Aspen Hall of Famer Jack Brendlinger dies at 89
Artist, skier and multihyphenate creative thinker left lasting impact on Aspen, Roaring Fork Valley
Jack Brendlinger was foremost an artist — a creative thinker committed to the lifelong pursuit of his passions in painting and sculpting and skiing and golfing and community organizing and practical joking and, at one point or other, in hotel operating, restaurant managing, ski resort marketing, film producing, coaching and community play directing over the course of a nearly six-decade love affair with Aspen.
“He was an artist in anything that he did, and an artist as an artist too” who always maintained a studio and continued to try new methods and mediums throughout his life, according to his son, Eric Brendlinger. Jack died on Feb. 13 at the age of 89, according to the Brendlinger family.
Brendlinger was inducted into the Aspen Hall of Fame in 2011 alongside his wife, Marsha, as a multihyphenate of a caliber that might well wear out the punctuation on a keyboard. He was never one to sit still nor one to do things by the book, lest complacency or conformity stand in the way, Eric Brendlinger said.
“The town gave him his livelihood and an outlet for his creativity, and he was on the nascent side of that, and so the town literally grew up around him,” Eric said. “But with that, they didn’t just take. They all gave — that generation, the amount of volunteer hours that they put in to make that growing town a success and to provide an amazing life for the people that live there.”
After Jack and Marsha moved to Aspen in 1963, he became a hotelier in 1964 with the Applejack Inn on Main Street in Aspen and a fondue-flinging restaurateur in 1968 at The Tower in Snowmass Village, both of which he ran for nearly a decade with his wife, Marsha. He was Aspen Skiing Co.’s marketing director from 1976 to 1986, leading the team credited with the Snow Host idea that has since evolved into today’s ambassador program. He followed that with a 16-year stint as the president of New Visions, a distribution company for Freewheeling Films.
He also was a fervent volunteer and leader who sought to create opportunities for others to fall in love with the things he cared so deeply about: golf, skiing, the Aspen and Roaring Fork Valley community.
Brendlinger was a founding member of Aspen Junior Golf; the president of the Aspen Ski Club (now the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club) from 1969-1971, where he launched the Buster Brown racing series; a committed Rotarian who originated the idea for the Aspen Rotary Club’s Ducky Derby and the Carbondale Rotary Club’s Running of the Balls fundraisers.
He still found time — quite a bit of it during the off season — to join a group of ambitious rapscallions in the fine art of the practical joke, often leapfrogging the line of legality for the sake of a good prank. After years of regaling dinner guests and family members with the tales of his exploits, Brendlinger documented them in “Don’t Get Mad, Get Even: Aspen’s Practical Joke Years.”
Brendlinger also was a “stalwart friend and supporter of Aspen,” who with Marsha made anyone and everyone feel at home in the decades they played host at their house in West Buttermilk and later in life at their property in Carbondale, according to John Keleher, who has known Brendlinger since 1970.
“It was never necessary to ring the doorbell when visiting the Brendlingers — you were always welcome as a member of the family,” said Keleher, who followed the couple into Aspen’s Hall of Fame in 2012.
So much so, said Keleher’s wife Suzanne Caskey, that “if the kids weren’t home exactly when they should have been, we knew where they were. They were always at the Brendlingers.”
The Brendlingers’ warm embrace — and the “open heart open house way that they lived” — never faded, Caskey said. She and Keleher both felt it both with their respective young families in Aspen decades ago and as a couple who united late in life, Caskey said.
The Brendlingers had swashbuckling enthusiasm for life that manifested in their hospitality, talent, adventurous and energetic spirit and commitment to family and friendship, Keleher said.
Caskey remembered Brendlinger as a surprising, quippy comic as much as a notorious prankster, one who was synchronized in a kind of comedic rhythm with Marsha that made each the other’s foil and, at the same time, a perfect match.
“He and Marsha were always engaged in a perfect tango crossed with a samba, each being the straight man for the other’s jokes, but alternating roles so quickly that no one could see who was actually in the starring role,” Caskey said. “They were clearly made for one another.”
Jack Brendlinger’s generation defined and shaped the “Old Aspen” of the 1960s, 70s and 80s, a place that rose to international acclaim while fostering lifelong bonds among a community of movers and shakers who invested their lives in this place and its potential.
“I’m sure he had pangs of the old Aspen and when he started to lose his friends, the old Aspen friends,” Eric Brendlinger said.
Those memorials were “sad gatherings,” he acknowledged — his father’s, sure to be a “big one,” will be too — but they also were “a celebration of the opportunity that they had in that era and how amazing it was,” Eric said.
He added, “That’s what I think was in his mind, always, you know: ‘We actually had an effect on what this place has become.’”
Jack is survived by his wife, Marsha Ann Brendlinger; their four children and spouses: Kurt Brendlinger, Eric and Patty Brendlinger, Dina Farnell, and Kira and Tommy Kearsey; their six grandchildren: Remi Stern, Chloe Brendlinger, Camden and Macie Brendlinger, and Jack and Addie Kearsey, with one great grandchild on the way.
In lieu of flowers, the Brendlingers encourage donations to The Rotary Club of Carbondale, the Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club and Aspen Junior Golf. A celebration of life will be held on the family’s property in Carbondale this summer.
Mother Nature — and some unfortunate training injuries — completely changed the vibe around the women’s halfpipe skiing final on Saturday at X Games Aspen.