School’s out for Aspen’s college guidance counselor
IT’S CHECKOUT TIME FOR WARREN KLUG
When Warren Klug speaks about the hospitality business in this resort community or the property he manages, his family and overall outlook on life, it reaches near evangelical status.
While retirement is knocking on the door for Klug, his enthusiasm will likely not wane as he plans to continue to be involved in the Aspen community.
Klug said he is looking forward to spending more time with his three children and their kids as he winds down his professional life as the general manager of the Aspen Square Hotel and Condominiums.
He and his wife, Kathy, are retiring from their jobs as they know them today. They plan to travel more, volunteer more and work less.
“I have never had a two-week vacation,” Klug said.
Soon they’ll go on a European riverboat cruise and explore the West.
“Problem is we don’t have a Spicoli wagon,” Klug joked, referencing the notorious van in the movie “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.”
It’s that kind of wit and dry humor that has charmed Klug’s guests at the Aspen Square, along with his colleagues at the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, where he served as chairman of the board and served on numerous committees.
“What a great guy, an outstanding man; he and his family,” said Donnie Lee, current chair of the ACRA board and general manager of The Gant.
Lee has been on the ACRA board since 2006; Klug currently serves as chair emeritus.
He said he’s learned a lot from Klug, especially at the committee level, where most of the work gets done.
“He’s definitely been a strong presence,” Lee said. “I’ve learned from him to just be a good person and keep a positive outlook. That’s infectious.”
Klug and Kathy came to Aspen in 1993 having lived in Bend, Oregon, for 16 years. Klug had landed the GM spot at Aspen Square, and Kathy took a job at the Aspen School District as a teacher.
A quarter century later, the Klugs are ready to spend their days differently. They’ll both still work in limited capacities and stay involved in their church, as well as their son’s foundation that advocates for organ and tissue donation.
Their son, Chris, was diagnosed in 1993 with a rare liver disease. He received a transplant in 2000 and two years later, he won a bronze medal in snowboarding at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. He also competed in the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, where he came in sixth.
The Chris Klug Foundation hosts the Summit for Life event each winter when hundreds of people hike up Aspen Mountain to raise money for organ donation.
In addition to Chris the Klugs also have a son, Jim, and a daughter, Hillary. They started their family in the early 1970s when Klug was working as the general manager of Lion’s Square in Vail.
“We had the best family life,” Klug said.
Klug said he feels fortunate to have landed in Aspen and at the Aspen Square, a 100-room property located in the heart of downtown.
He said the keys to success are having great accommodations, an effective marketing and selling plan, good business management and great people who are enthusiastic and honest.
“He cares about his employees like they are his kids,” Kathy Klug observed.
The Aspen Square employs 55 people. When Klug first arrived he soon realized the shortage of affordable housing, so he championed having the hotel buy some apartments to set aside for employees. It’s been key to recruiting and retaining staff.
“Having housing makes all the difference,” Klug said. “And we provide a wonderful working environment.”
Several years ago, Klug took on immigration reform on a state and federal level. His efforts were made on behalf of resort employers who rely on that segment of the population for their workforce. But like any tough reform issue, it lost its momentum in the political winds.
“It makes me sick knowing that every hospitality business depends on immigrant employees,” Klug said. “This is a business-related issue as much as it is a humanitarian one.”
There are 11 million undocumented workers in the country and few hundred thousand of them live in Colorado. Klug pushed for a plan in which immigrants could get legal work status after living in the country for five years.
He said he’s frustrated that he couldn’t get closer to reform but is satisfied in what he’s done at the Aspen Square, where he spends a good part of his day hanging out in the lobby talking with guests.
“I love being in hospitality,” Klug said. “I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being part of Aspen and the Aspen Square.”
After nearly 25 years of dogged commitment to the Aspen community, Warren and Kathy Klug’s professional lives have left an indelible mark on thousands of individuals here. The couple is retiring this week, and turning the page to the next chapter of their seemingly storybook lives.
Warren is stepping down as general manager of the Aspen Square Hotel and Condominiums, and Kathy is retiring as the college counselor at Aspen High School.
Of course, it’s not surprising to anyone who knows them that they aren’t fully retiring — Warren, 72, is staying on in a consulting role for one year at the hotel and Kathy, 68, will help with the transition of her replacement by working two days a week at the school, and continuing some of her other educational endeavors.
But Saturday’s graduation ceremony will officially be the last for Kathy as the high school’s college counselor. Melissa Lustig will become the lead college counselor and Charlie Laube, who most recently was at Mullen High School in Denver, arrives in July to be a counselor as well.
They will have big shoes to fill. Kathy’s known by colleagues, parents and kids as a shrewd, effective college adviser to every single junior and senior AHS student.
“I used to call her the Kluginator because she is such a force,” said Diana Sirko, who was the district superintendent when Kathy took the newly created position in 2003. “She is the energizer bunny times 10.”
Kathy’s passion and drive to make post-secondary education a reality for local students has resulted in about a 90 percent matriculation rate for the past decade.
“It’s an astounding rate,” observed her husband, Warren.
Of the 130 students graduating June 2, only six are not pursuing post-secondary educations and three are taking a gap year before attending college.
‘Fit and match’
Kathy has guided and counseled well over 3,000 kids in their pursuit for a higher education, which can be a daunting endeavor for both students and their parents.
“I’m in futures and options,” Kathy said with an infectious smile. “I try to create options for everyone.”
For students, that begins in their junior year “discovery class.” It is there that Kathy and her associates Lustig and Susanne Morrison even the playing field by making it clear that all students can achieve a higher education. It’s designed to bring awareness to kids about the possibilities that lay in front of them and what options are out there.
“We ask kids to be reflective,” Kathy said. “You gotta have some sense of where you are going.”
Then it’s about matching the students to the right institution, so they fit well in their new scholastic environments.
That match happens for many students at the Western Slope College Fair, which Kathy co-founded and began in 2005. She serves as the co-director, along with Kelly Doherty.
The goal was to introduce and expose students on the Western Slope to 130 colleges. Last year, the fair hosted 250 schools — a number that is now capped.
When it started, there was a 38 percent attendance rate among 82 high schools; that has increased to 61 percent. Ninety-six percent of AHS students attend the fair.
Some students attend all four years, which allows them to build a rapport with college admissions representatives.
“You’ve got to show them what’s out there,” Kathy said, adding that was the genesis for the college fair. “You’ve got to find a place for a kid where they are going to bloom.”
Because so many students live in remote areas on the Western Slope and college touring can be difficult for rural and underserved students, the beginning vision from Kathy and her colleagues was to bring the colleges to them.
Now’s there a certain cachet the Western Slope holds because universities all over the country are aware of the college fair.
“All the schools have benefited even if they are in small towns because of the big recognition,” Kathy said.
Seniors who have been accepted to their school of choice get recognition within the walls of AHS when they “ring the bell.” It sends the message to the entire student body that a rite of passage has occurred. It’s just one of many procedures and traditions that AHS uses to promote a collegiate culture.
Follow the money
But what Kathy might be best at is scrounging up the money to make post-secondary education a reality for local kids — and just as importantly, their parents.
Navigating through the complicated collegiate application process is daunting enough but often there is sticker shock when it comes to tuition.
“It’s so much information and how to make sense of it is challenging,” said Aspen Police Chief Richard Pryor, whose daughter and son have received four-year, full-ride scholarships at the University of Denver and University of Colorado-Boulder through the Boettcher program. “It’s more than just navigating through, it’s having a team that has our backs and creating a culture leading up to it so you aren’t shocked,” he added.
Coming from England, Pryor and his wife had no idea how the American college system worked. But luckily for them, they became students of Kathy and her team. She created a parent curriculum to teach parents how to go get the money through scholarships and grants.
“No one should pay retail,” Kathy said. “We are always after free money and we just figure out ways.
“We cobble it together … $5,000 here, $2,000 there. We launch them for their freshman year with local money.”
This year, $361,000 has been given out through 109 scholarships for local kids.
Kathy said most of the parents of AHS students are middle-class who are living in a very expensive place. She estimates that about 10 percent of parents can pay “retail” tuition and another 10 percent can pay nothing.
“You can’t earn enough in this valley,” she said. “They need to have the community behind them.”
For the majority of local parents, the cost of college is prohibitive and finding ways to get around it is extremely satisfying for Kathy, she said.
It is for the parents, too.
“It’s mind-blowing, totally life-changing,” Pryor said. “That enthusiasm Kathy has for it is absolutely amazing.”
For his 18-year-old son, Will, being made aware that he would be eligible for the Boettcher scholarship was Kathy’s doing. He credits her for his success in landing it.
“CU is the perfect fit for me and Kathy Klug helped me get there,” said Will, who is studying aeronautical engineering. “She cares so much and is a constant support. She’s an amazing woman, to put it lightly.”
He added that the time and dedication she gave to him she gives to every student — pushing them, guiding them, writing recommendation letters and hours of one-on-one time.
“She made the whole process so less stressful,” he added. “It puts you miles ahead of people who don’t have this.”
Creating the guidance
It’s rare for a school of Aspen’s size to have a dedicated college counselor. When the concept was born in the early 2000s by the board of the school district’s fundraising arm, the Aspen Education Foundation, Kathy was an English teacher and a reading specialist.
Sally Hansen was a school board member at the time. She said there were two counselors at the school but they were maxed and couldn’t offer specific guidance for post-secondary education.
“Kathy was a dream come true,” Hansen said. “She came to it so excited. Her excitement was contagious.
“I was loving watching what she was doing.”
Sirko, the former school superintendent, said in her 43 years in education, she can’t think of another initiative that’s been implemented so effectively.
Kathy was able to harness the desires of the school board, donors, parents and the community, and put a system in place that creates a clear pathway and a continuum of care for students heading to a post-secondary education.
“Kathy was the perfect fit. She had such a clear picture in her mind,” Sirko said. “I have such an admiration for her to take a concept and run with it.
“She designed all the pieces,” Sirko added. “Excellence doesn’t happen on its own, it has to be designed and she personified that.”
Kathy said having good schools and a vision of excellence is the foundation for empowering kids to understand that they have choices.
“These kids are their own best advocates,” she said. “I put 110 percent in to try to make it a better place, and have kids have pride in themselves and their school.
“People say I get people into college. No, kids do.”
For her admirers, that may be an oversimplification.
“You saw kids who never dreamed that they could go to college, or for the parents to be able to afford it,” Sirko said. “She never loses sight of the goal.”
The Aspen Promise
Kathy’s laser focus isn’t going away just because she is retiring.
With a BA and masters in education with an emphasis in literacy instruction, and a Ph.D. in education leadership, Klug intimately understands the importance of teaching.
She also has participated in the district’s outdoor education trips, and for 10 years was the director of Teachers Across Borders — an international program to teach teachers in Cambodia.
Kathy said that during her semi-retirement she wants to create a school for substitute teachers so they are better equipped to handle the curriculum effectively.
“We should pay them fairly and give them real work,” she said.
Beyond participating in the college fair until “the day I die,” she said she will be in heavy fundraising mode for her new scholarship initiative called “The Aspen Promise.”
Through the Aspen Education Foundation, Kathy hopes to find philanthropic donors who will help create an endowment to close the gap on post-secondary education for local students.
The goal is to give $5,000 to every local graduating senior who is pursuing a higher education.
“I really want kids to go to school,” Kathy said. “I have kids that can’t go to college because they can’t afford it.
“You don’t want to know that a kid missed out because of $5,000.”
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