Kay Orville Watkins

Kay Orville Watkins, PhD, age 92, died at his beloved home in Alamosa on June 11, 2024, with his family by his side.

Kay was born April 28, 1932, in Nunn, Colo., to Paul Watkins and Freda Orndorff Watkins.  This was the height of the Great Depression, which caused the family to move frequently to find employment.  Kay attended many grade schools, three different ones in one year.  Despite this, he always loved school and learning.

The family moved to Alamosa when he was in junior high.  He graduated from Alamosa High School in 1950 as class president and peer-chosen graduation speaker.

He attended Adams State College, now University, on a joint honors scholarship, and graduated in 1955 with a triple major in chemistry, mathematics and physics.

He was accepted to numerous graduate schools, but postponed entrance to go on voluntary draft with the U.S. Army.  He served in the Korean Conflict toward its end.  The Korean countryside was destroyed.  For 18 months he never saw a flush toilet and showers came directly from a polluted river.  After discharge he returned to the US with both amebic dysentery and a long-lasting, hard-to-treat skin fungus.  

Returning home, he entered graduate school at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN, where he earned a PhD in physical-inorganic chemistry (1961).

Chemists were in high demand at that time, and he had not planned a teaching career.  However, then ASC president, Fred Plachy, who knew Kay well, talked him into coming to ASC to replace his former mentor, Dr. Thompson.  Thinking he would come home “for two years”, he remained for over 30 years and was a much beloved professor by hundreds.

Besides teaching, because of his specific training, he also did research during summers and did sabbaticals at Naval Research Laboratory, Washington DC; Brandeis University, Boston; Brookhaven Nation Laboratory, Long Island, N.Y.; Argonne National Laboratory, Chicago, Ill.; the University of Utah, Salt Lake; and the University of Hawaii, Honolulu.

He trained students at ASC (now Adams State University), who literally work all over the world.

Kay earned a grant from the National Science Foundation for the science division at ASC for their first-ever computers.  It was the first time NSF granted to any school other than the big-name major research universities.  

Kay was preceded in death by both parents and his only sibling Wanda Dix and brother-in-law Darrell Dix.

He is survived by wife Janice Rogers Watkins and their three daughters, Susan (Bradley) Schuler, Melissa Watkins Reega, and Laura (Scott) Ammerman.  Grandchildren are Elise (Matt Boyle) Schuler, Daniel (Nicole) Schuler, Caitlin Ammerman, Mason Ammerman, Sarah Reega (Lucas Morse), and Thomas Reega (Lexi Reid).

Besides his passion for family and teaching, he was a passionate and competent fly fisherman.  Learning the skill living in Wyoming at age 10, he kept developing until illness stopped him at 90.  An avid member of Trout Unlimited (TU), he did everything from trash pickup to creating trout habitat in various rivers.  He reestablished the SLV TU chapter years ago and was honored by the TU State Office as an Outstanding Volunteer in 2016.  There are never-ending “fish tales” about him.

He did not seek accolades given to him, nevertheless some professional honors include:  ASC Outstanding Alumnus 1993; Excellence in Science Teaching Award, Colorado Association of Science Teachers, 1993; Colorado Alliance for Science Lifetime Leadership in Science, Technology, and Mathematics, 1990; Regional Science Fair for Outstanding and Dedicated Service, 1961-1992; and his first from high school, Honorary Science Award, Bausch and Lomb, 1950.

Per Kay and his families wishes, a celebration of life will be held at a later date. Memorial contributions may be directed to Kay Watkins scholarship for chemistry majors at Adams State University.

Rogers Family Mortuary is in the care of the arrangements. To leave online condolences, tributes, and words of comfort for Kay’s family, please visit www.RogersFunerals.com.