AURORA | When Michelle Rogers’ fiance died several months ago, his close friend Donald Walton was there for her. Just a short time later, he’s gone too.
Rogers, along with her dog, Bronco, was one of several dozen people gathered at the Aurora Day Resource Center Wednesday afternoon for a celebration of Walton’s life.
“He was a good man,” Rogers said. “He’d give you the shirt off his back.”
A member of Aurora’s homeless community, Walton died on the streets of Aurora in early March at age 47. The cause of his death has not been confirmed but several of his friends said it was due to alcoholism, which he struggled with for many years.
Joe Lee, who had known him for about two years, said Walton was determined to get sober and was on the way to getting his life back on track before he died.
“He fought it to the very end,” he said of his addiction.
Lee said Walton was proud of his roots in Texas but considered Aurora his home. He remembered Walton as a happy person, but one who would not stand for people being aggressive in the shelter or mistreating others, particularly women or children. Many people at the memorial remarked on his deep faith and his protective nature, even toward shelter employees.
“Even as staff I know he would have taken a bullet for me,” said Valerie Quintrell, a peer specialist with Mile High Behavioral Health.
Jessica Starcher had known Walton for 10 years, starting from when she was a branch manager of a labor company before she was homeless and he was one of her favorite employees. She remembered him for the sunglasses he always wore, his faith (“on Jesus” was a frequent refrain of his) and his riotous sense of humor.
“He could make you laugh at the drop of a hat,” she said.
Rev. Doug Friesema, pastor at Aurora First Presbyterian Church, spoke briefly and read a passage from Phillippians before inviting people to share their memories of Walton.
Friesama said he did not know Walton well but that he would often be helping out at the Colfax Community Network, which shares space with the church. It was clear he was someone who meant a lot to people in the community, he said.
Mayor Mike Coffman and city councilmembers Ruben Medina and Angela Lawson were present as well. The council voted 6-5 on Monday to move forward with a ban on unauthorized camping within the city that Coffman introduced. It will be put to a final vote later this month.
Coffman disputed that the ban could make it harder for homeless people to access resources, saying that he thought it was important that people come to shelters instead of being isolated outside.
Advocates have said that the city does not have enough permanent shelter for all its homeless population. Coffman said that the city is exploring its options, but that one potential possibility is tearing down the building the day resource center is currently housed in, a renovated former gym for the Aurora Police Department, and building a new 24/7 facility on the site.
Walton had strong ties to the ARDC, which he was present at on and off for the past five years.
“He left a mark on us,” said Tamika Nuamah, a staff member.
Nuamah said she met Walton on the very first day the center opened in 2017. He told her that he was going to be out of homelessness in the next 90 days
He didn’t make it. But she said he was instrumental in helping build many of the center’s programs from the group up.
“I miss him,” she said.
This kind man a couple years ago visited our Church around the time we were letting out. We see a lot of struggling and homeless members of the community since the church is across from the park. The church is small and we don’t always have much ability to help at times other than offer prayers, compassion, and support. There was a struggling elderly mother with disabled adult son and grandson with her looking for help with getting a hotel room. Some of the members gave her some cash that they had, and this gentleman who was recently having conversation with my father about his own struggles but was very positive. He also gave 4 dollars or so to the struggling family. I can only imagine how many people’s lives he changed throughout his life.A beautiful soul.