Aspen alums recall their ‘college’ days
October 6, 2005
Aspen, at its irreverent best, wasn’t just a party town. It was a party school – a self-proclaimed institution of not-so-higher learning known as Aspen State Teachers College.Its alumni will gather Saturday night at the Elks Lodge for the college’s 30th reunion, celebrating an era of near mythic status in the resort’s local lore.The old joke aside (if you were here in the ’70s, you can’t remember it), ASTC alums will be doing plenty of reminiscing. By all accounts, it’s a time worth remembering.Al Pendorf and Marc Demmon are credited with founding the college in 1975, but Demmon says it really sprang from a remark Pendorf made about the new crop of ski-season arrivals.”He said the new freshman class coming in was looking pretty good,” Demmon recalls. “Then, ideas started flowing.”Demmon, a bar and restaurant manager in those days, became Dr. Slats Cabbage, college president. Pendorf, aka Fulton Begley III, dean of women, worked in a local print shop, facilitating the production of Aspen State Teachers College T-shirts; hats; a monthly newsletter, the Clean Sweep; and a host of other memorabilia the college sold out of its “offices” – a basement space off what is now the Mill Street mall.
A broom was part of the college’s insignia – all the old pickups sported one poking out of the back – along with a beer mug and an aspen leaf.Some considered the entire town as the campus. It had an official college bar, The Final Exam, in a basement space on Hyman, one alum said. Tourists were students, while locals were faculty, according to another’s recollection.”That’s the funniest thing about this. Everyone has their own interpretation, and that’s OK,” said Demmon, who is back in Aspen for the reunion, as is Pendorf.Alumnus “Big Jim” Furniss will also be back for his first shocking glimpse of Aspen since he left in late 1980. Project manager for construction of the pedestrian malls in Aspen in the ’70s, Furniss was quickly appointed dean of destruction with the college.The inaugural issue of the Clean Sweep featured a story about mall bowling. “We lined up 10 people and had a guy throw a beer keg at them,” said Demmon, the publication’s chief photographer.”The fun part was, we could do anything. It didn’t matter,” he recalled. “Here was this spoof newspaper – whenever we saw something a little strange, we mocked it.”A typical issue might offer course descriptions – “Advanced Texan 243: This course is designed to give the students an advantage in dealing with our longhorned visitors” – and a list of crucial phone numbers, like Mountain Rescue and the Department of Sanitation in Gary, Ind.
In year two, Pendorf printed up a bogus football schedule, which was plastered around town. The college kicked off the season with a night game against Alabama at “Wagner Stadium.””That’s what really got us on the map. It was brilliant,” Demmon said. The national news media picked it up.With headlights illuminating the field, a ragtag team ran plays sans any opposition, claiming victory over the forfeiting Crimson Tide.”We never lost,” joked Furniss, who played center with an old army helmet on his head.Aspen held a season’s worth of opponentless contests. Fred Crowley, dean of the Political Science Department and later a Pitkin County commissioner, facetiously recalls preparing for an away game at Notre Dame. “We found out Notre Dame wasn’t going to show up, so they’d lose by default,” he said.”Anything that was goofy and fun, and nobody got hurt at it, Aspen College was right in the thick of it,” Crowley said. “It was when the community was really, really fun and didn’t take itself so seriously.”
Aspen State Teacher’s College T-shirts, now coveted collector’s items that still occasionally see limited production, were a hit with tourists. For $10, they got a shirt and a student card, according to Furniss.People secured rail passes in Europe with the student card, Furniss claims, and one “student” received regular checks from his father to help cover his college expenses. “Party money – he got a check, we spent it,” Furniss said.The college fizzled in the mid-’80s, when its driving forces moved on, but Demmon has brought with him memorabilia from its heyday, including photos, newspaper clippings and other treasures, which will be on display at Saturday’s reunion party.A founder’s dinner will be followed by a dance, open to the public, at 8:30 p.m. Former local musician Bobby Mason and most of the original members of Aspen’s favorite ’70s band, Starwood, will play. Tickets are $20.”It became a joke, but it was a fabulous joke. It was so Aspen back then,” said local resident Maddy Lieb, who was Pendorf’s roommate in those days.”It was more fun than I can even tell you,” Furniss said.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org