Aspen loses a true old-timer |

Aspen loses a true old-timer

Janet Urquhart
Louis Zupancis, who watched Aspen evolve from a faltering mining town to a glittering ski resort, died Dec. 12 in Carbondale. Aspen Times file photo.

Aspen lost one of its true old-timers Sunday with the death of Louis Zupancis at Heritage Park Care Center in Carbondale. He was 87 years old.Zupancis witnessed more than eight decades of change in the town his family has called home since the 19th century. He watched Aspen evolve from a faltering mining town to near-ghost town, and from early ski mecca to glitzy resort.An avid outdoorsman, he also ran the old Mesa Store on Main Street from 1937-51 and was superintendent of the Aspen Sanitation District from 1969 to 1982. But for a stint in the Army during World War II and a few years of construction work in Denver and elsewhere in the 1950s, Zupancis spent most of his life in Aspen.He was the grandson of an Aspen silver miner and remembered accompanying his cousin up Aspen Mountain to deliver lunch to his grandfather, John Zupancis, and his Uncle Pete.”We watched as holes for dynamite were drilled by hand – John holding the drill and Pete hitting the drill with a jackhammer,” Louis once recalled.

Louis was born Dec. 16, 1916, in the copper mining town of Bisbee, Ariz. His father died shortly thereafter and his mother, Mary, returned home to Aspen with her 4-month-old son.Zupancis came of age during Aspen’s legendary “Quiet Years” – after silver went bust but before skiing took hold – an era marked by a dwindling population, rundown buildings and economic hard times. But for a young outdoorsman with a love of sport and of the backcountry, Aspen offered plenty in the way of amusement.Zupancis skied on the first slopes to be cleared on Aspen Mountain, was an avid fly fisherman, a skilled archer and a motorcycling enthusiast who explored the old mining roads surrounding town before “motocross” was part of anyone’s lexicon.”I never could catch up to my dad in any sport until he was at least 65 years old,” son Robert Zupancis once told The Aspen Times.The elder Zupancis graduated with the 17-member class of 1934 at Pitkin County High School, located in the elegant, brick D.R.C. Brown mansion that once graced the corner of First and Hallam. Zupancis worked for his uncle Julius at the Mesa Store, a historic building that still stands at the corner of Fourth and Main. He later took over its operation, after graduating from the University of Colorado with a degree in business in 1938.

The store was a typical small grocery store of its era.”We sold groceries – flour, sugar, basic things like that,” Zupancis said in a 2002 interview. “We dealt with the ranchers around here. They raised potatoes and we’d buy potatoes from the ranchers.”Area ranchers would also bring in beef to the store and barter it for staples.”Most of the time, yeah, I think they brought in the whole cow and we had to cut it up,” Zupancis said. “We paid for some of it and then people needed groceries. That’s how we paid it off is with a grocery deal.”Ice to store the meat was cut at Hallam Lake.

Grocery deliveries were made via a horse-drawn wagon or sled; a barn was built behind the store to keep the horse, named Decker, he recalled.Until the city purchased the property in 2002, Zupancis resided in the small, yellow house at 540 E. Main St. The house, and several historic buildings behind it, were the last remnants of the property his grandfather John had purchased in the spring of 1898.In 1941, Zupancis married Amelia Cerise, whose family ranched in Little Woody Creek.He is survived by son Robert and his wife, Silvia Davis, of Aspen; granddaughters Tracy and Rye Zupancis; and brother Bernie Popish of Carbondale.A funeral Mass is planned Monday, Dec. 20, at 10 a.m. at St. Mary Church, with burial services at Red Butte Cemetery and lunch at the church.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is