Longtime Durango philanthropist and orchid conservationist dies

Monday, Sept. 3, 2018 8:25 PM

Beatrice “Mickie” Thurston, a Durango philanthropist who supported the environment, archaeology and the arts, died last week at home on her farm south of town. She was 86.

“She was brilliant, but so down to Earth,” said Rochelle Mann, Thurston’s friend and former neighbor.

Thurston and her husband, William “Bill” Thurston, who died in 2011, were well-known supporters of a variety of endeavors in La Plata County. They were financial and sustaining supporters of the Durango Community Concert Hall, the Artists in Residence program at Fort Lewis College, the orchid house at the Denver Botanic Gardens and Crow Canyon Archaeological Center.

The Thurstons were some of the earliest – and longest – sponsors of Music in the Mountains when it was founded in 1986.

Thurston was known as a great hostess and held many fundraisers and parties at her home, often serving vegetables from her garden, Mann said.

“There were never too many people at her dinner table,” said Jennifer Thurston, her daughter.

Her father was a statesman and her mother was always invested in the community she lived in, Jennifer said.

Mickie Thurston began attending Cornell University when she was 16 and later studied genetics at Columbia University in 1951, Jennifer Thurston said. She went on to teach microbiology at the University of Denver Medical School from 1957 to 1965. She left teaching and began work in civic charity when she married her second husband, William Thurston, an independent oil and gas operator.

“By teaching, she was giving back in a way, but she wanted to do more,” Jennifer Thurston said.

Their marriage in 1970 created a large, blended family of seven children. Mickie Thurston had four children by her first husband, Carl Pollock, and William Thurston had three daughters.

While living Denver, Mickie Thurston was a director of the Women’s Environment Coalition, known as WeCare, and worked to introduce recycling in Denver. She also worked with Gudy Gaskill, the “mother” of the Colorado Trail, on a trail proposal along the Front Range. But the women didn’t find political support for their ideas because Denver wasn’t a big city in the 1970s.

“They were ahead of their time,” she said.

In 1977, the family moved to Weaselskin Farm south of Durango, and the Thurstons started to support community arts, including The Abbey Theatre, now the Animas City Theater. They founded Four Corners Opera, which was active from 1980 to 1984, and were strong supporters of Music in the Mountains and the Community Concert Hall.

Thurston was also instrumental in founding the Artists in Residence program at Fort Lewis College in 1995, which brings in several musicians to campus each year to teach master classes and to perform.

Mann said the program was needed initially because the music department at FLC didn’t have enough staff. Mann is the former chairwoman of the department.

Orchids were another one of the Thurstons’ passions, and the couple took many trips, mainly to Mexico, to collect wild orchid species. Three orchids species are named after Mickie Thurston, Jennifer Thurston said.

William Thurston was motivated to preserve the species after traveling to Mexico and witnessing the deforestation happening because of oil and gas development, she said.

The couple collected 1,554 orchids from Mexico, South America and Papua New Guinea, according to an article by the American Society of Botanical Artists.

When the couple decided they were too old for camping in the jungle, they continued to travel to every continent, including Antarctica. They documented their travels extensively through photographs and gave educational talks when they returned, Jennifer Thurston said.

“To know Mickie Thurston was to participate in adventures and discoveries fueled by her unquenchable curiosity and knowledge about the natural world,” said Jim Foster, who traveled with the couple.

Contributions can be made in Thurston’s name to the FLC Artists in Residence Program and to Crow Canyon.

A memorial service has not been scheduled.

Beatrice ‘Mickie’ Thurston

Beatrice Thurston died Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018, at her home in Durango. She was born on Jan. 8, 1932, in New Haven, Connecticut, to Sparkle Moore Furnas and Clifford Cook Furnas. She is survived by her sons, Mark Thurston of Black Hawk, Stephen Thurston of Bellaire, Texas and Douglas Thurston of Durango; and daughters, Jennifer Thurston of Durango, Karen Thurston of Lynden, Washington, Amy Thurston Ng of Tacoma, Washington, and Ruth Anna Thurston of Fircrest, Washington.