SunUte celebrates 20 years of dedicated service to the tribal community

Tribal Chairman Leonard C. Burch was asked to make the first basket in one of the basketball goals in the SunUte Community Center Gymnasium at the close of the ribbon-cutting ceremony on Friday, Nov. 30, 2001.
The annual Tri Ute games, hosted by the Southern Ute Indian Tribe were held in Ignacio, Colorado. This two-day event took place at the SunUte recreation facility on July 20-21, 2009 which hosted basketball, swimming, co-ed volleyball and a hand game tournament.
SunUte trainer Abel Velasquez bends the bar during the “King of Squat” challenge during the Strong Warrior Weight Lifting Competition hosted by the SunUte Community Center, on Saturday, Aug. 5, 2017.
Jania Jackson leads the pack of “Girls on the Run” practice group around the lap of SunUte Fields on Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018. The girls ran together in the annual Girls on the Run race in Three Springs Plaza located in Durango, Colo., Nov. 10, 2018.
Dave Brown | Southern Ute Drum
Jeremy Wade Shockley | Southern Ute Drum
Maria Rivera | Southern Ute Drum
McKayla Lee | Southern Ute Drum

            The SunUte Community Center is kicking off the month of December with a 20-day celebration to honor the center’s two decades of operation. In 2001, SunUte opened their doors to the Southern Ute tribal membership, staff, and surrounding communities. 

            “We decided instead of having like one big event to celebrate, we chose to spread it over 20 days, because what we found is people can’t always make one big event– then we don’t get to celebrate with everyone,” SunUte Community Center Director, Robin Duffy-Wirth stated. 

            For the next 20 days, SunUte is going to host different events and challenges every day, there will even be a raffle for members to enter once a day to win different prizes for any age. “The biggest theme of our 20 year is gratitude and thanking people, thanking the people that were on council for the last 20 years, people that served as Executive Officers, and everyone that supported SunUte over the past 20 years,” Duffy-Wirth said. 

            Paying respect to those before, Duffy-Wirth wanted to thank Southern Ute Tribal Members, Marge Borst, Alex Cloud, Byron Frost and Brian Frost who worked together to make the fitness center a reality. After the closure of the ‘Pino Nuche’ Building in 1990, they worked together to approach Tribal Council and get their support for the opening of a new recreation center. 

            “Our vision is endless opportunities for all,” Duffy-Wirth shared. “What that did when we came up with that vision, it knocked the ceiling off of our building — we can do anything; we are here for the community.” 

            Since the opening of SunUte, thousands of people have hosted events in the building. Most notably, hosting tribal powwows, sports events, celebrations, and trainings. 

            Working hand in hand with staff, tribal members, and leadership — SunUte continues to grow and evolve in the fitness and recreation world to accommodate the needs of the community. 

            “It seems surreal to have worked here for more than half as long as the building’s been open and to fill the rest of the years with being a member, there have been changes to the building, but it still feels like a second home,” SunUte Fitness Director, Abel Velasquez stated. 

            “We have so much programing, you know everything from childcare to lifesaving trainings,” Duffy-Wirth explained. “We’ve taught over 105,000 swim lessons over the years, we teach CPR and First Aid to hundreds and hundreds of people, and now we’re even offering 24/7 access for the members!” 

            Over the years, SunUte has made advancements in all their programming and most recently the addition of the Píinu Núuchí Skate Park. 

            The skate park was designed by the Sunshine Cloud Smith Youth Advisory Council and construction of the park was completed in the spring of 2021. 

            “The skate park wasn’t just SunUte’s project, when I was asked to be a part of it, I told myself I want to get this done and I want to get this done right — so it’s not like we’re making stuff up as we go, we used what people have given and we used their stuff to build [it],” Duffy-Wirth said. 

             SunUte offers a variety of league and tournament style sports through their recreation program. SunUte currently offers over ten different group exercise classes, ranging from LesMills Fitness, Zumba, Yoga and Water Grooves classes. Through the SunUte Fitness program, trainers are available to help members through their workouts and even offer an active kid care program to get kids moving too. 

            Even through the unknown barriers and unexpected troubles that the COVID-19 pandemic brought, SunUte worked to keep the community healthy and safe. 

            “I mean, lots of heavy work was done [during the] year that we were closed for COVID. I think where we are right now is rebuilding trust with our community,” Duffy-Wirth stated. “But what we have come to appreciate is you know, a lot of people will come in and out the doors, both members and staff. And I think everybody brings something to the table. Sometimes it’s an opportunity for us to learn something. And for us to grow. Sometimes it’s joy, sometimes it’s sorrow– but everyone that’s come in has had an impact on this building — EVERYBODY.” 

             For 20 years now, the community center has been dedicated to serving the tribal membership and the surrounding communities, by offering a safe and welcoming environment with quality customer service and knowledgeable staff. 

            “I mean it honestly means a lot to be a part of this building and this team—it was huge news to the community when this place opened when I was a kid, everyone wanted to be here, we wanted to come swimming, we wanted to play basketball, we wanted to do whatever was offered here, so now it means it a lot to me to be a part of SunUte now and helping it move into the future.” Velasquez stated. 

SunUte plans to reach out to Departments and Divisions that have helped SunUte for the next 20 days to say a big thank you! 


20 Year Celebration | Upcoming events and challenges 

  • Small get together at SunUte for all past employees to thank them for all they have given over the past two decades — Friday, Dec. 3 from 4:30p.m. – 7p.m. 
  • A luncheon honoring all past Southern Ute Tribal Council members and Executive Officers from the past 20 years — Thursday, Dec. 16 11:30p.m.– 1p.m. 
  • Walk-through hallway event to honor the membership through a permanent photo display — Thursday, Dec. 16 4p.m. – 6p.m. 
  • SunUte Member VS SunUte Staff Challenge (call Abel Velasquez at 970.563.2651 for more info) 
  • 20 miles in 20 days (call Abel Velasquez at 970.563.2651 for more info) 
  • Dodgeball challenges during noon ball (call Virgil Morgan at 970.563.2652 for more info) 
  • Raffles for each time you participate in any of the above to win “Very Cool Prizes.” 
  • Throughout the month, SunUte will also offer their members tasty treats! 



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