John Walters died on October 11, 2023, at the age of 86, of lung cancer. He is survived by his children Laura (Kris), Angela and Sean (Susan), grandchildren Shauna, Avery, Anna and Jack, and siblings Dave (Kay), Judy, Elon (Ron) and Cheryl. He is predeceased by his wife of 62 years, Marge, and siblings Peggy (Ted) and Ron (Nancy).
John was born in Houston, Texas, in 1937. The family moved to Phoenix, Arizona in the early 1940s. John was the oldest of seven children. He enjoyed the Boy Scouts and advanced to Eagle Scout, leading Troop backpacking trips at age 17. He worked alongside his father, Earl, in the family plumbing business. He was expected to take over the business, but surprised everyone by enlisting in the U.S. Air Force (USAF) in 1956, at age 19, through the aviation cadet program. In 1957, he was the youngest Lieutenant commissioned in the USAF.
In 1960, he married his wife, Marge, a flight attendant for Continental Airlines. He graduated from Pilot Training in 1962 at the top of his class of 44 pilots. In 1963, he was the “Top Gun” in his F-100 Combat Crew Training course. In 1964-1965, as a Captain, he was stationed as a pilot advisor to the Vietnamese Air Force. He flew 580 combat hours in 355 combat missions in the F-100 fighter jet. He was stationed in England in 1965-1968 with the 77th Tactical Fighter Squadron. In 1972-1973, as a Major, he served in Thailand with the 433rd Tactical Fighter Squadron as a Flight Commander; he flew 168 combat hours in 64 combat missions in the F-4 “Phantom” fighter jet. John was distinguished as piloting the first and last U.S. combat missions of the Vietnam War, nine years apart. In 1973-1976, as a Lt. Colonel, he was stationed at the Pentagon where he developed and implemented USAF personnel policies, including the policy that permitted women to serve as combat pilots, which he was very proud of. He was awarded several commendations, including the Distinguished Flying Cross and Meritorious Service Medal. He retired from the USAF in 1976, after 20 years of service.
His education included the Air Command and Staff College and the Industrial College of the Armed Forces. In addition, over a twelve-year period, John attended night school to obtain a Bachelor of Arts in Business and Economics from the University of Nebraska at Omaha and a Master of Science Administration from George Washington University. A 24-hour day was never long enough for John.
In 1976, the family moved to Scottsdale, Arizona, where he took the position of Director of Aeronautics for the State of Arizona. In 1978, he became President of Grand Canyon Airlines, a flight-seeing company. In 1979, he purchased an air charter company, Sun West Airlines, which he operated for six years. With consolidation of smaller airlines, his expertise was valued as a CEO, a COO, and a consultant for regional airlines in Nebraska and New York from 1985-1993.
He decided to retire in 1993 and they relocated to Austin, Texas, where he applied his energy, organizational and management skills as a full-time volunteer for an adult literacy non-profit. John and Marge also enjoyed several cross-country motorcycle tours with their daughter Angela, brother Ron, and their spouses.
In 2005, they moved to Highlands Ranch, Colorado, to live near their children and grandchildren. John joined the Colorado Mountain Club (CMC) in 2008, arriving at classes and meetings on his motorcycle and wearing his leather outfit. John completed five CMC schools during his first year of membership and became a Trip Leader. He was a strong advocate of education and training, and John went on to complete over twelve CMC schools, and additional birding and naturalist schools.
During his years as a CMC Leader and influencer, John developed a variety of theme hikes, including Bootstrap (now Ascending Hikes), Snowshoe Clinics (now Beginner Snowshoe School), and Jeffco Open Space Nature Hikes. As Director of Denver Safety & Leadership Committee, John was instrumental in bringing professional avalanche education to CMC through the American Institute of Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE).
Always looking for a challenge, John hiked on every trail in Rocky Mountain National Park during its Centennial Celebration in 2015-2016. In 2017, for his 80th year, John set a goal to hike to 80 Colorado lakes. He started the “80 Lake Series” with his arm in a sling due to shoulder surgery in February. In 2019, he hiked in 37 Colorado Wilderness Areas. When he discovered an absence of CMC backpacking trips, John worked to fill an unmet need and became the initial founder of the Backpacking Section (BPX). Online membership quickly grew to over 1600 CMC members. It is estimated that John was primary Leader on over 600 trips and co-led an additional 400-500 trips during his 15 years with CMC. He spent thousands of hours on the computer, drafting educational materials on safe outdoor recreation and researching, planning, and coordinating CMC hikes, snowshoes, and backpacking trips.
He also served as a volunteer Ranger at Roxborough State Park, and as a volunteer coordinator for Castlewood Canyon State Park’s Raptor Monitoring Program.
John was extremely active, intelligent, and well-informed, and could engage easily on almost any issue. He was a prolific and expert writer, and a life-long student and educator. He also enjoyed hiking, snowshoeing, camping, backpacking, photography, studying the natural and social sciences, and spending time with friends and family.
He will be laid to rest at Fort Logan National Cemetery with military honors. A “Celebration of Life” and luncheon will be held on Monday, November 20, 2023, from 12:00 to 2:00 pm at CMC headquarters at the American Mountaineering Center, 710 10th Street in Golden, Colorado. If you plan to attend, please RSVP by November 15 at firstname.lastname@example.org for planning purposes.
In lieu of flowers, please consider donating to John’s favorite organization, the Colorado Mountain Club. The “Adult Education/Volunteer & Instructor Training” fund provides statewide scholarships for training CMC Leaders and volunteers (https://www.cmc.org/donate).