Bentley answers call of the mountains
David Bentley has left the building.Friday was Bentley’s last day at The Aspen Times, ending a long tour of duty as the building’s janitor. His time at the paper began when he started in the paste-up department in 1972 and later became editor of Climbing magazine.That was back when “the inmates were running the asylum,” as he put it in a recent e-mail exchange with another longtime employee at the paper, cartoonist Chris Cassatt. Bentley is capable of regaling anyone who will listen with stories about the wild times he lived through.He is leaving, he said in an interview this week, not because of any disenchantment with his job at the Times, but to give himself more time to indulge in his lifetime passions of climbing, hiking, reading and, perhaps, writing.”I’ve been very happy there,” he said with emphasis. “But I think this might be my last year when I’m capable of doing what I like, and I couldn’t do it with that job. I need the summer off.” He will continue to live in the small cabin he has occupied for decades, thanks to his friendship with the local family that owns the property.”I’m in that cabin for life,” he said. He expects to look for other work in town after the summer ends.Bentley has had other jobs around town, including janitorial duties for other businesses, but his chief employment for 34 years has been taking care of the historic old building that houses the town’s oldest continuously operating business.
At a party being planned in his honor, other longtime employees are expected to display such historical memorabilia as copies of the old Aspen Flyer magazine put out by then-photographer Cassatt, camera operator and designer Beige Jones, former editor Andy Stone and others; and to relate stories of how things were back in those days.Originally from Minnesota, Bentley, 64, has been technically deaf since he was 6 years old (his mother also was legally deaf) but he could still hear well enough to learn to read lips and he defiantly refused to learn to sign despite his mother’s efforts to teach it to him.He attended the University of Minnesota until 1962, when he dropped out and headed west to take a job on a road building crew at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming – a job he says he got thanks to a recommendation from Sen. Eugene McCarthy, who was a neighbor to Bentley’s “shrink.”While working there, he said, he saw President John F. Kennedy in the fall of 1963, shortly before Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.His roommate at the park, whom he described as “an alcoholic who flunked out of CSU,” decided it was time to hit the road and suggested the two of them head for Aspen, where “it’s easy to get a job.” Landing in Aspen in late 1963, he worked a number of jobs in the local hospitality industry during the next year and a half. He then left town for school, graduated from the University of Colorado in 1968, and spent a couple of years in New York City, where he met, married and divorced his first wife.Returning to Aspen in 1971, he decided this was home and has been here since. In 1972, after working for a short stint at the Times, he was scheduled for open heart surgery at the CU Medical Center in Boulder to correct a long-standing medical problem in his heart. Sitting at the Main Street Bakery this week, he expressed his continuing gratitude to then-Publisher Bil Dunaway for promising to give him a job after the surgery.Bentley, whose hearing difficulties increased over the years, is known by many around Aspen as “Deaf David.” His local notoriety, however, is not due to his inability to hear (and resultant speaking difficulties) but to the surprising breadth of activities he undertakes, pursuits that have brought him into contact with a broad swath of locals.
Chief among these are his love of climbing and hiking all around the area’s mountains and peaks, and his eagerness to take others with him on these sometimes arduous adventures into the high country.”I’ve taken lots of people up,” he said with a grin that grew to a laugh as he added with calculated understatement, “A number of decently fit people have found my hikes to be physically challenging.”His climbing parties have included politicians, musicians, artists and journalists, and a wide range of other people. One such climb up 14,000-foot Pyramid Peak has achieved legendary status as the “Labor Day Epic of 1987.” On that climb, the group included Mayor Bill Stirling, photographers Nick DeVore and David Hiser, this reporter and other longtime locals. A sudden blizzard blew in just as the group neared the peak and gave the rocks a treacherous sheen of wet snow. The group bagged the peak, but the unexpectedly hazardous climb down required the use of ropes that Bentley had wisely included in the list of necessary equipment, and to this day those who were on that climb recall it with a mix of pride and awe.Bentley also is an avid reader, retaining what he learns from books to a remarkable degree, and often passing along copies of articles to friends he thinks will be interested; he volunteers as an usher at the Wheeler Opera House, often hurrying home from his cleaning duties to change into his “ushering clothes” in time for the 9:15 start of the ushers’ work; he worked for several years at Explore Booksellers store on Main Street, which blended well with his love of books.No story about Bentley would be complete without reference to his reputation as a man who loves women, leading to romantic entanglements ranging from girlfriends among the music students and teachers at the Aspen Music School to being married three times, including once to the former Miss Zagreb of Croatia and, from 1989 to 1995, to another longtime local, Elisa Julien.”I’ve had my share of girlfriends,” he said with some pride.Bentley is a regular at the Aspen Music Festival concerts in the summer, where he uses knowledge of music theory and his understanding of the mechanics of playing the instruments gained from his wide reading regimen to discern a feeling for what is being played.
“I know classical music,” he said, but I don’t know what it sounds like.”He said he particularly likes to observe singers at work, which he termed “the highest form of lip reading,” explaining that he uses his knowledge to create his own mental representation of what is being performed.”To a certain extent, I know what I can’t hear,” he said.In a blizzard of e-mails he has been exchanging with Cassatt and other Times staffers, Bentley has laid out a tour of the building, pointing out how it has evolved to accommodate different uses of different spots over the years, including the former site of an old printing press and a linotype machine.And he is hoping to hear from others who were there back in the “pre-digital days” when Dunaway ran the show, backed by a scruffy, dedicated and occasionally demented crew of news junkies and graphics maniacs.John Colson’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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Aspen teachers and school officials have come to an agreement regarding reopening in-person education Monday.