“We have lost a ray of sunshine,” says Norwood’s Happy Belly Deli owner Julie Thorneycroft. “Every time he walked in that door, I just couldn’t help but smile.” And, even after his death in a rollover accident on Dallas Divide on Monday afternoon, Dan is spoken of only with smiles.
Jessica Henricks, a Happy Belly Deli employee, has been in Norwood for just a few months, but “he made himself known. He’d sit in the corner and eat his ham sandwich, talk about life and give out hugs.”
Sheila Henderson, one of Dan’s neighbors, smiles as she says, “Even our animals loved him. They knew the sound of his car, his voice, and came running.” Although he was 85, “he was still very active,” says Henderson. “He would climb right up and over the corral fence” to take care of the cows at their place.
“Dan has been in every play we’ve produced here,” says Kristina Stellhorn, adding she would give him free rein to improvise his lines, because “he would always make up something funny.”
Dan’s gravelly, smiling voice was well-known and loved all over Norwood. He could be counted on every December to appear with his crooked fake beard as Santa Claus for the local kids. Norwood’s Prime Time Early Learning Center adopted him as their official grandpa a few years ago, treating him to Christmas gifts, and hugs and play time whenever he showed his face in the classrooms. He was recently given a permanent “Grandpa Dan” name tag that still sits on the sign-in table at the center.
Prime Time Director Amy Williams remembers that when Grandpa Dan came to visit, the playground would be a chorus of “Grandpa, look at me!” and “Grandpa, look what I can do!” He always told the teachers, "You have the greatest job in the world, because you get to work with the greatest treasures in the world.” Then he’d joke, “Can I buy one of these kids?” and when the teachers answered, “No,” he’d say, “That’s okay because they’re priceless.”
Norwood was just one of Dan’s homes growing up. His father, a government trapper, traveled between Cortez, Craig, and Norwood, and he and Dan spent many a night under the stars, eating campfire food.
It may have been those experiences that made him take up hunter education. He taught generations of kids about hunting safety. “He taught me, and he taught my daughter,” says Norwood School secretary Nancy Setzer.
Dillon claimed Norwood as his permanent home over 70 years ago. In a recent conversation with long-time local Grace Herndon, a neighbor since the early 1940s, Dan confided that, although his children wanted him to move closer to them, Norwood was his home.
“We spent lots of time together,” Herndon reminisced. “Our boys were in Scouts under Dan. That was a huge chapter in people’s lives here.” As the Scout Master for generations of boys, Dillon was working this year on the revival of the Boy Scout camp at Miramonte Reservoir.
Dan died Monday night in a single car accident near Dallas Divide. He was returning from Grand Junction, where his daughter, Dawn, lives. “Apparently he just drove off the highway. State Patrol is investigating,” said San Miguel County Coroner Bob Dempsey on Tuesday morning.
Dan is survived by his brothers, Dave Dillon of Craig, Colorado, and Dennis Dillon of Texas, and his sister Beverly Ross of Vernal, Utah; his two sons Wayne Dillon of Palisade and Matt Dillon of Kansas; daughter Dawn Dillon of Grand Junction, and grandchildren Melody, Melissa, Breianne, and Brittnie, as well as his three dozen-or-so “adopted grandkids” at Prime Time Early Learning Center.
Dan was preceeded in death by his wife, Ada Merryman Dillon; sister Sadie Babb; brothers Dick, Jack, Benny, Herbert, Fred, and Jimmy Dillon, as well as children Ruth Jean and Ronald Thom.
Many folks are in agreement that Dan is happier now. “Knowing his beliefs, he is happy to be reunited with Ada,” mused Heather Priestly, owner of Norwood’s Uptown Salon and Day Spa. Life was difficult for Dillon after his wife died six years ago, but, says Grace Herndon, “We had dinner with him a couple of weeks ago, and he was on a real high. He seemed to have regained his bearings at last.”
To honor him, the Norwood Historical Society will present West End Story, its most recent play, in which Mr. Dillon was the sheriff, on July 17, at 7 p.m., at the Livery Play House. It will be a free showing, with donations going to the historical society on behalf of Dan Dillon.
San Miguel County Commissioner Art Goodtimes summed up what everyone says about Dan: “We’ve lost a great leader for our youth. I admired him for his personal integrity and ability to bring this community together.” As the sign below Dan’s picture in the Happy Belly Deli says, “We love you and will miss you, Dan.