Call him Mr. Basalt
Leroy Duroux seems like an unlikely candidate to be the guy that many people consider “Mr. Basalt.”
His barrel chest, big arms and plain looks tie him more closely to Basalt’s bygone ranching era rather than the modern Yuppified-times. Even though he presides over countless meetings and public events as the town’s mayor, he is the first to admit he is ill at ease speaking in front of people. And Duroux is often at odds with the slow-growth and no-growth positions that have dominated town politics for the last six years. (Duroux has been at the center of the town’s politics this entire time, as mayor since 2004 and on the Town Council since 1994.)
All that aside, Duroux personifies the old-fashioned, small-town character that seems to be in short supply in the fast-changing towns of the Roaring Fork Valley. He attends nearly every sporting event of the boys and girls teams at Basalt High School although his two kids are long gone. He’s been known to cook lunch for the Eagle County seniors at their weekly gatherings and he sometimes help serves food at St. Vincent Catholic Church’s St. Patrick’s Day Dinner even though he is Methodist. Duroux is the kind of person a neighbor once called when he needed a crew to act quickly to fill and place sandbags to control the rising flood waters of the Roaring Fork River.
“Leroy is authentic Roaring Fork Valley,” said Rev. Marie Gasau of the Basalt Community United Methodist Church, which Duroux attends. “He’s what we back home would call ‘salt of the earth,'” added Gasau, a native of Kansas.
Duroux isn’t the type to make a big deal about his civic involvement. When asked about it recently, Duroux shrugged and said it’s just a trait that carried over from when he was growing up.
“Growing up I learned in order to be successful, you have to help people and they’ll help you in return,” he said. “I tried to live my life like my grandparents and parents did before me. I think it’s worked out.”
Duroux came from a ranching family that once owned what became some of the most lucrative development property in the Aspen area. Like so many old ranching families, the Durouxes sold before prices hit the stratosphere.
His grandparents, Albert and Nora Duroux, immigrated to the U.S. early in the 20th century from the Aosta Valley, the same part of northern Italy that so many of the valley’s ranching families, such as the Cerises and Glassiers, called home.
His grandparents moved to Aspen from Leadville in 1914 and established ranches and farms on land that years later became the exclusive Pitkin Green subdivision and the Aspen public schools campus. After moving to the U.S., the family name got altered a bit. In the old country, their last name was pronounced as Dew-Row. In the U.S., people called his grandfather Dew-Rox. The family didn’t bother changing the pronunciation, so it stuck.
His grandparents were extremely proud of living in the U.S. and grateful for the opportunities it presented them. The proudest day of his grandfather’s life is when he became a U.S. citizen, Leroy said. They learned English from their children and made that their primary language rather than Italian.
“My grandparents never taught us the language. They said ‘You guys are American. You don’t need this stuff,'” Duroux recalled.
His grandfather sold his Aspen-area properties and acquired land close to Woody Creek that eventually became part of the W/J Ranch. Leroy, 58, spent his early years at the family farm and ranch, but he was too young to really help out before his grandfather sold out in 1959. He sold more than 200 acres to Wilton Jaffee Sr. for $60,000. “He thought he made a killing for it,” Duroux said with a chuckle.
Leroy moved with his parents, Rene and Almeda, to Grand Junction, but they returned to the Roaring Fork Valley a little more than two years later. Leroy moved to Basalt in 1963 when he was a freshman in high school. His family farmed ground off of Willits Lane, growing potatoes, grain and hay and raising cows and sheep. The only homes in the area, he recalled, were farms and ranches, mostly on the small side. His parents’ house was where the Willits Bend project, with its bright yellow building, is now being erected.
“You ate what you grew,” Duroux said. “You went to the grocery store once per month.”
Willits Lane was a narrow, windy little dirt road. Leroy attended high school in Basalt, with a class of 15. The place to hang was a drugstore with a soda fountain.
“Main Street was dirt, with boardwalks in front of stores,” Duroux said.
The area experienced an influx of people when the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation decided to build Ruedi reservoir and dam. And then City Market built a supermarket in the late 1960s (when Clark’s Market is now located).
“That was the biggest thing that ever happened to Basalt,” Duroux said.
Duroux worked on his family’s land and baled hay for neighbors for $1.50 per hour and lunch. People didn’t have to find time back then to volunteer for civic duties, it was simply what they did.
“The church and the school ” everything revolved around them,” Duroux said.
After graduating from high school in 1967, Duroux attended Western State College in Gunnison and earned a bachelor’s degree in industrial arts with a minor in education. His intent was to become a schoolteacher, but massive layoffs in U.S. industry flooded the education field with prospects who had more experience.
Duroux moved back to the Roaring Fork Valley and got into construction, first as a heavy equipment operator with Stutsman-Gerbaz, then in the building trades. He built houses for the next 25 years, mainly upvalley. He is now in business for himself as a cabinetmaker.
Duroux married Janice Diemoz, a girl who grew up about a mile away, in 1972. They built a house in 1974, where their two children were raised; they still live there today. At around the same time Leroy and Janice were starting a family, Leroy’s father sold parcels, a few at a time, that became the Basalt Industrial Park and Basalt Design Center. At one point, the family also owned the land that became the high-end River Oaks subdivision, along the Roaring Fork River.
From the time Duroux was in high school, he saw his neighborhood transform from small ranches and farms in the mid-60s to one now blanketed with light industry, businesses, and homes that top $1 million. Barely more than a one-horse town, Basalt became an upscale bedroom community of Aspen. So, when people talk about the drastic changes in more recent years, Duroux brings a different perspective.
“People just don’t realize how much of a better place it is to live now,” he said.
While their kids were growing, Duroux lamented that he was working so hard that he couldn’t always attend his daughter Amy’s basketball and volleyball games and other school activities. He left the commuter rat race and worked more in the midvalley when his son Darren was in high school and participating in football, basketball, baseball and track.
“In Darren’s four years, we might have missed two games,” Leroy said.
Darren graduated from Basalt High two years ago and now attends Colorado State University, but the Durouxes remain among the biggest Basalt Longhorn boosters. Leroy said people ask him why they keep going to high school sporting events.
“I say it’s the best entertainment anywhere,” he said. “I’ve always felt the youth really need to be supported by the adults.”
Duroux is legendary for his support of school activities. “The kids all know him and it’s not just sports,” said Basalt High School Principal Jim Waddick, who is retiring from the position this spring after eight years. “Whatever you need him for, he’s here.”
(A referee did toss Duroux out a basketball game in Basalt for allegedly riding the officials too hard during the 2006-07 season. Duroux considers it one of the most embarrassing moments of his life and he swears to this day he did nothing to warrant being thrown out.)
Duroux donated his carpentry skills to finish a concession stand when Basalt citizens rallied to build sports facilities at the high school. He also helps create sets for the school musicals and assists on projects in wood class. The middle and elementary schools have also recruited Leroy as a judge for science fairs. The town government has evolved into a huge supporter of the school system, in part due to Leroy’s efforts, Waddick said.
Duroux’s civic involvement extends beyond the schools, however. He has served on the board of directors of the Basalt Fire District and the Mid Valley Metro District, which provides water and sewer service.
“It’s giving back to the community in the way I know how,” he said.
His personal commitment to Basalt seems to transcend philosophy when it comes to politics. He has continued to win election to public office at a time when the board members surrounding him ” and, theoretically, the town’s voters ” have toughened their stance on growth control.
Duroux was appointed to the Town Council in 1994, when Basalt annexed his neighborhood as part of the effort to include the City Market complex in the town boundary. He easily won election bids as a councilman in 1996 and 2000. He ran for mayor in 2004 when term limits forced him out of a council seat. He defeated Anne Freedman, who was close to a no-growth advocate.
Although three slow-growth candidates were swept into office in 2006, reflecting the community mood, Duroux ran unopposed in 2008. Again, three-slow growth candidates won election in 2008. He now appears to be a minority of one of the council.
One of Duroux’s primary critics is Jim Paussa, a Basalt civic activist, but even he acknowledged Duroux’s value as a member of the community.
“If I say I don’t like Leroy’s politics most people will think I said I don’t like Leroy the person,” Paussa said in an e-mail interview. “I have no problem separating the two. I can give you 10 minutes on why Leroy is a good man. But I don’t agree with his politics.”
Paussa contended that the town’s history of engaging citizens in town issues lost momentum during Duroux’s watch. He blames a “top-down” and outdated style of governing by Duroux.
“Every beautiful place has intense pressures from outside interests and the old ways don’t work anymore,” Paussa said. “I respect that Leroy thinks building more stuff is good, but we simply can’t build our way to small town character.”
Duroux views the drop-off in citizen involvement differently. He believes the pool of people willing to chip in and help at community events is dwindling as old-timers move away and newcomers replace them. People seem less generous with their time, he observed.
Since he ran unopposed in the April election, Duroux spent his campaign energy on urging Basalt residents to get engaged by contributing at least one hour per week to the civic cause of their choice.
“Small town character is exactly that ” it’s not how big the town is, it’s how involved they are with the community,” Duroux said. “People make the community what it is.”
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State department of transportation crews are well on their way to clearing Highway 82 to Independence Pass, which should open on schedule May 27 at noon.