Brendlingers savor long love affair with Aspen
ASPEN – Jack and Marsha Brendlinger honeymooned in Aspen in March 1960. They paid $9 to stay three nights at the Aspen Court, which evolved into the Cortina Lodge and now serves as worker housing for the Hotel Jerome.
They overpaid, they said Friday while recalling the trip. It was such a bad experience that Jack wouldn’t even talk about it, and he is a self-professed “talker” and lover of a good yarn.
The bad honeymoon didn’t sour their enthusiasm for the blossoming ski town. They moved to Aspen three years later, built and ran a successful lodge and immersed themselves in civic and volunteer efforts too numerous to list.
“Other than our honeymoon, we’ve had a love affair with Aspen,” Jack said. “We were smitten with its beauty and we loved the spirit of its people – even the crazy ones.”
If they weren’t exactly flashy pillars of the community, the Brendlingers were part of its sturdy backbone. Jack started a developmental football league for boys before they got in high school and he founded a diving club for youth. As a marketing and public relations guy for the Aspen Skiing Corp. he thought of unique ways to get Aspen noticed, like a permanent spot on the USA Today weather map. He laid the groundwork for all the off-mountain activities needed to present Winternational and World Cup ski races. As a Rotarian, he dreamed up the idea of the Ducky Derby fundraiser 19 years ago.
Marsha was one of the remarkable women of her era who managed to juggle oversight of a lodge with raising a family. She sold tickets at Buttermilk and Tiehack for 24 years. She immersed herself in educational efforts – from teaching at the Wildwood School to assisting with the outdoor education program at the public schools to founding and teaching in various dance programs to serving for nine years on the Aspen School Board.
“When you’re in love with something like that,” Jack said of Aspen, “it’s a little easier to step up.”
They were über-volunteers for 40-plus years, and now they’re getting a bit of recognition for their efforts. They will be inducted into the Aspen Hall of Fame Saturday and honored at a dinner at the Hotel Jerome. The late Bob Lewis, a visionary in education and environmentalism, will also be inducted.
Marsha once served on the Hall of Fame board and helped determine who should be inducted. Knowing some of the big names honored and their accomplishments – like the Paepckes and the Benedicts – she cannot believe she and her husband are joining them.
“I still think we’re both in shock,” she said. “We’re very humbled. I’m not sure we feel we deserve to be in.”
The multitudes of folks they affected would beg to differ.
Jack’s connection to Aspen goes back to his childhood while he was growing up in Denver. His aunt and uncle brought him on a ski trip to Aspen during the winter of 1947-48, the second year of the resort.
“Even at that time, I fell in love with it,” he said. He returned numerous times over the years in ski racing competition.
After the Brendlingers were married in 1960, they worked in Denver, saved money and decided to act on their bug to operate a business in a ski resort. They were looking around for opportunities but Marsha asked Jack whom he thought he was fooling: She knew his heart was set on Aspen.
They moved into town in 1963 and, with the help of a young real estate agent named Peter Greene, bought a vacant lot on Main Street. They captured the attention of townsfolk by having pre-fab lodging units trucked in from Denver. Fifteen semis hauled in the sections of what became the Applejack Inn, complete with an indoor pool. They operated the lodge for 16 years. An affiliation with the Best Western chain helped them secure reservations and even steer business to other properties when the Applejack was full.
Marsha recalls making trips to the small grocery stores open at the time and hearing people whisper about her as a newcomer. Jack said they initially didn’t have a lot of friends in town – many business operators were a bit older than them and they were entrenched in their cliques.
That all changed soon enough. They got along with other lodge operators and they met a lot of families their age when the planning and early construction started at Snowmass Village. The Brendlingers liked the concept of the new resort so they invested in one of its first businesses, the Tower Fondue Restaurant in the Snowmass Mall’s signature structure.
The Brendlingers said they were spread too thin with two businesses and a young family, so after a year they sold their share in the restaurant, which eventually landed in the hands of John Denver and partners.
They sold the Applejack in 1975, but remember the 11 years in the lodging business with fondness. It coincides with the dramatic growth of the ski industry, locally and nationally. Roughly 75 percent of their guests would come at the same time and coordinate with other guests they met, they said. It often felt more like a family gathering at the lodge then strictly business. “There was no strata of age or economic status,” Jack said. You could just as easily be rubbing elbows with an unassuming heir of DuPont as a encyclopedia salesman from Des Moines.
The town residents were tight-knit, too. The biggest social scene was at the post office, they said. There was no delivery, so everybody converged at the post office at 10:15 a.m. when the mail was in. Everybody had time to visit, so everybody knew everything that everybody else was doing.
They sold the lodge in large part because help was so hard to find. “Ski bums weren’t necessarily concerned about clean rooms,” Jack said.
Marsha remembers the wives of the construction workers at Ruedi Reservoir being saviors for a spell in the 1960s. They needed to make some extra money and their were excellent maids. The only perk they wanted, she said, was the ability to watch their favorite soap opera during the day.
After selling the Applejack, Jack went to work with the Skico, then known as the Aspen Skiing Corp. and Marsha got heavily involved in education efforts. Jack’s first winter was the infamous drought winter of 1975-76. The slopes were bare at Christmas. Marsha said a bunch of friends got together on New Year’s Day and drove over Independence Pass to ice skate at Twin Lakes.
Jack never really encountered a public relations challenge to match that first winter. He said he thoroughly enjoyed the job. You can tell he’s got a natural talent for working with people and hobnobbing. He and the late Buddy Hackett, a comedian and part-time Aspenite, devised a plan for Buddy to promote Aspen during an appearance on the Johnny Carson Show. Hackett brought a cooler with Aspen on the side onto the set. He told Johnny he brought some Aspen snow for him and threw “snowballs” really made of Styrofoam.
Jack left the Skico after a decade then spent 16 years with Rodney Jacobs at Freewheelin’ Films and New Vision Syndication getting promotional films placed internationally. He later worked at Echo Radio Productions before retiring in 1999 to devote time to sculpture and other art.
Marsha said her interest in education led to her running for the school board. She was appointed to fill a remaining year of a term, then won election twice. She feels the boards she served on laid the foundation for the Aspen School District becoming exceptional in academics.
The Brendlingers moved downvalley eight years ago. Their house overlooks the Roaring Fork River and a vast, undeveloped river bottom. “Spectacular” only begins to describe the view of Mt. Sopris from their living room.
They still feel connected to Aspen. The valley is a lot closer these days, they said, and Carbondale provides a lot of the feel of Aspen from their early years in town.
Reflecting on their experiences Friday, they said it’s not the community activities they engaged in that stick with them. It is who they worked with in community endeavors that creates the special memories.
“Everybody was willing to help everybody,” Marsha said. “The spirit and soul of Aspen has been an incredible thing you don’t lose.”
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The city of Aspen and Pitkin County are partnering to buy a 274-acre tract of land off McLain Flats for $10 million on property owned by longtime residents Carolyn and Tom Moore.