should make their own beds. In fourth and fifth grade change their own sheets, help with the dishes and help on the ranch. In sixth grade they should be digging worms for their own money. If they have to work when they are young they will grow up knowing how to work hard as an adult.” When asked what is your greatest accomplishment? She replied: “Getting all my kids grown up with an education and working to support themselves.”
Letha was not only a woman with a big heart for others, but she was a fighter when it came to protecting something or someone she cared about. She was always an advocate for her children when necessary. The biggest obstacle she and Dan faced was when the Farm Credit System employed dishonest policies on a loan taken out to start a yearling operation on the ranch. They fought the system for years and Letha became well-versed in all the legalities involved. They were eventually able to settle and keep part of the ranch land. Letha wrote and published a book entitled: “We Didn’t Bet the Ranch, but the Farm Credit System Did,”
Dan died in 2005 and Letha continued to manage the family businesses, a farm in Lamar and R. I. Vader & Sons Inc. In recent years her son Dan (aka) Darth took over the management and daughter Trudy moved in with her as a care-taker.
Letha’s most fervent wish was that she would not have to move into a nursing home in her later years and her children worked hard to make sure that wish was granted. She celebrated her 90th birthday on March 9 with a large gathering of all her children, her sister, and many of her grandchildren and greatgrandchildren.
Letha is survived by her daughters: Connie Vader-Lindholm (Dale), Vallerie Funk, Roxana Moser (Charlie), and Trudy Vader and her son Dan Vader Jr. (Darth) and her sister Fay Vader. Her grandchildren: Shelby (Josh) Meyer, Reece (Jessica) Lindholm, Elyssa (Danny) White, Daniel Funk, Timothy (Dawn) Moser, Thomas (Jessica) Moser, Michele (Christopher) Grant, Adam Katheiser, Kayla Daugherty, Scott (Alysee Johnston) Daugherty along with numerous nieces and nephews also survive her.
Surviving great-grandchildren include: Adelle, Imogene, and Millicent Meyer; Ryan Lindholm; TeaLa Mears; Colton and Katelyn Funk; Juliet and Madison Moser; Jacob and Daniel Moser; Bryan, Mathew, and Cory Grant; Tara Katheiser and great-great grandchild Bryan Grant. She is also survived by her devoted canine companion/protector, Isiah, a tea-cup poodle who has been constantly at her side over the last five plus years.
Preceding Letha in death are her husband, her parents, nine older and one younger sibling, son Tim Vader and son-in-law Melvin Funk, grandchildren Melina Funk, Sarah Moser, Jared Katheiser, and greatgranddaughter Dakota White.
When asked in the interview previously mentioned: Is there anything you always wanted to do, but never did? She replied: “I feel like I got to do everything I ever wanted to do.” A sign of a life well-lived.
“She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her:” Proverbs 31:27-28 NIV.
Her family rejoices that she is dancing to the Tennessee Waltz with Dan for eternity in the sight of our Lord.
A rosary was held Wednesday, June 19 at St. Peter’s Catholic Church at 6:30 p.m. A funeral Mass is being held today, June 20 at St. Peters at 10:30 a.m. A reception will follow.
The family requests any contributions be made In Memory of Letha Vader to the Gunnison School Hot Lunch Program, 800 N. Boulevard, Gunnison CO, 81230, (Kristen Osborne at 970.641.7700).