DEL NORTE— The Rio Grande County Courthouse was busier than usual when it opened at 8 a.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 8. People arrived for normal business and judicial proceedings, but a throng of other folks wanted to get a seat for the swearing-in ceremony.
Administrators moved the crowd to accommodate court dates and jury selection, but everybody overflowed the meeting room and prompted another trip upstairs so Judge Amanda Hopkins could officially kick-start the new year with oaths of civic commitment.
Although Judge Hopkins swore in Coroner Stephen Hunzeker on Jan. 2, she had five more elected officials to process on Tuesday. Commissioner John Noffsker, Clerk and Recorder Cindy Hill, Treasurer/Public Trustee Cherilyn Rue, Assessor JJ Mondragon and Sheriff Don McDonald sat where accused parties usually sit and took turns repeating the oath.
Representing diverse branches of Rio Grande County governance, these five people leverage past experience relevant to their jobs, some continuing positions they’ve already held for the county.
Commissioner John Noffsker may be new to his position, but he’s a long-time Rock Creek resident with an understanding of the Valley beyond Rio Grande County.
Clerk and Recorder Cindy Hill has been a veteran of the department since 2002, winning the last three elections. Hill has been a Rio Grande County resident for more than 40 years. Married to Carl, the Valley native raised a son and has four grandchildren.
Treasurer and Public Trustee Cherilyn Rue has been with Rio Grande County in different capacities for almost four decades. Working in the treasurer’s office for the past 25 years, Rue said she would need to train whoever took the position anyway, so she decided to run for election. Rue grew up in South Fork and graduated from Del Norte High School.
Assessor JJ Mondragon started with the department in 1998, moving up to deputy assessor in 2003 and winning the election to fill the top role in 2014. A Valley native, Mondragon graduated from Center High School and returned from collegiate studies to raise three children in Del Norte.
For the past couple of years, Don McDonald kept steady watch as the South Fork chief of police. McDonald announced his intentions to run for Rio Grande County sheriff in the fall of 2017, despite the idea of slowing down with age. Considering that McDonald remained on active duty with the U.S. Army while working for the Fountain, Colo. police department back in 1990, slowing down may be a relative concept.
Stephen Hunzeker initially took the Rio Grande County Coroner position in March 2017, following the resignation of Rusty Strohmayer and John Darlington. Commissioners appointed Hunzeker to fill the void, and the veteran leveraged his experience to prove himself worthy of election.
Noffsker joined Gene Glover and Suzanne Bothell for multiple commissioner sessions immediately after the ceremony, and the rest of the elected officials went to work as well.