‘A wonderful life’ in the mountains of Aspen
ASPEN – If you love Aspen history, then you’ve got to love the stories of Peter and Jony Larrowe.
Their name isn’t up there with the Wheelers, the Hallams or other luminaries who willed the struggling silver camp to prominence in the late 1800s. And they weren’t headliners in the rejuvenation of Aspen after the so-called Quiet Years.
But like many others in the now-disappearing generation that came of age during and immediately after World War II, they played integral parts in shaping the Aspen area.
Jony didn’t fit the mold of a post-war bride. She wasn’t the type to keep house in suburbia USA, waiting for her husband to return from the office. She was among the rare breed of mountain adventurers who were willing to work hard in order to satisfy a craving for skiing, climbing and hiking.
Jony and her first husband, Harry Poschman, picked Aspen as the place to settle down and raise a family because they sensed it was destined to be more than just a ski resort.
“We moved here in 1950, so this year will be 60 years since I moved to Aspen,” she said.
Peter’s history isn’t the typical story of the Aspenite who came to town to be a ski bum for a year or two, then stayed a lifetime. He came as a Trappist monk, sent by his order in 1956 to help construct and establish St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass.
After devoting 10 years to the order back east and another 15 years in the Capitol Creek Valley – spending most of that time in silent prayer and contemplation – Peter realized the monastic life wasn’t for him. He met Jony, who was then divorced, about the same time he left the monastery. Their friendship was kindled in 1971 and soon blossomed to romance. They will celebrate their 37th wedding anniversary this year.
Jeanne Elizabeth Purchard was a tomboy who hated her name. The nickname Jony took hold early in her life. Her family – loyal Swiss-Americans, she said – moved to Denver in 1941 when she was 15, stoking what turned out to be a lifelong interest in the mountain life.
She joined the junior Colorado Mountain Club, going on adventures every possible weekend and for longer trips during summers. The outings were supervised by older mountaineers in the club who taught the younger members about everything from climbing to geology to botany.
They regularly skied at Winter Park, Loveland Pass and Berthoud Pass – places they could reach by bus.
“I was wild about skiing,” Jony said. “We’d have all these dances at the high school and I used to say, “I’d rather ski than dance, and I’d rather dance than eat, but most of all, I’d rather be in the mountains.”
Summers were spent on hiking and climbing expeditions with the mountain club. Jony climbed 26 of the Colorado peaks over 14,000 feet as well as many lower mountains. The excursions brought her to Aspen, where she remembers climbing Capitol, the Maroon Bells and Pyramid in 1943. They camped at Snowmass Lake.
“It was a wonderful experience,” Jony said, noting that a goal of the club was to keep girls busy and prevent them from mixing with soldiers back in the cities. “Basically it was a great outdoor life.”
After a week or so in the outdoors of the Roaring Fork Valley, the grubby bunch of 12 or so adventurers went to town specifically for ice cream sodas at the Hotel Jerome bar. They later hit the hot springs in Glenwood, where they finally cleaned up.
Jony didn’t outgrow her yearning for the mountains. After she went to college, her first job away from home was in a restaurant at Alta, Utah. That’s where she eventually met Harry Poschman, a veteran of the 10th Mountain Division ski troops. He had trained at Camp Hale and got to know Aspen on leave. He shared Jony’s love of the outdoors. He did whatever he could find for work at Alta so he could hit the slopes.
Jony and Harry got married a couple of years after meeting and they initially lived in California, where his family was from. But they dreamed of moving back to the mountains and settled on Aspen, believing it would amount to more than other resorts. At that point in the late 1940s, their faith in Aspen was little more than a hunch.
“Aspen in those days was not known to be such a great major ski resort,” Jony said. “We knew about it, elite skiers knew about it, but it wasn’t number one on the list at all for a long time.”
They pulled into town in on Aug. 1, 1950, and rented the an old white Victorian house with green trim. They opened the Edelweiss Inn where the Copper Horse is now located.
They lived next to the Elisha family, owners of the Hotel Jerome. “They were rich folks and we were poor young kids,” she recalled.
The Poschmans wasted no time getting their business started. “We put up a homemade, painted sign that said, ‘Edelweiss Inn Bed and Breakfast’ and our rates were $2.75 if you had a sleeping bag and slept in the dorm, $3.75 if you stayed in the bed and breakfast.”
Her aunt had given her embroidered sheets and blankets, “fancy stuff from Switzerland,” Jony said. They were forced to use it as their lodge bedding because they were too poor to buy cheaper stuff.
They “struggled on a shoelace” but making lots of money wasn’t the goal. They wanted to live and raise their growing family in a nice mountain town. Children Christie and Greg were born in Aspen, joining oldest child Hap.
“We had a wonderful life as a young family in Aspen,” Jony said. “Everybody else was broke [too]. We had dinner parties. It was basically venison, elk or fresh fish.” They picked wild asparagus and choke cherries. They bought fresh produce from the Marolt and Gerbaz farms.
“We really lived much more off of the land than people can conceive of right now,” Jony said.
Families shared ski equipment that their kids outgrew and they often skied in jeans. Jony recalled the young mothers establishing a lemonade stand outside the Aspen Music Tent to raise money and start a kindergarten because of the baby boom.
She and Harry did everything at the ski lodge and built it into a successful business. By 1962 they had saved enough money to buy property at Hopkins and Aspen streets. They established a main lodge that included four guest rooms as well as the family home and built four cabins or chalets. That property was also known as the Edelweiss.
Carol Ann Jacobson Kopf got to know the Poschmans as a young woman managing a competing ski lodge. She later rented one of their cabins for the summer.
There was no cutthroat competition between lodge operators, Kopf recalled. They were mostly young couples that were friends with one another and would help each other out as much as possible.
“There was a large number of couples who moved to town in the 1950s, Kopf said. “They weren’t here to make money. These people all came because they wanted to live in a ski town.”
Ski lodges attracted many of the same guests year after year. Many of the guests were more like extended family than customers. That was especially true at the Edelweiss, where the guests mingled with the family.
Jony said her family would pack off to beaches in California and occasionally Europe for the offseason. Summer tourism was so sparse that many lodges rented their facilities for the season rather than try to rely on short-term visitors.
Jacobson recalled that in summer 1965, while she was renting a cabin at the Edelweiss, the Poschmans packed up for a month-long family vacation. They asked her to look after the place and gave her the keys to their fringe-topped Jeep, which Jacobson drove around with Sunny, the Poschman family dog.
It wasn’t exactly the quiet years, Kopf said, but it was definitely a more relaxed time.
The Poschmans sold the Edelweiss in 1966 to a woman who quickly turned it over to Daniel Delano and Frank Peters, who eventually built the Hotel Lenado on the property. Jony and Harry divorced in 1969. She stayed in Aspen and worked a variety of jobs, including writing columns on cooking and history for the Aspen Illustrated News, started by Harald “Shorty” Pabst to compete against Bil Dunaway’s liberal Aspen Times.
“The thing about Dunaway was he wouldn’t pay,” Jony said. “Pabst paid. I’d get a paycheck from him. And Bil would say, ‘Oh, thanks, Jony, we could really use that’ and I’d never see a damn cent for it. I concentrated on the rich man’s paper.”
Jony also rented out rooms in the large house where she and her youngest son Greg lived. A young woman she rented to in 1971 convinced her to come to St. Benedict’s Monastery to meet someone. After a service there, Jony was introduced to Brother Peter, who had shed his robe and came out to say hi in blue jeans.
Peter Larrowe grew up in a devout Catholic family in Portland, Ore. He objected to serving in World War II because of his strong religious beliefs and was asked to direct a Catholic Conscientious Objector Camp in New York.
His upbringing instilled a strong sense of right and wrong, and Peter saw at the camp that many of the objectors were using religion as an excuse to avoid fighting.
“I realized I wasn’t a pacifist because I had a lot of anger,” he said. He was angry with both the sham of many conscientious objectors and at what Hitler was doing. He gave up his deferment and registered with the Selective Service.
Peter was drafted into the U.S. Army as a private in the infantry. He downplays his service, saying he fired his rifle only twice. But Peter was wounded by shrapnel in 1944 shortly before the Battle of the Bulge, and received the Purple Heart for his service.
Upon arriving home, Peter joined a Trappist order in Rhode Island. His reasoning was simple. “I thought I’d go to hell if I didn’t,” he said, with one of the light chuckles that often accompany his observations.
The order grew significantly after the war. “So many young men decided they should be in a monastery” after their war experiences, he said. His order started a monastery in Massachusetts, where Peter was sent and remained for about 10 years. When the order acquired a ranch in Snowmass with plenty of land to raise cattle and use in other ways, Peter was one of about a dozen monks who came out to construct St. Benedict’s Monastery. He learned brick-laying from a Brother who had been trained in the trade back east.
Aside from times when talking was necessary to perform labor and chores, or to greet visitors, Peter spent most of 15 years at St. Benedict’s in silence. Following all that contemplation, he eventually concluded in 1971 that the monastery wasn’t for him. He remains spiritual, but questions organized religion.
By the time he met Jony, he was on the way out, as their mutual friend suspected because he always asked about the outside world.
“He knew my name before we met because he would read the [Aspen] Illustrated News or the [Aspen] Times and I was working for them,” Jony said.
Peter, like the other Brothers, gave the monastery everything he had when he joined the order. When he decided to leave, he realized he needed a car to find employment. The Brothers delivered, giving him enough money to buy a VW sedan.
Peter initially headed back to his native Portland, where he worked as a “house father” in a home for troubled teens. The transition provided a bit of cultural shock for a man who had spent 25 years in relative silence.
“Jimi Hendrix was quite popular then,” Peter recalled. “He wasn’t a quiet person.”
Peter and Jony stayed in touch despite the miles between them. “It was a matter of mutual friendship and attraction,” she said.
She accepted his invitation to visit Portland, but she couldn’t tolerate the dreary weather. He agreed to return to the sunshine of the mountains. They were married in October 1973.
Today Jony, 83, and Peter, 96, make a great team. You often see them tooling around the midvalley in their Honda Element. In keeping with his monastic background, Peter conveys a sense of calm, wisdom and contentment. He also remains extremely sharp mentally and in relatively good health. “I’ve always attributed that to the life in the monastery – no meat, no liquor, regular hours, exercise, no worries,” he said.
Jony joked that he didn’t have the stress of a wife, kids or taxes for the first half of his life.
Greg Poschman recalled that he had a tough time when his mom remarried, as young teens often do. But his admiration for Peter quickly blossomed. “He became my moral, ethical compass,” Poschman said.
Peter remains interested in social justice issues. He started a “Monday Morning Group” that gathered weekly outside of Carbondale Town Hall to read the names of the U.S. soldiers killed in the second Iraq war. He and Jony dropped their effort when the war re-ignited in Afghanistan; they figured then-President Bush wasn’t listening.
Peter used to be a frequent writer of letters to the editors of local newspapers, often focusing on Israel’s actions toward the Palestinians. “I can’t understand it,” he said.
They are also involved in tamer civic endeavors. Peter was a longtime member of the Lions Club in the Roaring Fork Valley. This school year they volunteered in a program that matches young Latino students at Basalt Middle School with reading buddies from the community.
They continue to enjoy backcountry picnics during summers. One of Jony’s favorite activities dating back to the ’50s was hiking and four-wheeling to old miner’s shacks and mine works and looking for artifacts.
Greg said he has always admired his mom for being among the first of the ski bums. She remains at her happiest when the sky is blue, the peaks are snow-capped and the high altitude lakes sparkle, he said.
The Larrowes moved from Aspen to Snowmass Village shortly after they married in 1973. They moved to El Jebel when Peter retired from the Pitkin County Assessor’s office in 1994, but Jony’s heart remains in Aspen.
“I can remember when we first moved to Aspen in 1950, and I had my little four-month-old baby in my arms,” she said. “I’m standing on Main Street and we had just put up the sign for the Edelweiss Inn. Looking down Main Street there’s not a car. It’s a September morning. Blue smoke coming from all the little shacks. I said ‘this is where I live, this is where I die.’
“I remember saying that to myself. I really meant it.”
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