John Michael Houston
March 2nd, 1956 January 29th, 2021
In the early evening of January 29th, 2021, in Co. Springs, CO., hours after the ‘Wolf’ Full Moon, Jeannette Joan Houston shared the last few breaths with her life’s true love and husband, John Michael Houston and Johnny’s spirit moved on peacefully from his wife’s embrace to the celestial realms and the journey from which no traveler returns. Johnny’s physical presence has left us, but his footprint of pure love and acceptance which he infused into all of us who crossed his path, will never ever leave.
On March 2nd, 1956, at 1:56 PM in a place far away from the Wet Mountain Valley, in the small town of Woodbury New Jersey, this marvelous man started his Journey. Born into a hard-working family of five, his father, John Houston, worked two jobs: a home builder during the day and the night manager at the local Dupont factory. His mother, Sara Jeanne, along with working as a real estate broker, tended to the work of raising three children: Linda Jeanne, John Michael, and James Joseph. From both parents, Johnny acquired his work ethic, which remained with him the rest of his life.
Upon graduation from Woodbury High School in 1974, Johnny worked with his father building homes and becoming proficient in all aspects of the craft and trade. In 1980, the spirit of the Rockies beckoned, and Johnny moved to Fort Collins, CO. There he worked construction and met Danny Hess, who continually talked of his grandfather’s 1917 homestead, which became known as Beaver Lodge; the family’s 160 acres of paradise snuggled into the SE foothills of the Sangre De Cristo Mt. Range above the town of Westcliffe, CO.
In 1981, Johnny made his way to Westcliffe and Beaver Lodge where he hiked and hunted the valley’s woods, mountains, and streams on grounds which transformed him...and he tasted this sacred ground and breathed this sacred air which would hold him in their grip for the rest of his life.
To try to tell the story of a man who is just too big to write about, is a daunting task, but mention daunting task to Johnny and he would gaze at you with a twinkle and simply get on with what all thought impossible and make it possible.
The valley is scattered with his beautiful homes; the reflection of his ingenious methods deployed to achieve his goal in design and construction of some of the valley’s most magnificent homes. Johnny was a Builder and a Fixer.
In Westcliffe, on a beautiful Thursday evening on June 2nd, 1988, at the Silver Dome, two stars intersected, and our family’s fortune was altered and enlightened. Joanie Yaklich, while playing her fiddle with a musical group called Tumbleweed, caught Johnny Houston’s eye and the rest, as they say, is history.
On October 3rd, 1989, at a lovely wedding ceremony held at our family’s ranch, Shangri-La, in Westcliffe, Joanie and Johnny became One. They lived between Colorado Springs, Canon City and Shangri-La for the next 30 years. The exception being a stay in Sea Isle City, New Jersey from the summer of 1990 through November of 1991. Johnny and Joanie were able to stay with Johnny’s wonderful mother, Jeanne, whose home was across the street from the beach overlooking the mighty Atlantic Ocean. The ocean was deeply embedded in Johnny’s soul and Joanie fell in love with it, as well. During this time, Johnny built a magnificent condominium complex in Townsend Inlet, Ocean View where the ocean meets the bay. Johnny and Joanie always looked back with special memories of their time on the South Jersey Shore with Johnny’s family. During their 31 plus years in Colorado, Joanie taught music in both public-school systems (CO. Springs and Canon City) while Johnny formed his own construction company and worked with another builder and friend from the valley, Chuck Schultz. Johnny built and Joanie taught. They became a team. Joanie infused the love of music into her students and Johnny built beautiful homes in the valley. Little did we realize over the years while we watched Johnny completely remake Shangri-La, he was in his own unique way, building a family around him. He drew those he met into his gentle welcoming manner. When Johnny left us on the 29th of January, he left a hole in the core of his extended family, friends, and the valley itself which will never be filled.
When my sister asked me to write Johnny’s parting memorial words, I immediately reached out to our family members: in-laws, cousins, nieces, nephews and his close friends. Grief weighing heavily upon their hearts, they all responded!
The nexus of all their thoughts was their complete love, admiration and awe of this man now gone from us all. Gone only in body.
For what he left each one of us who knew and loved him, was an understanding of what true humility and love should be. Johnny was the embodiment of both; we all knew and loved a very content man. To share all words from everyone would be too lengthy, but parts from all of us wanted to be heard.
Thoughts from close friends: “Johnny was a sweet, simple man.” “Johnny was the most mild-mannered good guy ever. It was a privilege to be his friend, he treated us like family. “Johnny was my other brother. I loved him like my brother.” “His quiet love for God and Universe emanated from him like a soft spring breeze. You could see the ocean in eyes, the mountains were in his blood. His heart, full of love and Joanie is forever in his soul.” Friends from New Jersey remark “He was a special person to us both. The best memory of Johnny was at the Sea Isle house cooking in the back yard and going to the beach together. We will cherish our memories of him forever.” “Johnny always made me laugh. I loved hunting with him.”
Johnny always had a special place in his heart for his sister’s daughter, Michelle, his only living blood relative from his family of origin. “Uncle Johnny is the kindest most compassionate soul. He loved his family and his friends with 100% of his heart. I will always remember his big smile, his laugh and big hugs. I loved when we would go to the beach all day and he would come back and make Clams Casino while Aunt Joanie sang and played ‘even though we ain’t got money’ on the guitar.”
Thoughts from his Colorado family: “Johnny was a rock-solid individual, super dependable.” “Thoughts of Johnny warm my heart and bring a smile to my face; his quiet presence, twinkling eyes, warm smile and love of working with wood. I see him with Jack working on the home in Crested Butte and sharing quiet moments with Uncle Fritzie. The three of them were kindred spirits. Johnny was genuine. Our lives are much richer from knowing and loving him.” “There was no way that you did not love John Houston, a FORCE of nature. An energy field emanated from his gentle soul that surrounded all with love, kindness, compassion, and a certainty that you had great value no matter your station in life. LIGHT surrounded Johnny. A great bond formed was between Johnny and my Dad, his Uncle, Fred Yaklich. If like attracts like, that was those two. Gentle, big hearted, quiet hardworking men are something of a rarity in this world. As men who took pride in giving their all to a hard day’s work, Daddy and Johnny recognized their own reflection in each other. One old soul and one young ‘old soul’ meshed in the high mountains of Crested Butte.” “Our faith tells us that Johnny is in a better place away from the many challenges he experienced on his earthly journey. It was easy to be around Johnny. When we learned of his illness and treatments, our only help was to pray for his well-being. He was blessed to have Joanie at his side during his trying times. I pray also that Saint Michael will be at her side with every breath and step she takes on her journey to meet a waiting Johnny.” “J-joyful, O-original, H-humble, N-near and dear, N-noble, Y-young-hearted.” “Kind, full of love for his family and beautiful wife, creator of many beautiful things, mellow, gentle spirit and always a kind word.” “A singular vision of Johnny’s great smile and laugh. The best genuine hugs. The man was pure kindness.” “His was a calm, warm, kind and loving presence. A presence which buffered the loss of my Father, he took great care in realizing that void could never be filled. He held me upright with his humility, love, tender attention and concern to fill in for a Grandfather who had passed. He was that absent Grandfather for our daughter, Remy. Remy and Johnny had a secret pancake formula. The recipe was a secret between them and now a cherished secret of our daughter Remy, who Uncle Johnny adored.” “He had carpentry skills and patience in teaching others less skilled. He could throw horseshoes with the best, and when it came to darts, Johnny threw a mean dart.” “Johnny was the ocean. He absorbed everything and everyone, transforming everything he touched. He built with skill, knowledge and integrity. He loved with understanding, forgiveness and passion.” “Johnny was the sum of beauty, loyalty, forgiveness, understanding, patience, humility, hope-filled creativity, determination, appreciation, tenacity and courage. He was a devoted husband and a Warrior.” “One of the all- time greatest humans I ever knew. Our Uncle Johnny, otherwise known as CFA, Captain F. Amazing, was an inspiration to me and my family. He was comfortable with himself, a teacher, where a summer spent in Crested Butte remodeling my Great Grandparent’s home, I learned skills from a Master Craftsman which would stay with me for the rest of my life.” “Johnny was a giver, with his hands and with his heart. Gentleness and strength are uncommon partners, but Johnny had both. Quick to listen, his patience and thoughtfulness were evident to all who knew him. He was deeply proud of those he loved, especially his wife.” “He was so kind and gentle. He loved the simple things and lived a full life.” “He just had a magic that was wonderful to be around. He was such an amazing artisan and craftsman; you could tell he loved it. In the same manner, he showed how much he loved the beautiful Joanie. You knew when you were heading off to a gathering, and you were excited to see two people in particular. That’s how we always felt about seeing Joanie and Johnny with his special laugh and twinkle in his eye.” “The things Johnny knew about; he knew A LOT about. He knew A LOT about construction, carpentry, building things, how things worked, and he did not make people who knew less (which was just about all of us) feel stupid. He was a good, patient teacher. He knew a lot about music and musicians he really liked. He knew a lot about darts, more than anyone I have ever met. He knew a lot about hunting, football, gardening, cooking and who knows what else. We do not know, because unless you asked, he would never try to impress anyone with his in-depth knowledge. He was truly, deeply, consistently humble. He knew Joanie. Really knew her. He loved her from before they met and after he could no longer see her or hear her or care for her. His love for Joanie tells more about Johnny than anything else. The final thing that Johnny knew was this place. This valley; it’s peaks, streams, rivers and lakes, the trails, roads, buildings, towns and people. His was no minor knowledge, especially given that he was from… ‘back East’. Johnny adopted this place. Like most adoptions, the transformation worked both directions. While Johnny’s life became rooted and grounded here, he also changed this place in a hundred ways: through friendships he made, homes and buildings he helped create, the hundreds of miles he hiked, the mountains he climbed and the people he loved. The valley and everything in it is smaller, emptier and diminished without him.”
Johnny’s 100-year-old father-in-law, Ed Yaklich, shares a thought: “Initially numbers come to mind. But how do you put a number on kindness? How do you put a number on a helpful, extended hand? These are laced concepts embroidered with Johnny’s initials. No one did more or said less. His extended hand was the wind beneath many. For me, he helped me touch a cloud. Each of you who knew Johnny have your impression. As for me, I can simply say he was my son. I said ‘yes, my son’.”
“Words are flying out like rain into a paper cup. They slither as they pass and slip away across the Universe.” Our family and your friends will deeply miss your earthly presence but cherish the gift of your love and compassion which holds a sacred place in our hearts. Till we meet again, John Michael.
Johnny was preceded in death by his Mother, Sara Jeanne Houston; Father, John Houston; Sister, Linda Jeanne Mellon Phole; Brother James Joseph Houston and Great Nephew, Ryan Patrick Rehill. He is survived by his wife, Jeannette Joan Houston, his Niece, Michelle Melon Rehill; Husband, Tom Rehill; Children, Mathew and Sara Rehill and a myriad of family and friends.
There will be a Funeral Mass held at 10:AM, Saturday, July 17th at Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church followed by a Memorial Celebration at 1PM on July 17th at Shangri-La Ranch, 1180 Co. Road, in Westcliffe, Colorado. Funeral arrangements were entrusted to Holt Family Funeral Home.
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