Deaf Camp’s biggest advocate passes away
May 20, 2014
A man who gave life to the Aspen Camp for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and held on to life by helping it has died.
Mike Adler, 74, of Grand Junction, died April 17 after a four-year battle with cancer. The son of one of the fathers of the Aspen Institute, Mike attended Colorado Rocky Mountain School in Carbondale and spent much of his adult life in Glenwood Springs.
Although Mike relocated his family to Grand Junction in 1995, he never lost his connection with the Roaring Fork Valley, particularly the Aspen Camp in Old Snowmass. In the 1970s, when John Denver was drawing huge crowds to Snowmass for the Deaf Camp Picnic, an annual fundraiser for the nonprofit, he asked Mike to help park cars.
In 2009, Mike was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Doctors expected him to live only a few months more. But shortly after that, Mike received a letter from the Aspen Camp's board saying that the camp was planning to close.
"He became indignant," said his wife, Pam Adler. "He said, 'Over my dead body are you going to do that.'"
That was a turning point, both for Mike and for the camp. Mike went directly to the camp's property the first day he could, Pam said.
At the time, the board had just hired Lesa Thomas as executive director.
"One day he just barreled into my office, and … he's a big, boisterous, loud voice, and he came in to my office, and he just kept coming," Thomas said. "We became friends, and he's just awesome. He became the voice of the camp."
Mike joined the board of directors shortly after that, and he helped recruit members who wanted to see the camp survive, Pam said. Pam made that possible by fitting her work schedule around his board meetings so she could drive him, helping to cook meals for the directors and setting up Mike's computer when they had video meetings.
"That was his passion, and that's what kept him going in enduring the treatments and fighting the cancer," Pam said.
The Deaf Camp Picnic was revitalized in 2013, and that all started because Mike asked the town of Snowmass Village to help put on the event, Thomas said. This year's lineup of live music includes Starwood, the John Denver Band and headliner Ricky Skaggs.
"(Mike) was amazing," said Fred Brodsky, group sales director and interim head of Snowmass Tourism, the town's marketing, group sales and special events department. "What a spirit. He would come, and just his laugh, you would hear him everywhere in this building. It's sad to hear that, but I hope this is an event that we can keep going."
Until the end
Mike turned 74 on April 8 and participated in a board meeting the following morning. He had just come home, but on April 12, he had to return to hospice, Pam said.
Mack Bailey, who helped book the bands for the Deaf Camp Picnic, came to Mike's room and played music for him, even though he was unresponsive, Pam said.
"Although Mike's eyes were closed, and he was not communicating verbally or anything, he was laying kind of on his right shoulder, and his left shoulder was moving kind of to the beat of the music," Pam said. "Mike was there. He could hear him."
Pam connected via the Internet to a board meeting on April 16 and announced to the directors that they would have to recruit a new treasurer. Mike died after midnight on April 17.
A big impact
In 2009, the camp hit a low point in attendance. Today, it has more participants than ever.
"What we have now is a renaissance, and the reason we have that is because of Mike," Thomas said. "We needed somebody there who would support the camp, and by that I mean he was there to give moral support, just being there saying, 'This is going to work.' … He was there for the kids. He was there to raise money. He was there to just really bolster what we knew would be a great thing."
On May 17 and 18, the Aspen Camp is held its annual Volunteer Weekend to help prepare the campus for the many programs it will have this summer. Participants helped paint, garden, work on trails, repair buildings and organize items.
Ragnar Trail Snowmass, a trail-running relay on June 6 and 7, also is partnering with the Aspen Camp during the event to help with marketing and fundraising.
And, perhaps closest to Mike's heart, the Deaf Camp Picnic returns on July 18 and 19. The town and camp plan to do something to recognize him at the event.
"He's going to be there in spirit, and he's going to be watching down on us," Pam said. "Don't worry."