In an effort to recognize some of the local frontline workers and community activists who helped the Roaring Fork Valley get through the pandemic, Theatre Aspen announced its inaugural Aspen Heroes honorees who will be featured at performances this summer.
The company will honor 20 valley locals during this year’s “All for One” summer season, which is taking a new approach just like nearly everything else because of the pandemic. Theatre Aspen producing director Jed Bernstein said Thursday that the inaugural honor is meant to shine the spotlight from the stage to some of the valley’s workers who made it “safe and comfortable.”
“We were really impressed, walking around town, hearing stories about people who persevered and through their efforts made it possible for everybody else to be safe and comfortable,” Bernstein said. “We wanted to come up with a way to turn the spotlight on those folks.”
The honorees stretch up and down the valley and include people like David Wallach, who works at Clark’s grocery store in Aspen and caught the virus but returned to work after three weeks of being ill.
Wallach, who worked at the store for three summers in his teen years, returned in June 2016 and has been there since.
Wallach, 39, said Friday after he got off work that he was sick at the end of March and when he got back on April 13, things had changed. But it wasn’t too hard to learn the new rules. The toughest part of the ordeal was being away from the market for that long.
“Knowing I couldn’t go there and knowing they needed me and I couldn’t do anything about it, that was really hard,” Wallach said. “When I got back they greeted me with open arms, and it was easy once they told me the new rules.”
David’s mother, Betty Wallach, said all her son could think about while he was sick was getting back to the store. He was finally cleared to return after three weeks at home.
“He lost 11 pounds and was in bed for two weeks and as weak as a kitten,” Betty said. “His lungs are permanently damaged. All he cared about when he had the virus was getting back to work. ‘I must go to work. I must go to work.’”
With the help of his Mountain Valley Developmental Center job coach, Wallach was hired and works at the front of the store greeting shoppers. His manager and job coach talk often to make sure things are going well.
“He tells my coach that I’m reliable,” Wallach said, “and he loves having me at work. And when it’s four years he’s gonna have to put up with me for another four years.”
Bernstein said Theatre Aspen received more than 50 nominations, and a committee went through to narrow the field. Each honoree and a guest will be celebrated with a VIP evening during the season at the theatre and an on-stage salute. (The Aspen Times is a media sponsor of the program and had a representative on the selection committee.)
Among those being honored are Miranda Pingree, who works in the Roaring Fork School District’s transportation department and helped deliver school lunches to students when in-person learning was shut down, and Santos Marquez, who works in the city of Aspen’s parks department and kept the core and mall aesthecially pleasing.
Buttermilk mountain manager Travis Benson and Aspen Skiing Co. events manager Joey Woltemath are being recognized as two of the people who helped organize the memorable Aspen High School graduation in the Buttermilk parking lot and ride up the lift to the mountaintop for the diploma ceremony.
The list of this year’s winners will be on a plaque that will hang in the lobby of the tent. Bernstein said they hope to make it an annual event and show ways to pay it forward.
“I would see no reason why this can’t be repeated every summer,” he said. “And make it a hallmark of the theater, because you don’t need a pandemic to recognize people who are important to our community.”