William "Bill" Ela died Sept. 1, 2016. He was 93.
William McHarg Ela was born May 11, 1923, to Wendell and Lucy (Ferril) Ela, part of the Ela family that started ranching on Glade Park in the 1880s. He graduated from Grand Junction High School in 1941 and enrolled at Mesa Junior College. While there, he joined the Navy officer training corps and was sent on to the University of Colorado, University of New Mexico and ultimately Cornell before he finished his naval career during World War II as a navigator on a destroyer in the Pacific. After his discharge, the newly-enacted GI bill put him through Harvard Law School.
He and his wife, Shirley Phillips Ela, returned to Grand Junction and he took up practice at the law firm of Adams, Heckman & Traylor, ultimately becoming a partner.
He was chosen to fill a vacancy as judge of the District Court in the first appointment under the new, non-partisan, judicial appointment process. He served as judge, then senior judge, for 35 years. One of his proudest accomplishments was to establish the first work release community corrections program in Colorado.
He was president of the State District Judges Association and the Juvenile Judges Association, a teacher in the National College of Trial Judges, and president of the local bar association.
After his retirement, he moved to Rogers Mesa, partnered in Ela Family Farms and spent most of the rest of his life as a mediator.
He led and participated in student and adult Great Books groups. He was active in the Jaycees, receiving the Outstanding State President Award. He served for decades as a trustee and chairman of the Goodwin charitable foundation, and for 40 years was a member and chairman of the Clifton Water Board. He received a Distinguished Alumni Award and an honorary doctorate from Mesa College.
He was a founder and original co-chair of the Riverfront Commission and was active with the Grand Mesa Nordic Council. He participated in Ride the Rockies three times, won his age category in his third Bolder Boulder race at age 89, and completed the Imogene Pass run. He enjoyed climbing 14ers, river rafting, backpacking and stargazing. He and his wife enjoyed visiting many parts of the U.S. and traveling to Costa Rica, Panama, Australia, New Zealand, Turkey and the Galapagos Islands.
He is survived by his wife of nearly 70 years, Shirley; his brother, Skip; his children, Beth (Jeff) Wilkens, Wendell (Karen), Tom, Dan (Lynea) Schultz-Ela and Steve; seven grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.
There will be no public memorial service but the family would appreciate receiving letters with memories of Bill from friends and felons alike. Letters can be addressed to Ela Family Farms at 30753 L Road, Hotchkiss, CO 81419.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Goodwin Foundation, PO Box 2106, Grand Junction, CO 81502, or to a charity of the donor's choice.
A private family memorial will be held at a later date.
Taylor Funeral Service and Crematory is handling the arrangements.
View the internet obituary and sign the online guest registry at www.taylorfuneralservice.com.