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Aspen and Eve

Steve Benson
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Eve Homeyer jokes that she became mayor of Aspen in 1970 by accident.

But what started as “kind of a joke” has turned into a lifelong devotion to stand by her word. After all, Homeyer vowed never to drive a car again – in order to boost support for public transportation – if she was elected mayor. Now 88 years old and 30 years after her second term as mayor, Homeyer does not own a car and does not drive.

“I took a pledge I would never buy another polluting car,” Homeyer said from her home on Cemetery Lane. “I had to stick with my word.”

Homeyer won election in 1969 and again in 1971, and was the first female mayor in Aspen history. But what further distinguishes Homeyer as one of Aspen’s most prominent public figures is the fact that she upheld her promise. In doing so, she became not only a legitimate promoter of public transportation and other causes, but an honored woman in the Roaring Fork Valley.

“All the employees greatly respected and admired her,” said Dan Blankenship, the chief executive officer of the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority. “It bordered on love because she’s such a great person.”

The road to Aspen

Homeyer moved to Colorado in the early 1940s, but she would not settle in Aspen until 1959. Born in Nebraska, she later moved with her family to Iowa, where she graduated from high school. After studying at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, Homeyer said she embarked on a personal journey, “traveling around to find a place to live.”

Her explorations would eventually take her to the West. After meeting her late husband in Sun Valley, Idaho, the two discovered the sleepy town of Deckers, Colo. – and happiness.

They bought an old lodge on the South Platte River, revamped it and turned it into a fishing destination. For the next 17 years they ran the lodge and business in the summer months, and skied the winters away in Sun Valley.

The lodge slept just over 100 people. Homeyer ran the kitchen, while her husband operated the bar.

“Those were the really good days, we made some very good friends” Homeyer said. “I wish it were all over again.”

Unfortunately, Homeyer’s husband died of cancer, and she struck out for a new home.

“I came up here after being in the East, just experimenting. I’ve been here ever since.”

After moving to Aspen, Homeyer ran the House of Ireland, an import store specializing in fabrics and sweaters. She also became involved with politics as the vice chairman of the Colorado Republican Party, but it wasn’t long before she became bored with the party post. “All you did was talk to people who think the same thing you think,” she said recently.

So she moved on to something different.

“I got to be mayor on kind of a joke,” she laughed. “I just said I was going to run home and run for mayor.

“I don’t know what made me say that, I had never done such a thing before, but I was bored as vice chairman of the Republican Party – it just didn’t fit. That was the beginning of a good thing.”

The demands of the mayor’s job forced the sale of House of Ireland, however.

“It was a store I really enjoyed, but it was just impossible to run the store and be the mayor too,” she said.

Mayoral priorities

Aside from public transportation, Homeyer was concerned about how little land the city owned. Wherever possible, she tried to purchase small pieces of parkland and protect key parcels from development.

“Aspen didn’t own a thing,” she said.

By the end of her term the city had bought one acre of land for every 10 citizens in Aspen. Additionally the city bought what is now the Aspen Municipal Golf Course, which was then privately owned.

To this day, she regrets the development of the Truscott Place housing project on a spot that she felt should have been purchased along with the golf course and preserved as open space.

“I was scared to death we were going to load it up with bad housing – it was very nice, extremely nice,” she said. “Every time I go by there I cuss myself.”

Homeyer is not an affordable housing fan. Of course, when Homeyer moved to Aspen in 1959, it was a different place. She bought a small house near the golf course, which at the time was a mostly undeveloped and quiet location.

“When I bought the little house, there were only four other houses on the property,” she said. “Now there’s so many houses, and they can’t build them big enough. That’s so stupid.”

When Homeyer sold the house years later, it was immediately torn down and replaced with what she called two towering homes in an increasingly crowded area.

“It’s elbow to elbow. I don’t care for that,” she said. “If you like it crowded, stay in the city.”

But Aspen’s landscape isn’t the only thing that has changed, Homeyer said.

“When I came there were about 600 people,” she said. “Some were very rich and some were very, very poor. But everybody knew everybody, everybody got together.”

Homeyer described a restaurant in town at that time that served world-class cuisine at low prices on a nightly basis. Everybody, regardless of economic class, ate there.

“You were welcome, it didn’t make any difference,” Homeyer said. “We haven’t had a restaurant in 15 years that even comes close to that.”

Political opponents

Homeyer was a Republican who championed some “liberal” causes, such as public transportation and open space acquisition by the city. She can be seen as sort of a bridge between the town’s conservative older generation and the young liberal progressives who began to dominate Aspen politics beginning in the 1970s.

Joe Edwards, who as a Pitkin County commissioner would later help launch the upper valley’s restrictive growth-management system, ran unsuccessfully against Homeyer in 1971. He didn’t have much to say for this article.

But author and gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, who helped Edwards’ mayoral campaign, offered his take on Homeyer in his book, “The Great Shark Hunt: Strange Tales From a Strange Time.”

Wrote Thompson: “Eve Homeyer, a longtime functionary in the Colorado GOP, had spent thousands of dollars on a super-chintzy campaign to re-create herself in the boneless image of Mamie Eisenhower. She hated stray dogs and motorcycles made her ears ring. Progress was nice and Development was good for the local economy. Aspen should be made safe for the annual big-spending visits of the Atlanta Ski Club and the Texas Cavaliers – which meant building a four lane highway through the middle of town and more blockhouse condominiums to humor more tourists.”

Homeyer won the election, but Aspen’s still arguing about the four-lane. She may have been one of the town’s last Eisenhower-generation politicians, but she’s remembered by many as a forward-looking mayor.

Walking the walk

When Homeyer first took office, Aspen’s hospital only had about a dozen beds. During her term she was determined to improve and expand the hospital’s facilities as well as general health care in town.

Marty Ames, the director of Pitkin County Senior Services in Aspen, has known Homeyer for close to 20 years. The two met when Homeyer was heading a fund-raiser for the assisted-living and senior center in town.

“Eve had all of these contacts in and outside the community, the money all came from private donors, and Eve had all those connections,” Ames said. “You know, without Eve I don’t know if this facility would be here. I really don’t know.”

Like many others, Ames learned through personal experience what kind of person Homeyer is, and what she represents.

“She epitomizes ethical behavior and credibility, and she’s a lady in the old sense of the word,” Ames said. “This woman wanted us to have a bus system in town, so she gave up driving – her sense of personal commitment is amazing.

“I think often in a small town, there are examples of one or a few people having a forward vision, having a sense of what is best, what is needed,” Ames continued. “She has always been a visionary, at least for this town. She has always been forward-thinking, she’s just really cool.”

Blankenship can relate.

“She really walked the walk,” said the RFTA executive. “She was a great spokesperson for transit.”

Homeyer served as the chair of the Roaring Fork Transit Agency board of directors for roughly 15 years, retiring in 1998.

When it came to public transportation, Homeyer was a true pioneer. Long ago she preserved Rubey Park and made sure the city secured it for transit. She was also a key figure in merging Aspen’s and Pitkin County’s transit systems.

“I think the demand for transit services has really exceeded everybody’s expectations,” Blankenship said.

It wasn’t just what Homeyer did, Blankenship said, but how she did it.

“She has a great sense of humor,” he said. “She’s not afraid to say what she believes, and she does it with a wry sense of humor that endears her to everybody.”

Homeyer doesn’t take much credit.

“A lot of things just sort of happened and fell in their place,” she said. “Everything just kind of wound together.”

Party conversion

Homeyer likes to joke that her stint as mayor was just a whimsical journey, but really she knew exactly what she was doing.

“I’m sort of a natural. I’ve always liked politics,” she said. “My father was into that kind of thing, and one thing led to another.”

After her term expired in 1973, however, Homeyer said she’d had enough.

“It was no way to make a living; I made $100 a month,” Homeyer said. “Two terms of that was just plenty. We only had a meeting once a month anyhow.”

Unmarried and childless, Homeyer quickly set to work raising money for the group now known as the Aspen Valley Medical Foundation, helping to expand and improve health care in the upper valley. She served as the organization’s executive director for a period, and continues to contribute her fund-raising and public relations skills.

In one key respect, however, Homeyer has made a major conversion. She’s now a Democrat.

“I was a Republican in those days, but I’ve learned better now,” she said.

Homeyer said the Bush family changed her political views.

“[George W. Bush’s] father made a Democrat out of me, and his son is keeping me that way,” she said. “[George Bush Sr.] did not want women to be able to choose the way to live their lives.

“I’m not an out-and-out radical, but women should have at least as much power to take care of themselves as any man does,” she added.

Enjoying life

In Meredith Ogilby’s book, “A Life Well-Rooted: Women of Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley,” Homeyer discusses how she has been able to sustain her activity in the community for so many years.

“Good humor, good health,” Homeyer said. “I suppose my ability to pace myself is good. He (my husband) taught me that money is not the end-all – it is the way to do what you want to do, and when you have enough, you have enough. Don’t just stack it up.

“I think that’s a valuable lesson, because I’ve never been one to say I’ve got to make more money. I’m glad I know how to work. I’m glad I’m willing to work – to keep busy. I think that work is terribly important. You have to know when enough is enough; you have to divide your life up so you don’t spend all your time grubbing or all your time loafing. I guess that would be the basis of my philosophy – to enjoy it along the way.”

Steve Benson’s e-mail address is sbenson@aspentimes.com


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