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Mary Dawn “Dawn” Carstens passed away in St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction, Colorado, on Feb. 2, 2020, after suffering a head injury caused by a fall. She was surrounded by family at the time of her death.
Dawn was born Feb. 2, 1936, to Walter V. Slack and Lois Rantschler-Slack in Meeker, Colorado, where she later attended both primary and secondary schools. She earned her bachelor’s degree in physical education at Western State College in Gunnison, Colorado, and later continued her education by completing a master’s degree in education at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado. Her love of learning continued throughout her life as she completed many continuing education programs and obtained her counseling certification in the later stages of her career.
Dawn was a beloved teacher and counselor to thousands of junior high and high school students over the course of her career. As an advocate for Title IX and women’s athletics, she was instrumental in the induction of women’s high school sports in Mesa County and coached nearly every women’s sport at Palisade High School. Even after her retirement, she continued to attend and support women’s athletic events; she and Jim were often seen across Colorado at women’s volleyball and basketball games from middle and high school gyms to collegiate competitions at Colorado Mesa University. Over the last two and a half decades, she and her husband, fondly known as “Grams” and “Poppy” by the student-athletes of both Hotchkiss and Paonia, often made appearances in support of the athletic programs of the North Fork Valley.
After Dawn’s educational career ended, she embraced her new love: gardening. Studying through Colorado State University, Dawn completed a Master Gardener certification and later became a member of the Desert Vista Garden Club. Her passion was heirloom roses, but she also thoroughly loved bird watching, and with her sweetie’s help, she always kept her bird feeders full. She spent many hours sitting in her tree-swing or peering out her kitchen watching birds. In her spare time, she enjoyed playing bridge and bunko with her friends, pulling weeds and pruning roses in her garden, and participating in the CD chapter of PEO and other service organizations.
Throughout Dawn’s life, she faced so many physical challenges; everyone who knew her would agree that she was the toughest person they had ever known. And in spite of the obstacles Dawn faced, she still liked to keep her mind sharp and thought up all sorts of good mental challenges. One such challenge was to memorize the names of the presidents of the United States. And in true Dawn-fashion, to add a competitive aspect to the task, she memorized the names in order of their presidency.
Dawn dearly loved ALL the children in her family, but her grandchildren and great-grandchildren were particularly special to her. She was famous for yarn-spinning, and kids loved listening to her stories. She could recite the “Night Before Christmas” from memory, and many a Christmas Eve would find Grams surrounded by her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, their innocent eyes shining in anticipation of her story, and the domestic scene only further intensified by the magic of her beautiful collection of Christmas trees, lovingly and painstakingly decorated and placed around her house.
Dawn is predeceased by her parents, an older brother, two younger sisters, and a great-grandson. She is survived by her beloved husband and protector, James C. “Jim” Carstens of Palisade, Colorado; daughter Staci (David) O’Connell of Pocatello, Idaho; daughter Krista (Bill) Carsten of Hotchkiss, Colorado; grandson Zachary O’Connell (Britta Usedom) of Bend, Oregon; grandson Chase O’Connell of Idaho Falls, Idaho; grandson Brandon (Amy) Bell of Hotchkiss, Colorado; grandson Keaton (Nicole) Bell of Palisade, Colorado; granddaughter Cerra Carsten (Matt Westerman) of Hotchkiss, Colorado; granddaughter, Taylor Carsten (Marcus Norton) of Wiggins, Colorado; great-grandson Paxton Bell of Hotchkiss, Colorado; great-grandson Blaine Bell of Palisade, Colorado; great-granddaughter Loni Bell of Hotchkiss, Colorado; great-grandson Cortez Bell of Hotchkiss, Colorado; and great-granddaughter Sienna Bell of Palisade, Colorado; sister Lois Rae Beall, of San Antonio, Texas; brother Owen Slack of Pinedale, Wyoming; and sister Cindy Susoreny of Chandler, Arizona.
A memorial service will be held in the springtime, her favorite time of the year, at the Palisade High School and will be followed by a potluck party at the Orchard River View event center in Palisade. The memorial ceremony will begin at 2 p.m. on April 11, and will be officiated by Mark Vickstrom, a former student and family friend.
UPDATE: Family has notified the Herald Times that Dawn’s memorial service will be postponed to a later date, yet to be decided, due to recent public health concerns.