Lon Erwin, a longtime leader of Durango nonprofits, died Sunday in Farmington from Parkinson’s disease. He was 78.
Erwin was the executive director of Habitat for Humanity of La Plata County, the Community Foundation Serving Southwest Colorado and Community Connections, a nonprofit that serves individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
“He just never gave up wanting to better people’s lives and have a positive impact on the community,” said Sidny Zink, Erwin’s former wife. The two were married for 27 years. Erwin also had two children, Mark McPherson and Paula Parrish, from a previous marriage.
Erwin’s friend Lynn Westberg said she will remember him as an extrovert who knew hundreds of people and had an excellent sense of humor.
When Erwin told a good joke, he would get caught up in the punch line before he could actually tell it, she said.
“He would giggle until tears were running down his cheeks. ... To get to the punch line was so hard for him,” Westberg said.
Erwin, originally from Oklahoma, taught in Lutheran schools before earning his master’s degree in social work and going to work for nonprofits, Parrish said.
“He touched so many lives,” she said.
Erwin brought passion to the organizations he led. At Community Connections, his commitment to the inclusion of residents with intellectual disabilities led to big changes, said Tara Kiene, executive director of the nonprofit.
He closed a sheltered workshop, where the residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities worked, in favor of integrating them into the community, she said. He saw no reason why residents with intellectual disabilities shouldn’t be working in community businesses, she said.
He also closed group homes in favor of housing that provided more personalized care, such as host homes.
“He was definitely passionate, very progressive about how our system should look in a time when not everybody in positions of decision-making at the state level were quite there,” she said. His positions sometimes led to tension with the state, she said.
After working at Community Connections for about 16 years, he went to work for the Community Foundation, where he helped raise the nonprofit’s profile, according to The Durango Herald archives.
Erwin’s leadership at the foundation was key after the 2008 fire in the 700 block of Main Avenue. The fire destroyed Seasons Rotisserie and Grill, Le Rendezvous restaurant, Half-Price Tees and Durango Embroidery and Print.
Erwin was “instrumental” in coming up with the idea for a community fund to support owners and employees in times of emergency, former Board President Chuck Fredrick previously told the Herald.
“We raised about $100,000 fast,” Fredrick said, when Erwin retired in 2012. “About $80,000 went out during the next six to eight months for rent, utilities, food and grocery cards for employees displaced by the fire.”
Outside of his professional life, he was involved with numerous nonprofits, including the Community Health Action Coalition, Civitan International, Leadership La Plata and the Durango and Cortez Adult Education Center, according to interviews with his friends.
He also served on the board of directors of the Ballantine Family Fund, a fund that focuses on improving the human condition in Southwest Colorado.
“His broad and deep familiarity with the nonprofit community was invaluable in the foundation’s grant-making decisions,” said Richard Ballantine, president of fund.
Former Durango Mayor Sweetie Marbury called Erwin “one of the good guys.”
“He is just known all over Durango because he was one of those good-deed doers,” Marbury said.
The memorial service will be held 2 p.m. Friday at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Durango.
firstname.lastname@example.orgThis story has been updated to correct the age of Lon Erwin.