An estimated 450 people paid their respects to Helen Klanderud during a traditional funeral Mass at St. Mary Catholic Church on Wednesday morning.
Klanderud, who served as Aspen’s mayor from 2001-2007, was a tireless community volunteer and business advocate. She died Thursday, at the age of 76, of complications following a stroke she suffered a day earlier.
Father John Hilton, pastor of St. Mary, presided over the service, which followed a 30-minute rosary recital. The Mass began with a rite known as the “placing of the pall” over her black casket. A pall is a white cloth symbolizing baptism.
During his homily, Hilton noted that he came to St. Mary two years ago, “a lot less time than Helen was a parishioner.” Klanderud always sat in the same spot, he said.
The intention of the Mass “is to surround Helen and her family with a great deal of love,” Hilton said. “Being surrounded by a community of love is essential to being human.”
He called Klanderud “a remarkable woman” who had “many, many talents.” But despite her considerable political and charitable activities, “the greatest privilege in her life was her four children.”
Klanderud was surrounded by family when she died, Hilton said. Klanderud is survived by two sons and a daughter: Kurt Klanderud, Erik Klanderud and Kaela Moontree. A fourth child, Soren Klanderud, preceded her in death.
She moved to Aspen in 1971. “Her presence changed this town,” Hilton said. “There were so many initiatives she was the driving force behind.” He mentioned a few of the causes: the Aspen Counseling Center, the Aspen Homeless Shelter and also The Right Door, an alcohol-and-drug treatment facility that closed last year.
Hilton said he could “go on and on” about Klanderud’s work and advocacy. He did not mention that as mayor, Klanderud was a driving force behind the city’s “infill” regulations that helped to spark much of the city’s recent development, one aspect of her legacy that has been both praised and derided.
Hilton related a story in which former Sheriff Bob Braudis stopped Klanderud on the street and asked, “When was the last time you fired up a stove?”
“Bob, I haven’t been to the grocery store in seven years,” Hilton quoted her as saying.
“She gave, and she never stopped giving,” Hilton said.
At the end of the service, as the crowd sang “Amazing Grace,” the pall was removed from the casket, and Klanderud was taken to Red Butte Cemetery for interment.
Less than an hour later, hundreds turned out for a reception in her honor at the Hotel Jerome’s ballroom. There, many glasses of wine were served as those who knew Klanderud swapped stories while standing near large poster-sized photographs of her — some of which showed her wearing other colors besides her trademark black outfit.
L.J. Erspamer, a member of the city Planning and Zoning Commission, said he probably would not have gotten involved with the commission had it not been for Klanderud.
“Six years ago I ran for City Council, and she was the mayor,” Erspamer said. “Of course, I lost. And she wrote me a letter and said I should join one of the commissions. I looked around — I’m a real-estate broker — and said, ‘Well, I’ll join the P&Z.’
“So every time I saw Helen (after that), I blamed her,” he said. “She laughed it up.”
City Manager Steve Barwick, who began running Aspen’s municipal government in 1999 before Klanderud became mayor, said he enjoyed working with her and added that they shared many conversations over glasses of wine.
“Lots and lots of people take care of individuals,” Barwick said. “They extend their warmth and love to individuals. Helen was one of those people who also went on to give her love and her concern to the community as a whole and worked on systems to make things better for individuals. So she did both sides. She did everything.”
Barwick spoke of how in 2006 and 2007, when real-estate speculation and development were booming in Aspen, he and Klanderud dealt with many developers who popped into their second-floor City Hall offices without an appointment, offering the latest pitch.
“At about 2 or 3 o’clock on Fridays, somebody would always walk by the office, and say, ‘Have I got a deal for you,’” Barwick said, laughing. “Helen and I got to where we would just sit and wait every Friday, and sure enough another developer would show up.”
Chip Comins, chairman and CEO of the American Renewable Energy Institute, pointed out that Klanderud was an advocate for Native American rights well before moving to Aspen. He also knew her to be sensitive to environmental causes and said the annual ARE Day event might not have ever been created had it not been for Klanderud.
“We were talking on the street and I said, ‘You know, we should have a renewable-energy day,’” he said. “And she said, ‘Yes we should, and you should do it.’”
Others remembered her for her uniqueness.
“There was no one in Aspen who was like Helen,” another colleague said succinctly.