Tommy Ungaro, age 90, died Thursday, July 18, 2013, at Paonia Care Center. He passed on a beautiful bright and clear morning following an evening of extraordinarily powerful thunder and lightning storms.
He was born in the family home in Grand Junction, the sixth of 10 children to Lawrence Sr. and Emilia Tenore Ungaro, May 1, 1923. The attending physician thought he was the first child because the home was so clean and quiet.
He spent his adolescent and teen years in Somerset. He attended Paonia High School and left his senior year to join the United States Navy. He served as a submarine tender on the USS Fulton and was honorably discharged following the conclusion of WW 2. All four of his brothers served in various divisions of the armed services and one of his happiest experiences was that of an unexpected reunion at Christmas with his brother Tony while both were in Brisbane Bay, near Australia. He often said he traveled enough during war years to last a lifetime and was happy to settle and build a home for his family in Paonia.
Upon his discharge from the U.S. Navy, he returned to Somerset and started working in the coal mine. He was a motorman, hauling coal from the interior of the mine to the exterior, choosing this job because it was safer and gave him an opportunity to be outside part of his shift. He was a proud and loyal member of the United Mine Workers union and retired from US Steel in 1985 after working in the mine for 43 years. He recently received a letter of recognition for his lifelong commitment to UMWA.
He married the love of his life, Jann Hutchins, on March 27, 1948. They were married 65 years and raised two daughters, Roxanne and Trudy.
Tommy was a hardworking and generous man. He was known to give away his own boots to someone who needed them more and he picked up aluminum cans along the highways to give to a disabled man who sold them to supplement his income. He valued honesty and demanded people keep their word.
He loved being outdoors and was both a hunter and an avid fly fisherman. In all of the years he fished, he kept one big brown for the taxidermist, because it gave him such a fight he wanted to honor it. He used big ugly flies, because "in order to catch a big fish, you have to use a big fly!" He knew every riffle and hole on the Anthracite, Coal Creek and the North Fork of the Gunnison.
When it became too difficult for him to walk the rivers he devoted all of his time to his extensive yard and vegetable garden. He was a familiar figure on the corner of Third and Main in Paonia mowing his grass, tilling his garden, raking leaves in the fall and shoveling snow in the winter. He was extremely proud of his home and loved hearing the many compliments people gave him. He generously shared vegetables to people passing by.
He delighted in beating his sons-in-law at washers and anyone else who challenged him, driving the 1964 El Camino he restored and his bright orange 1976 International Scout, and telling stories while drinking his homemade grape wine, "Tommy's Pride and Our Joy."
He loved animals, befriended stray cats and kept a box of dog biscuits on the porch for the neighbors' dogs. Once he brought home an orphaned baby duck he found while fishing. For a few weeks it followed him, waddling up and down the irrigated rows in the garden. When the duck had matured enough he released it at Crawford Reservoir.
It's difficult to summarize a man's 90 years in a few words; however, he was a proud, hardworking, generous, honest, and loving family man. Even when dementia and age slowed him, he lived with dignity. He often said, "I've had a good life."
He is survived by his wife of 65 years, Jann of Paonia; daughter Roxanne and her husband Ira Yates of Austin, Texas, and Paonia; daughter Trudy Ungaro and her husband Tim Wiley of Glade Park; three sisters Madeline Pierce and Mary Ungaro, both of Grand Junction and Rose Payne of Paonia; and numerous nieces, nephews and friends.
The family would like to thank the staff at Paonia Care, especially Junior. Also a huge thank you to HopeWest Hospice for their loving and gentle care. Please make memorial contributions to HopeWest Hospice, P.O. Box 24, Delta, CO 81416.
A joyous celebration of his life will be held at noon Aug. 10 in Paonia Town Park. Bring a covered dish and loving remembrance.
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