top of page


Submitted, T. Lee Schlitters, April 2000
     "The folks from the old coal camps are a unique breed." So says Robert Leonetti, a proud member of that distinctive group. Leonetti's strong interest in history, particularly that of now-inundated Sopris, and the Trinidad Valley area, his intense fascination with people, and his deep and abiding love and affection for the inhabitants of the old coal camps have all been united in this delightful volume, The People of Sopris. 
     Indeed, Leonetti is supremely qualified to chronicle the lives and times of the hardy souls that flourished in the coal camps of southern Colorado. The son of a coal miner, and the eldest of five children, he was born on October 2, 1940, to Arthur and Lola (Sanchez) Leonetti of Sopris. As was common in those pre-World War II days, Robert's birth occurred, not in a hospital, but at the home of his parents, with old Dr. Paul Charmichael attending. Four brothers and sisters joined Robert:Connie, Melvin, Dan and Donna.
     A studious child, Robert enjoyed school. He took particular delight in reading, voraciously consuming any printed matter that crossed his path. His later career as a psychologist was foreshadowed by the inquisitive study of the people around him. Even as a youngster, he wondered if there wasn't a way to alleviate the distress and suffering he observed in those he knew. His early efforts at assuaging these problems took the form of playing the peacemaker, both at home and at school.
     After graduating from Lincoln High School in 1958, Robert did his patriotic duty and joined the United States Army for three years. Assigned to an artillery unit and sent overseas to Germany, he spent countless nights on guard duty, protecting nuclear warheads from falling into the hands of communist forces. It didn't take Robert long to realize that his future lay elsewhere. Mustering out of the Army in 1961, he returned to Colorado to pursue his education. 
     Enrolling at Trinidad State Jr. College, Robert furthered his childhood study of people by majoring in education and social science. In 1963, after earning his Associates of Arts degree, he continued his academic career at Adams State College in Alamosa, receiving his Bachelor's degree in secondary education in 1965. These undergraduate days were busy ones for Robert. Lacking the proverbial rich maiden aunt, he financed his studies by tooting a trumpet with a local dance band.
     With diploma in hand, Robert obtained his first professional employment, teaching students at Sierra Grande Junior High School in Fort Garland. During his two-year stint there, he earned his Master of Arts degree, again from Adams State College. Meanwhile, for the next few years, Robert worked at several local schools,filling a wide variety of positions. While the principal of La Veta School, for example, his duties ranged from teaching, to driving the school bus, to coaching the Junior High basketball team, and playing the role of janitor. As the Director of Counseling for the Bennett Public Schools in Bennett, Colorado, he doubled as a part-time English teacher. As much as he enjoyed working with the children in these schools, however, the siren call of graduate school made itself heard.
     In 1970, Robert was offered the position of Graduate Research Assistant at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. Dr. Doug Muller became Robert's Major Professor. Together, as Robert worked towards his doctorate, they compiled a series of tests to measure the self-concept and other cultural and psychological behaviors of young children. The research that facilitated the creation of these tests became the basis of his doctoral dissertation. This dissertation, as well as the test it decries, provided a key instrument for psychologists, educators, and researchers to measure the self-concept in primary school children for years to come.
     In 1973, armed with a shiny new doctor's degree in Psychology and Counseling, and a new name, "Doc," he returned to the home of his heart, that "Harvard of the Rockies," Trinidad State Jr. College. As Director of Directed Studies, Doc was responsible for improving the quality of instruction at the college, as well as enhancing the learning environment for students. His efforts evolved into what are now the Learning Centers at TSJC. The Learning Center is an integral part of campus life, providing academic support in virtually every discipline.
     In 1980, Doc entered his true metier and began teaching the gentle science of psychology to generations of eager freshman and sophomore college students. Doc's ready smile, kindly humor, and genuine interest in his students have made him one of the most popular and beloved instructors on the TSJC campus (in spite of the cruel and unusual punishment in the form of incredibly difficult examinations).
     Throughout his career in higher education, Doc has also maintained a thriving clinical practice, for both private and indigenous clients. He is the author of a book, Self-Concept and the School Child, and The Primary Self-Concept Inventory, as wall as numerous professional journal articles.
     Doc also enjoys a rich and fulfilling personal life. He is the proud father of three: Dawn Frankie, married to loving son-in-law, Adam Mishaga, presently residing in Portland, Oregon; Amos Marice, soon to be attending graduate school in Florida; and Brian James, the 
youngest, a student at his father's alma mater, Adams State College. When his professional and family responsibilities allow, Doc enjoys a good (or even a bad) game of golf. His childhood love of reading has blossomed into true bibliomania, as his overflowing shelves and boxes of books will attest. Always the extrovert, Doc loves to get together with friends, both old and new.
     And so, this is the man who has brought to new life the old town of Sopris. Here, captured in poignant vignettes, recorded for posterity, are the despairs and delights, the toughness and the tenderness, and the grit and the gumption that the People of Sopris will forever be remembered by.
Doc L. in school.jpg
bottom of page