Aspen character Don Sheeley ‘lived life to its fullest’

Don Sheeley, a longtime local businessman known for his crop of blond hair, the red moped he drove year-round and numerous civic contributions, died Sunday at the age of 68 from back surgery complications.

With his Brooks Brothers shirts, red moped and deep love for Aspen, Don Sheeley easily earned a spot as one of this town’s most colorful characters.

“He was a great guy,” said Pitkin County Commissioner Rachel Richards, who worked for Sheeley for 20 years. “He thought of himself as indestructible.

“He really lived life to the fullest.”

Sheeley, 68, died Sunday at a clinic in Philadelphia after suffering complications from back surgery, said his wife, Jill Sheeley.

“He was his own person,” Jill Sheeley said. “He lived life on his terms, but he gave back a lot.”

Sheeley moved to Aspen in 1970 and first worked as an assistant manager at the Buttermilk Ski Mountain rental center before joining ski patrol at Snowmass ski area, his wife said. The couple later started Aspen Activities Center — an advertising agency that distributed brochures to area hotels and tourist spots. They operated the business for 35 years until selling it about three years ago, Jill Sheeley said.

Don Sheeley also served on the Aspen Chamber Resort Association and Commercial Core Lodging Commission boards for many years and was director of Aspen’s Sister Cities Program, she said.

“He was very proud of the youth exchange from (sister cities in) six other countries,” Jill Sheeley said. “His main thing was promoting world peace, and he thought that started with kids.”

Richards called him an “innovator,” saying he was responsible for suggesting that Galena Street beyond Hyman Avenue be designated a one-way so cars could park on both sides of the street.

However, he may be better known for starting the city of Aspen’s sailing program at Ruedi Reservoir in 1978.

“That was really his passion — teaching kids to sail,” Jill Sheeley said. “Hundreds of kids were run through that program.”

Richards said Don Sheeley started the program after drowning deaths occurred in the valley; he was concerned about the lack of swimming opportunities in the area.

Beyond his volunteer civic duties, Don Sheeley was known around town for his crop of blond hair — “bowl No. 4,” his wife said — the Brooks Brothers shirts he wore everywhere, his top-siders and his red moped.

“He never wore a helmet,” Jill Sheeley said.

The couple’s daughter, Courtney Sheeley Wyckoff, said her father was “an icon.”

“He loved to stand out,” she said.

Richards said Don Sheeley “had a lot of little quirks.”

“If you went out to lunch with him, he was most likely to order a grilled cheese sandwich,” she said. “It didn’t really matter where you were.”

Richards also said she fondly remembered one of his favorite expressions was, “The things we worry about the most always work out the best.”

“(His death) has hit me pretty hard,” Richards said. “I feel like I’ve really lost one of my closest friends.

“He will be missed.”


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