Leonard Burch Day, Dec. 10 each year, will now be observed by the Town of Ignacio as well as the Southern Ute Indian Tribe. Town trustees voted on Jan. 20 to make the day a town holiday.
Leonard Burch was an Air Force veteran. He was first elected to the Tribal Council at age 30, the youngest age allowed by the Tribal Constitution. He was selected as chairman by fellow council members in 1966, when he was 32. He was instrumental in getting congressional approval for the Animas/ La Plata Project to satisfy Southern Ute water rights dating back to 1868, making them senior to any other water rights in the county. He lived long enough to see the start of site work in fall 2002.
Burch worked to gain tribal control over resource development and the revenue it produced. Coalbed methane development took off on tribal land during his tenure, greatly enriching the tribe. The first Sky Ute Casino was built during his tenure.
Leonard C. Burch Day was created after he retired in 1996. He came out of retirement to serve as chairman again from February 2001 to December 2002. Burch died on Aug. 1, 2003, after suffering a heart attack. He was 69. His funeral drew around 1,400 people, including state and federal officials and representatives from other tribes as well as locals.
Mayor Stella Cox said she knew Burch and worked with him for many years. "He was a leader and visionary and inspired many people as chairman," she said.
Town trustee Edward Box III said, "He was a strong leader for the tribe. He made the tribe flourish. I always looked up to him. This brings the town and tribe closer together."
Trustee Dixie Melton added, "He always had the vision for the entire community."
One of Burch's daughters teared up as she said, "We saw how hard he worked into the late hours of the night."
Interim Town Manager Mark Garcia said the town would like to do some sort of ceremony, more than a proclamation, to honor Burch.