Memorial service to be held for late Rev. Leon Wilkins on Wednesday
Steamboat Springs — Almost two years after St. Paul’s Episcopal Church celebrated its centennial, the Steamboat Springs church will commemorate the life of distinguished Reverend Leon Ray Wilkins Wednesday.
During his time at St. Paul’s, Wilkins, who died at the age of 89 on Feb. 22, contributed greatly to the church’s transition from mission to parish status under the Diocese of Colorado and to the creation of a welcoming religious community within Steamboat.
“Here’s a man that, in the early days, helped form a lot of the openness and loving, caring attitude here,” said Betty Ralston, Steamboat Springs resident and long-time member of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.
Wilkins began as a minister in Denver in the 1950s before the Diocese of Colorado ordained him as a priest in 1962. From 1962 to 1971, he served as a circuit minister for St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church mission.
In 1971, after finding priests to serve in the Rifle, Meeker, Craig and Rangely missions, Wilkins accepted a position as vicar and as head priest at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church when the church became an official parish. He served the local church until his retirement in 1988.
Ralston remembers Wilkins as a traditional priest who was kind and open to both members and non-members of the church.
“My husband, Robert, who used to be the caretaker of the church, and I came to Steamboat in 1970, and when Reverend Wilkins and his wife, Mary, came to town the next year, he would visit us on a weekly basis,” said Ralston. “He just wanted to see how we, the new couple in town, were doing.”
Ralston also said that during the early years of the mission, Wilkins left the church doors open throughout the night to provide people with a place to sleep.
Former St. Paul’s senior warden Nancy Kramer, who grew close to Wilkins while she and the church worked toward the church’s parish status in the late 1970s, also said that his actions reflected his welcoming demeanor.
“There was once a couple passing through town who came into my bakery at the time in need of a wedding cake,” Kramer said. “They said they had no location, priest or anything. The next day, Leon, who couldn’t do the service, and I found a local lawyer for the service and had the wedding in the church the day of the wedding even though we technically weren’t supposed to.”
Formative moments such as those experienced by Ralston and Kramer will contribute to Wilkins’ legacy in Steamboat Springs and the surrounding areas he served.
“Father Leon wanted to be present whenever he could and be the face of Jesus to everyone that walked in the doors of the church,” Ralston said. “Since Father Leon came, all of us [members of the parish] have just contributed our piece to do the same kind of thing.”
Wilkins’ memorial service will be held at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 846 Oak St. The Right Reverend Robert O’Neill, bishop of Colorado, and Reverend Canon Carl Andrews will lead the funeral service.
Donations to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church will be accepted as memorial contributions in lieu of flowers.
To reach Liz Forster, call 970-871-4374 or email lforster@SteamboatToday.com.
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