Joe Popish: ‘Those were the best days of my life.’
December 24, 2003
As a third-generation miner in Aspen, Joe Popish easily adapted to the balanced routine the lifestyle demanded.
“We’d go down in the mine and talk about women, then go have a beer at the Red Onion and talk about mining,” Popish said. “Those were the best days of my life.”
Popish’s grandmother on his mother’s side moved to Aspen in 1893. Soon after, she met his grandfather, and his mom was born in 1905.
His dad’s family, which had left Yugoslavia and settled in Cleveland, relocated to Aspen in 1905 after hearing about the silver mines. Popish was born in Aspen in 1924.
“Well, there wasn’t much doing,” he said. “There were only about 70 kids in the whole high school.
“We did a lot of hunting and fishing and ordinary mischief, but everybody knew each other ” if you did something wrong, everybody knew about it.”
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Popish graduated from high school in 1942 and joined the Navy. He served three years in the Pacific before moving back to Aspen in 1946 and jumping into the mines. He spent six years in the Midnight Mine before a two-year stint with the Aspen Skiing Corporation.
In the winter of 1949-50, Popish said the Aspen and Gunnison chambers of commerce argued over who could get to Crested Butte faster, and whether skis or snowshoes provided the quickest form of travel. Aspen believed they could get to Crested Butte faster on skis, while Gunnison claimed snowshoes were the way to go.
Popish was part of the four-man skiing Aspen expedition that traveled over 12,700-foot Pearl Pass to Crested Butte.
“It was snowing and blowing so hard you couldn’t see the tips of your skis,” Popish said. “Then the weather cleared atop Pearl Pass and we beat Gunnison to Crested Butte by half a day … There was a big party for us.”
When the Midnight Mine shut down in 1951, Popish launched a 30-year career in the plumbing and heating business before retiring in Carbondale in the early 1980s. He ran unsuccessfully for Aspen City Council in 1966, but was actually thankful for the loss.
“The best day of my life was when I lost the election,” he said. “They have the same questions today as we had then: ‘Where are we going to put the parking? Where are we going to put the bridges?’ It was just the same old story.”
Plus, Popish said Aspen was undergoing some major changes.
“When I ran they had the influx of hippies,” he said. “But I’d just as soon see the hippies as some of the developers.
“It just kind of irks me the way things went and got too big, everything went private and you couldn’t get around anymore,” he said. “But you can’t stop progress.”
Steve Benson’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org