Aspen’s tenured City Clerk Kathryn Koch dies
Always with a smile and positive outlook, Koch served the community and endeared her friends and family for decades
Longtime Aspen resident and former city clerk Kathryn Koch died on Friday peacefully at home with hospice care. She was 74.
Koch served as Aspen’s city clerk from 1974 until she retired in 2014. She also volunteered her time for decades in the community, whether it was sitting on the board that issues grants to nonprofits and arts culture organizations, or supporting Aspen Music Festival, helping with costumes for Aspen Community Theater, or serving as an election judge after retirement.
And when she was not volunteering, Koch was an avid traveler, reader, knitter, sewer, moviegoer and active grandmother to her three grandchildren.
Koch’s only daughter, Megan Twitchell, said on Monday her mother died of a “broken heart.”
Koch’s husband of 42 years, John, died in June at their home in the East End after a short illness.
“It was a big loss to her,” Twitchell said.
But she stayed busy even though COVID-19 restrictions halted some plans, like her monthlong trip through the Suez Canal that was supposed to happen in November, according to her travel partner Wanda Krajicek.
As the city clerk of Fort Collins, Krajicek met Koch 30 years ago at a clerk’s conference and they began traveling together around the United States, and then internationally starting in 2000.
She estimated they traveled to 60 countries together.
“She was up for almost everything,” Krajicek said, including when the two would go to “home hosted dinners” where a local family would host tourists for an authentic experience. “She was always the first in line to put on one of the local costumes and start dancing.”
At home in Aspen, Koch kept her passion for life going with other activities.
“She always had like eight books going, was doing her book clubs by Zoom, was going to yoga and was knitting,” Twitchell said.
Koch came to town in 1969 from Palo Alto, California, with her then-husband, David Hauter, and Megan, who was an infant.
The marriage didn’t last long, and Koch found herself as a single mother for a decade.
“It was me and her against the world,” Twitchell said. “She was amazing, always understanding and was so supportive.”
She joked that she now wishes she had kept all of the Halloween costumes Koch made for her when she was a kid, because at the time she didn’t appreciate them.
“I always wanted a store-bought Halloween costume,” Twitchell said, adding her mom was a master knitter. “She knitted after dinner watching TV, it was amazing how much she could knit in two hours.”
Always upbeat with her bubbly personality and positive outlook, Koch and John were also pranksters, said her close friend Pam Cunningham.
“She was such a unique person and she had such a sense of humor,” she said, noting the time Kathryn and John gave her an ant colony in an X Games style container because as the then-manager of the Aspen Alps, Cunningham hosted the event’s producers. “Then they put up ‘Lost Ant’ posters in the neighborhood.”
Koch dressed frequently in bright colors, usually sweaters that she had knitted, and wore specific outfits for occasions and holidays, and always donned patriotic earrings for Election Day.
“She had an earring for every occasion,” said Linda Manning, who became city clerk after Koch retired and had worked with her for just a year. “She was great and it was such a good environment. People would come in just to talk with Kathryn.”
City Attorney Jim True said he first encountered Koch when he was a young attorney and she asked him to serve on the city’s election commission in 1980.
They became close colleagues when instant runoff voting was implemented shortly after he rejoined the city in the attorney’s office in 2007.
“We put together the system, the rules and the manual,” True said Monday. “It was the Kathryn and Jim show promoting the system.”
After a lot of controversy in the 2009 election with the use of instant runoff voting, Koch’s office became the target of challenges and lawsuits by critics of the system.
Voters in 2010 rejected instant runoff voting, which ranks candidates in order of preference, and went back to traditional election methods according to the city’s home rule charter.
True said he and Koch became friends then, recognizing they had the same interests in movies and traveling.
He received an email from her Dec. 1 asking what the rule was on how long political signs could stay up, and signed it “former cohort and taxpayer.”
Mayor Torre said Koch was of great help to him when he first got elected to council in 2003.
“Kathryn was a guide for me in the political process and she helped me understand how to be more effective in office,” he said Monday. “She was as helpful as possible, and she extended herself to make other people’s jobs easier with grace and kindness.”
She was a walking history book on election outcomes, ordinances and anything city-related when it came to the second floor of City Hall.
Current City Clerk Nicole Henning said she had planned to reach out to Koch soon in anticipation of the upcoming municipal election in March. She said Koch helped her run the 2019 election.
“She was super sweet,” Henning said. “She was so encouraging.”
As Twitchell pointed out, Koch never let it be known what she was thinking politically, and was the ultimate professional in her role as city clerk.
In 2016, Koch received the Molly Campbell Service Award in recognition for her for her passion, dedication and leadership to the Aspen community.
Koch was on her way to Boulder when she and her family came through Aspen, which became a permanent stop.
Aspen didn’t immediately grow on Koch, but after she took a job as a secretary for the police department in 1971, she understood what the town was about.
“She got the job with the city and then she fell in love with Aspen,” Twitchell said.
Cunningham said Koch and John were the epitome of Aspen.
“They represented the best of Aspen,” she said. “They were such a couple, they just fed off of each other’s company.”
And the same could be said for anyone who knew Koch.
“She made everyone feel like they were her best friend,” said Cunningham, who worked with her as an election judge in the 2016 election. “She was a remarkable person.”
Twitchell said it would’ve been her mom’s 75th birthday on Jan. 5, and she was preparing for the upcoming holiday prior to her falling ill.
“She had six books open and was wrapping Christmas presents,” she said.
Koch was a two-time cancer survivor and always had a smile on her face.
“She was a tough cookie,” Krajicek said. “I am going to miss her dearly.”
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