Thinking of you...

These are letters sent to Justin's family in May and June of 2000.

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To Justin.......

As a teacher of communications...radio and television production...at Sheldon High School, I thought
of Justin as one of “my” boys as he was an active part of that program throughout his high school career.
So, when the terrible news came of the avalanche and Justin’s loss, I felt terrible sorrow.  But...then...I
also thought of how very blessed I was in that I was able to know Justin and work with him as a high
school student.

I think that Justin, the teenager, was not much different from Justin, the adult.  I think of him bouncing
into the studio, a big smile on his face, a friendly hello, how are you?  And it was always a pleasure
to have him there.

Justin was a communicator...a good one.  Not only could and did Justin talk a lot, but he was a good
listener, too.  He found everyone’s story interesting. Everyone’s life was important.  A new student
might come in and I would introduce him or her.  Justin took the time to talk with the student, find out
something about the person.  He was a person that I often asked to help the new ones “run the board”
or learn the routine of being on the air.

Now, I have to say...interviews were a bit of a problem.  Usually an on-air interview is about 5 minutes
in length.  Well...you can imagine that when Justin went out with tape recorder in hand to interview
someone..that he got interested in what the person had to say and very often, he came back with at
least 45 minutes to an hour of tape.  Yes, and he hated to edit it.  “It’s all important.  How can you
take some of it out???”  That was his feeling.  Sometimes, we ended up with a series.

Justin was a bit mischievous, too.  He wasn’t mean...ever.  He liked to play jokes on people and he
usually pulled them off.  And the charm..he was one of the most charming young men I knew.  His
colleagues knew that too.  There would be occasion when they had done something very well..and yes,
they knew it and I knew it too.  Of course, I always gave them compliments on their fine performances.
But...sometimes I’d hear the conversations around the studio.  No, you ask her...you can do it.  Pretty
soon, here would come Justin, “How’s the now up at the Pass?”  It’s fine, I’d answer.  “Well, did
you think we did a good job last night?”  Oh, yes...I’m very proud of you.  “Well, if we did so well...
do you think we should have a little payment...like a pass to the Pass?”  Well...who could forgo all of
that charm????

Justin worked well with others.  He was able to cross the usual high school cliques and talk with and
work with everyone.  That’s pretty good for a teenager.  Justin was bright.  He was curious about many
things.  He asked many questions and he was a joy to have in class.

So...I knew he’d be a success at whatever he decided to do.  When he would come back from college
and stop in to talk, he seemed very happy with his decision about where to go and what to do.  I enjoyed
his visits.  He still was upbeat about his life.  So...I was so pleased when Jerry shared his transcript with
me.  He and his family have so much to be proud of.

Yes, Justin’s life was cut short...but what a life he led.  That  is the way to measure success..not by the
length but by what one has done with his life.   Justin was bright, thoughtful, funny, inquisitive, kind,
fun-loving, an adventurer, a student. To his parents and his sister, I want you to know that I am so very
thankful that I had the opportunity to share in his life when he was a teenager.  Truly, it was a blessing.

.......Kathie Wiper
 
 

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I want to emphasize what a pleasure and an honor it was to finally meet you at the graduation
ceremony.  I found everything I'd heard about Justin's family validated by your personality and
your attitude, simply from our brief conversation.  As other people have remarked lately (who
have also met you), the reactions of you and your family to this terrible loss go a long way toward
explaining Justin's amazing positivity, enthusiasm, and charm.  You have an amazing family.

As I conveyed in our conversation, Justin was truly one of my most unique students.  In the six
years that I have been teaching, I've never had another student come to me to request additional
reading for the summer, simply out of personal interest.  I don't want to disparage my other
students, either.  On the contrary, I believe this University attractssome outstanding individuals.
I know, because I meet many of them in my classes, every semester.  But this just goes to prove
further how far beyond the pale Justin was.
I continuously meet outstanding students -- and yet he still stands out.

Justin was the type of student to sit in the back row -- but not because he wants to hide. Actually,
I'm not sure why he always sat where he did, except that I know his comments and insights,
coming from back there, had a great impact on the tenor and spirit of the class.  He was among
the "coolest" of kids, slouching back there in the corner desk.  And then, when he'd speak up
with such enthusiasm -- and unerring exactness, I have to add -- I think it provided an example
and an inspiration for the real "slouchers" of the back row.  All I know is, he was one of the most
engaged students of the semester, and he really did impact the energy and participation level of
the entire class, in an extremely positive way.

Again, as I told you, I was almost as shocked as he was when he got an "F" on his first paper.
 Because I already knew, from his participation in class, that this was one of my strongest students
of the semester. But, typical of Justin, he came to see me in my office immediately, and we
identified that the problem was all in form, and not in content.  That is, he had been trained (by a
High School teacher, he said) to really emphasize the formation of originial ideas -- a skill in which
he far exceeded the average student -- but to the exclusion, it seems, of proper grammar,
punctuation, order, etc.  So this paper PROBABLY had some very interesting ideas lurking
within it, but it was so fraught with errors that I couldn't understand it well enough to get them out!

In any event, what might have become an uncomfortable altercation (for both teacher and student)
over a grade, became - due to Justin's attitude - an opportunity to work together on improving his
skills of expression, and on forming what I consider to be a fine friendship, a relationship of  mutual
respect.  He came to me to work together on future papers (his next one was an improvement,
but still there was a lot of work to do) and, as I said, by the final two papers he earned "A's" -- as
well as an "A" in the course.

Perhaps by this point I don't need to tell you that I have a great respect for your son.  And I don't
mean just because he got an "A" in my class. I always have respect for people of fine intelligence
who recognize and utilize their abilities.  But to find someone with such outstanding personality
traits to match:  enthusiasm, personability, generosity, fun-lovingness and adventure -- AND
seriousness of purpose.... devotion, charisma... Well, it truly is an honor to be able to say I was
Justin's teacher.

Forgive me if I've gone on at length!  But as you know, Justin inspires great thought, and great
emotion, in people.  I hope none of my recollections have troubled you in the least.  As I say, my
aim is merely to add my voice to the many who recognize the outstanding nature of your son.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share this with you. And, I should add, although I hope
it isn't too dramatic, thank you for sharing Justin with the rest of us.

All the best to you, and the rest of your exceptional family,

Sincerely,

Jim Walker

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I worked in Norlin Library for about 10 years and established relationships with many of the
security staff who were always attentive when anyone walked into the library. I never knew
Justin, but I noticed him. It was impossible not to; he was a beautiful man.
 

In January when the semester started and I was having staff orientation in the writing program
in the basement of Norlin, one of my new staff, who also worked in security, mentioned the
avalanche, which I had already known about, and that the missing man was Justin from upstairs.
When he described him my heart dropped. I knew immediately who he was talking about and,
despite having had no relationship with Justin at all, I felt a profound sadness that I would never
see his face in the library again.
 

I was camping in the Indian Peaks wilderness area this weekend, was in fact hiking in those
mountains Justin loved so much, on the very day he was finally found. The article in today's
paper brought me to this website which I thoroughly explored until it was all finished.  I had no
idea of the depth and substance of your son and brother, Justin Colonna, before coming to
this site, but I can certainly appreciate his love of literature, music, and the incomparable
Colorado outdoors. And I now understand that there was so much more to the beautiful man
behind the glass in Norlin library.
 

Seeing your pictures, reading your words, and visiting this amazing memorial speaks volumes
about your family and Justin. It is very moving and, trite as it may sound, has helped me put
some things in perspective. Thank you.

Joan Gabriele
 

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I have visited this site several times. I never met  your beautiful beloved son Justin, but he has
touched my life all the same. It  is too easy in this world not to ever tell anyone, but I want to
tell you. I live in Durango, Colorado. I met a young man here in July of 1992. His name is  Jim.
We renewed our acqaintance on the Internet, and I talked to him many times  about your son,
the accident and the wonderful caringfamily he left behind. I  have sons, five of them. I came to
see your son here, because I have had pain in  my life also, and because my friend was a part
of your life, you became a part  of my life.  I know that today is a day of waiting for you. I  have
spent the morning writing and praying. You are not alone in your waiting  and your grief, and I
wanted you to know that there is a community of  people who are waiting with you today.

                              Ann Perkins
 

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I remember Justin at Monroe Middle School in Eugene, OR., as an energetic, full of mischief
young, budding adolescent who had dancing eyes.  I remember how much his sister, Ann, and
parents adored Justin.  He will be missed by many as I have discovered by reading these letters.
What wonderful friends you have, Justin.

God be with you.

Sincerely,
Sammy Wilbanks
 

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Dear Ann and Family,

I once again was unable to meet each of you.. I was hoping to get the opportunity at Graduation
here in Boulder. I have been off campus recuperating from surgery on April 4th, as much as I
wanted to attend it wasn't the wise thing to do.....

I came to campus today with lots of thoughts of the Colonna Family, this year I joined the Arbor
Day Membership and Planted A tree in Justin's Memory... Its a Burning Bush that I planted in
the back of my yard always in sight, vibrant and full of life Just as Justin...

I heard about the dedication ceremony your family held around the Humanities building and I
wanted for myself to see the area of solitude in which people could come reflect and sit awhile.
Its BEAUTIFUL the bench, rock, tree. Such a great place under the out stretched branches of
an old maple tree..... the view of the library and campus.. Its beautiful and I am sure I will go there
often just  to remember.....................

I pray you all are doing fine and I do hope in the future to be able to meet you all.

Love and God Bless,

     Shauna Atkins
 

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