Aspen has lost another seminal personage from its previous generation. On May 31, 2019, Barbara Allen, longtime local, passed away unexpectedly. All agreed it was the way she would have wanted it. Her closest friends expressed disbelief and sadness at the blank space left by her departure. Her life was an important addition to the story of Aspen. She was a very private woman, who friends alternatively describe as endearing, generous, irascible, deeply sensitive, spiritual, adoring of children, an intellectual, and a lover of the arts.
Barbara Allen was born on April 3, 1936, in Denver, where she grew up. As a young adult, she embarked on a course that stayed remarkably constant throughout her life. In 1960, she graduated from Colorado State College in Greeley with a major in secondary education and minors in physical education, art and English.
Arriving in Aspen in 1968, she met Bil Dunaway that same year, and they spent the next 43 years together. When they met, Bil was already the well-known owner of The Aspen Times. Barbara used her skills to manage Bil’s print shop and Climbing Magazine publication. Bil and Barbara enjoyed a mutual interest in tennis, playing mixed doubles together at the old Smuggler Racquet Club. They entertained friends with Barbara’s delicious meals, memorable seasonal decorations and special marionette performances. They also loved Aspen’s art scene, including the Music Associates of Aspen and Ballet West. The latter organization, now known as Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, has recently received a bequeathed gift from Barbara. ASFB’s Aug. 24 performance will be dedicated to her.
In 1990, Barbara took a life-expanding Colorado Mountain College class called “Ideas from the Waldorf Kindergarten.” The class exposed her to the educational ideas of philosopher and Waldorf School founder Rudolf Steiner. The concepts of balanced moral-spiritual-creative-intellectual aspects to learning, and use of dance, poetry, color, fairytales and puppetry to stimulate children’s imaginations appealed. At the time, Barbara was looking for ways to relate to Bil’s young grandsons. Her exposure to Steiner’s philosophy led to her involvement with the newly-formed Waldorf School.
During the next several years, as the emerging Waldorf School was using the Yellow Brick School space, Barbara volunteered her time as an assistant in kindergarten classes, preparing treats, teaching crafts, making decorations and marionettes, and performing puppet shows — even repainting a black theater space into a peach-colored classroom. Throughout her life, the tenets of Steiner philosophy guided her daily life and practices.
In the late 1990s, Waldorf School wanted to move to a midvalley location. To help this effort, Barbara and Bil provided a low-interest loan that enabled Waldorf supporters to buy the land in its current location, to the enduring gratitude of the Waldorf community. Barbara continued to enrich the lives of many young people by quietly funding their higher education endeavors.
For over 30 years, Barbara also played a major role in the Pitkin County Library. Her contributions included behind-the-scenes work in book binding, book processing, the donation of art prints to the library and funding for digitization of Aspen Times issues from the 1880s until 1963. After Bil’s death, Barbara made a large donation to the Pitkin County Library’s capital campaign. This donation led to the creation of the William R. Dunaway Community Meeting Room, which was a critically needed gift to the community.
In 2013, Barbara met Kent Reed (of Hudson Reed Ensemble), when he interviewed her to “channel” Bil Dunaway as an historic figure for an Aspen Historical Society event. Beginning in 2013, their friendship rekindled her lifelong interest in theater and she turned her creative talents toward production, set and costume design and advertising for HRE productions. This summer’s production of Basalt Shakespeare in the Park turned out to be her last creative endeavor — and was dedicated to her.
On a personal level, she lived simply. A self-proclaimed Luddite, she refused to set up an answering machine, rarely drove, and used old-fashioned simple machines like her hand-crank coffee grinder and typewriter. A stickler for correct grammar, she never hesitated to correct or to lighten the mood with a quick-witted grammar joke. Her sharp mind and attention to detail showed in her proficiency at book-binding, wood-carving, wax seal making, needlepoint, clothes sewing, and calligraphy, to name just a few. She used her creative talents to give spontaneous, beautifully wrapped gifts and artful, handwritten notes. She loved cooking and entertaining for friends and dressing up — often in coordinated one-color outfits. She enjoyed engaging in philosophical or whimsical conversations; delighted in feeding visiting ducks; frequented favorite restaurants to visit friendly wait staff or to meet friends. Barbara loved her pink champagne.