John Richard Tankersley, the first born son of S.E. (Gene) Tankersley and Joanne Harbour Tankersley was born at the old Del Norte Hospital Jan. 3, 1952. Shortly thereafter the young family moved to the Rio Grande (Farmers Union) Reservoir, north of Creede. Making John the first child to be raised in the original house that sat on the dam.
John told stories of riding atop panniers in pack strings bound for Basque Shepherd’s camps high in the mountains. A child of not more that 4, he would be perched on top and instructed to hold on to the rope. He told with gusto of the occasion that the pack string broke apart, and the horses proceeded to buck across the meadow, tossing him unceremoniously into a hole with the contents of the pack on top of him. During summers he would walk the distance, along a dirt path on the river, from the Farmers Union to 30 Mile Campground to purchase a treat from the camp store.
The family car was parked at Wrights Ranch during the winter months. The Farmers Union had purchased a WWII surplus Weasel for the family to go in and out during the winter months. John told a story, when the family was completely out of food and headed to town. The Weasel broke down in Road Canyon. Through waist deep snow, they walked, single file. Gene, carrying brother Jeff, then John, then Joanne carrying Jill.
In the summer of 1962 the horses from Sky Hi Ranch got out and were headed back to the valley. Our mother got us in the family car and drove till we saw them at River Hill Bend, in the bottom. She then instructed John and Jeff to go down to gather up the horses and ride them back to the ranch; which they did. During that summer John would do duty as baby sitter to his three siblings and three younger cousins while his parents worked as caretakers of the Farmers Union and managers at Little Squaw Resort. On a lovely afternoon, our mother set off for town leaving him in charge, barely across the bridge, John gave us the all clear and we headed with wash tubs and oars to the beaver pond on Little Squaw Creek.
John was a practical joker: he once told his sister, “There’s a kitty in the trash can, you should get it out.” The kitty was actually a skunk; and to his dying day he denied having said this.
Thanks to the Kipp sisters, John was a very good dancer. Sue, Barbara, Virginia and Jean were Johns playmates before his siblings came along and “ruined my perfectly happy childhood,” and then we would all laugh.
The family moved to Leadville for a two year period before moving to Del Norte, where John went to high school, graduating in 1970. Through high school, John worked as a cook in various restaurants in South Fork. A horrific car accident forever changed John when he was 19. He was the passenger in a corvette that became airborne and slammed into a box car. John was thrown from the car, but was burned over 70 percent of his body trying to free the driver who was trapped. He was unsuccessful, and that event left both emotional and physicals scars. He worked for a time for John Gelljum, a family friend and for whom John was named.
In the early 1980s, while working as a bartender at Wetherill Ranch John became friends with another person who had been burned in a car accident, Ronnie Waters. John went to Texas to work for Homer Waters. Eventually he met the love of his life, and married Patty Waters Dec. 29, 1984. They made their home in Houston, Texas, living all but two years on the same street. Patty passed away in 1999 from colon cancer. He and Patty shared a love of sailing and tennis. Upon Patty’s passing her ashes were scattered on a lake they liked to sail on. John mourned her, the rest of his life.
His community was the street he lived on in Houston for almost 40 years. His neighbors relating what he meant to them. Helping to drive kids and seniors, I listened as these people shared what he meant to them. Around the time that Patty, died John had a virus that manifested into congestive heart failure. This combined with diabetes took their physical toll on him and on Jan. 26, 2019 he died peacefully in his sleep.
A life-long Democrat John loved a good debate. He often sparred with family and friends via Facebook.
As per his wishes he will be buried beside his parents in the Creede Cemetery in a private ceremony. A reception is tentatively for May 26 at 1 p.m. at the Creede Elks Hall.