Grand Junction, Colorado
Levi Lucero, 88, passed away Thursday, June 11, 2020. A leap year baby, born February 29, 1932 in Las Animas, Colorado. Levi always joked he was from LA and in fact lived in a small "barrio" in Las Animas, called Hollywood, but from there would come a man like no other.
His father Levi Lucero died when he was two months old and his mother Eva (Ortega) died when he was ten. Levi was the youngest of three children who recalled that after the death of his mother he and his two siblings Dan and Julia were moved from relative to relative for a year before his grandmother, Juanita Sisneros took them on as a legal responsibility. None of his family had the financial means to support them and depended on welfare for their sustenance. To supplement their welfare payments, he told us he worked whatever jobs he could find and at an early age Levi learned to conduct himself responsibly. He told us whatever he had or would obtain he had to earn. He said he worked in the fields, dug-out basements with a hand shovel, shined shoes, set pins at the bowling alley and ran errands for the elderly. Levi often told us his grandma insisted he go to school so he could learn to care for himself. The drive to improve his living conditions became a number one priority. He shared lots of stories of his life growing up. He told us that his grandma made sure he had God in his life and believed that it was God’s intersession that led him to help others, and allowed him to realize his potential. It was very important not to disappoint his grandma. School created an awareness in him, that he became more concerned about his future. He dedicated himself to gaining a foothold in life and to help others get a foothold.
Things changed for Levi when he was asked why he did not participate in sports. He decided to go out for track and won his first race barefooted. Coach Davis yelled, "Get that kid some shoes!" For the first time in his life he knew what it was to be recognized in a school setting. Levi excelled in long distance running and the long jump, and went on to set school records. He competed in wrestling at the state level and told us of the unforgettable experience of hugging from the coach, and teammates raising him on their shoulders. That feeling has stayed with him throughout his life. Levi met his future wife the night of graduation from Bent County High School and left for the navy the next day. He joined the navy with two of his buddies. His whole military service was during the Korean War aboard the USS Skagit. Levi always knew he would return from the war because the day he left his grandmother made him kneel down in front of her to give him a blessing and he told us it felt like a shield of protection. Levi would want mentioned that his personal hero and war hero was his Uncle Adam Lucero, who was a highly decorated veteran, an army sergeant and squad leader in the 120th Infantry Division during WWII, having fought in the Battle of the Bulge, and the Rhineland Ardennes campaign. His uncle had been awarded Two Silver Stars for gallantry, a bronze Oak Leaf Cluster, and Purple Heart.
In 1954 he married Bernice Montoya. Living in La Junta, Colorado, he and his wife along with the local priest spearheaded a drive to start the first Catholic grade school. Levi started school at Otero Junior College, using his GI Bill for a three year apprenticeship as a newspaper printer and linotype operator. At the Tribune Democrat newspaper he encountered obstacles because of his ethnic background. After several years tempers reached a boiling point and the owner of the newspaper Mr. Al Burtis stepped in to give complete support to Levi. Eventually the relationships among his coworkers, involved in the vexing conditions changed, and became good and rewarding. As a member of the Jaycees Levi recommended Mr. Burtis to the Jaycee’s for Boss of the Year. He received the award. In 1959 Levi with his wife and two boys moved to Grand Junction and continued the same type of newspaper work at the Daily Sentinel.
After obtaining his real estate license he worked in sales for 25 years, and was a top producer for many years. At Bray Real Estate, Bob Bray said "this is an exceptional man….I can tell you in all sincerity that I’m proud to be associated with Levi Lucero in this company and in every way." Levi loved spending time at their A-frame cabin in Placerville, auto derby racing and enjoyed owning many special vehicles e.g. Willys Jeeps and Willys truck, 1960 Thunderbird, 1937 Ford pickup, Model A, big long cars for real estate, and several RV camping vans that he and Bernice traveled the USA and Canada in. In other travel, he and Bernice loved the Holy Land and Rome where he said "I touched the hand of Pope John Paul II," now a Catholic saint. In his travels he also met Mohammed Ali. In his late 50's and early 60's Levi took up painting and painted quite a collection of landscapes, animals and other subjects.
His art interest led him to serve as a Trustee for the Western Colorado Art Center. Music was always a source of enjoyment and he had fun playing the guitar, mandolin and saxophone. In his desire to become a better speaker he joined Toastmasters and was named Toastmaster of the year in 1991. Everyone who knew Levi knew that he loved to extol his vision of life and penned his own creed known as “Mi Credo,” a wonderful culmination of his beliefs.
Levi's personal dream of owning a restaurant was realized when he built El Escondido restaurant which allowed him to serve his community in new ways. His goal was to showcase authentic Mexican food. He later opened the Mexicatessen restaurant downtown, and as a Colorado restauranteur Levi was involved with the Restaurant Associaion, Downtown Association and North Avenue Business Association all of which he served proudly. El Escondido was host to many events for visiting dignitaries, organizations, companies and numerous celebrities, Michael Landon, Adam West, Rick Schroeder, ZZ Top, Freddie Fender and many more.
In his civic duties Levi was appointed to the Grand Junction Planning Commission and became an expert in zoning issues. Serving as its chairman for five years of a six year tenure he made lead decisions on many projects in the city; in addition, he could see the need to help people with affordable housing. In 1974 he and others made an appeal to the city council to embark on a new idea, and that was to establish a Housing Authority. Levi was proud of his work with the Housing Authority and today it serves 2,000 people. Governor Lamm appointed Levi to the Colorado State Board of housing, serving the board for six years, and on the Colorado Housing Finance Authority Board for six years.
At St. Joseph's church Levi worked with Priest Andres Saldana in the Bracero Program. Levi would help personally transport workers from Grand Junction to Delta. Levi took notice that people needed help with basic necessities and in the mid 1960's, before Catholic Outreach came into being, Levi, Bernice, and the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart sisters formed the Demetrias House; Levi served as its first president in 1964. Levi was involved in many other capacities too. He was a member of the Elks and Knights of Columbus, worked with the Domestic Violence Project, police projects and a term with the Chamber of Commerce. Serving on school district and college boards Levi played a key role to see that Hispanic teachers were hired. He served on countless task forces, and in his various positions he set up many critical committees.
In 1965, while attending Mesa Junior College he met President Ted Albers who asked him to serve on the Junior College Citizen’s Advisory Board. For years, Levi pushed for Grand Junction to have the benefit of a four-year college to give local residents the opportunity to earn a bachelors degree without having to travel outside the area. This group successfully transitioned the Junior College to the four year Mesa State College. A final goal of Levi's was to see Mesa State College elevate to university status. In doing that, he developed a close relationship with now CMU, President Tim Foster. President Foster has said "Listing Levi’s contributions to the university would require more words than we have available to us today." Although Levi never graduated from CMU he was a Maverick Extraordinaire. Lucero Hall, on campus, was named for Levi and Bernice in 2018. The college became Colorado Mesa University in 2011. These accounts do not even scratch the surface for the countless ways he served the city he loved. Yet his family was always first. He was always at his kids, grandkids, and great grandkids sport events, music recitals, birthdays, graduations, hospitalizations, taking them fishing along rivers and lakes, and he was there helping with house painting, house remodels and car repairs. Helping people by networking for family, colleagues, strangers or whomever was a fault of Levi’s, in a good way, he was always supporting of others. Levi is survived by his wife Bernice, Gary (Diane), Dennis (Debbie), Karen Egan (Terry), Regina Montesano (Mike), many grand children and great-grandchildren.
Please consider a memorial contribution to Lucero Scholarship Fund (awarded to non-family) c/o CMU or HopeWest Hospice.
Funeral Services: Rosary Thursday, 8-27-2020, 6:30pm, Mass Friday 8-28-2020, 10:30am Immaculate Heart of Mary Church 790 26 1/2 Road, Military Honors 1:00pm, Veterans Memorial Gardens, 2830 Riverside Parkway.
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