ASPEN - Jim Hayes, one of Aspen's more colorful characters and original ski bums, died peacefully at his home in Aspen on Friday at age 92, according to his family.Hayes was married to Mary Eshbaugh Hayes, former Aspen Times editor and longtime columnist of "Around Aspen," for 591⁄2 years. She cared for him daily in the final years of his life and was at his side when he died.Hayes was the quintessential renaissance man and eclectic soul who was involved in numerous pursuits. Friends and acquaintances said he was a jubilant dancer, a student of opera, a fitness fanatic and an excellent mechanic with a soft spot for Volkswagen Beetles, which were often propped up in the backyard of his family's home on East Bleeker street."He didn't imitate anybody. He truly was one of the original (modern) Aspenites," said Willard Clapper Jr., a longtime friend of the family.Hayes made his mark as a master silversmith and goldsmith. He was probably best known for a silver belt buckle emblazoned with an aspen leaf. The design has been coveted by Aspen residents and visitors for 62 years.The aspen belt buckle has been an honored status symbol since the early 1960s for longtime members of the Aspen Fire Department upon retirement. "It had to be a Hayes belt buckle. It was a tremendous honor," said Clapper, the current fire chief, who has served with the department in different capacities for 34 years and has family ties to the organization even farther back. Hayes' youngest daughter, Jess Bates, took the helm of the silversmith and goldsmith business in 2008 when Jim's health started going downhill. She carries on the traditions he started.
Hayes was raised in Texas during the Great Depression and lied about his age to join the U.S. Army in 1937, according to the family business website. His stint was up when World War II broke out, so he joined the U.S. Army Air Corps, the website said.He was stationed in Boca Raton, Fla., where he trained pilots in airplanes equipped with radar. They were training in 1943 over the ocean when a hurricane blew in and forced the planes to crash or make rough landings. Hayes slid off the runway and was injured when a radar set fell and hit him in the back of the head. He was in a coma for four months, the business website said. His face was smashed into the controls, and he required plastic surgery and had a steel plate fitted to cover the injury to the back of his skull.After the war, Hayes went to college on the GI Bill and took classes in jewelrymaking. In a 2001 interview with The Aspen Times, Hayes said he made his way to New York City, hit the party circuit and flunked out of Columbia University."I was so embarrassed, and I'd heard Aspen was a place you could go and never see anyone you knew again," he told the Times. "But the very people I didn't want to see were here when I got here."His family business website delved deeper into how Hayes ended up in Aspen. Hayes liked to ski in New England resorts. He met Charlie Patterson, who told him about Aspen hosting the international FIS ski races in the winter of 1950. Hayes headed for Aspen in December 1949, the website said. Patterson was a longtime innkeeper in Aspen.
The Aspen of 1949-50 described by Hayes in the 2001 Aspen Times interview sounds like a ski bum's paradise. "I lived in the Hotel Jerome until my money ran out," Hayes said in the article. "About that time, I moved in with the group of boys who lived in the House of Joy. There were about eight young men. We were veterans of World War II. It was truly a house of joy - we skied all day and partied all night."He set up his first jewelry shop in a corner of the Golden Horn restaurant in 1950 and slowly built the aspen-leaf designs into a legend.Hayes' longtime affiliation with Aspen was interrupted when he worked in Greenland operating heavy equipment during the construction of Thule Air Base in the early 1950s. He was drawn back to Aspen in the winter of 1952.Klaus Obermeyer, the successful skiwear maker who was a struggling ski instructor in the early 1950s, recalled Monday that all the ski crowd hung out together. "The great thing was everybody knew everybody else, even the guests because there were so few of them," he said.Aspen already was building a reputation for its aprs-ski scene. "Everybody met in the (Hotel) Jerome lobby at 4 o'clock in the afternoon for the Tea Dance," Obermeyer said. Not everyone was drinking tea, of course, he chuckled.Hayes met Mary Eshbaugh, then a young photographer and reporter for The Aspen Times, in November 1952. They were married on April 18, 1953. Jim Hayes bought a tractor and truck to start Jim Hayes Earthmoving, which he owned and operated until he sold the business in 1961."Jim woke up one morning and said, 'What are we doing? I'm an artist, you're a writer, but all we do is haul dirt,'" Mary Hayes told The Aspen Times in 2001.Jim continued to meld his love for making jewelry with the need to work on construction projects throughout the 1960s and into the '70s. But in 1972, he concentrated full time on being a silversmith and goldsmith while Mary went back to working full time at The Aspen Times. Mary became editor of the paper in 1977 and held the post into the 1990s, when she concentrated on freelance work as well as her books. Jim had his workshop and Mary had her office in the home they bought in 1956 and where they raised their four kids.
Ask anyone who knew Hayes about something they will remember about Hayes, and the answers are diverse."You never saw him when he wasn't smiling," Clapper said. He recalled that Hayes could tear down a Volkswagen Beetle motor and then half an hour later go inside and affix a delicate aspen leaf on an earring.Obermeyer remembers Hayes' interest in gymnastics. "He was fantastic on the horizontal bar," Obermeyer said, describing how Hayes could stretch out while twirling around 360 degrees. "He did that to a late, late age." Hayes continued taking gymnastics classes several times a week into his 80s.Andy Stone, a longtime former reporter and editor at The Aspen Times who became acquainted with Jim through his friendship with Mary, recalled being amazed by Jim when Mary was honored for her career accomplishments by the Aspen Historical Society. There was a party under a tent and lots of dancing, for which Jim had a lifelong love."Jim was a flamboyant dancer," Stone said. An observer could see the "sheer spirit, energy and joy" when Hayes was on the dance floor, Stone said. "Somehow his dancing made me happy," Stone said.The family business website noted, "(Jim) loved dancing and was often seen at local charity balls flinging the women around the room." Hayes also made a lasting impression on some of the last visitors to see him. Roaring Fork Valley military veterans Dick Merritt, Dan Glidden and Darryl Grob visited Hayes at his home in early November along with HomeCare & Hospice of the Valley coordinator Wendy Steckler as part of a program to honor ill veterans for their service. Merritt said Hayes was "very proud and very thankful" when he received a plaque and pin."He said, 'It's the first time in 67 years that anybody thanked me for my years of military service,'" Merritt email@example.com