‘Centennial mom’ Kim Keilin leaves post after 36 years
Property manager since mid-80s, months after development was built, out after new ownership terminates position
Special to The Aspen Times
Understanding the extent of Kim Keilin’s significance at the helm of Aspen’s largest employee housing development is impossible given the countless roles she played and thousands of lives she impacted throughout her 36-year legacy.
Keilin’s last day as community manager of Centennial Aspen came last week after its new ownership quietly terminated the position in May.
The last time Keilin, 65, spent more than 10 days away from the property, she was 29 years old — a testament to her dedication to Centennial and the people who call it home.
“It’s been stressful and crazy and a ‘j-o-b,’ but it’s been a really fun and fulfilling ride,” Keilin said Wednesday, 36 years to the day that she joined Centennial as property manager on June 1, 1986, only months after the development was built.
The project was the vision of Sam Brown, a former state treasurer and part-time resident who recognized then that “if more employee housing wasn’t built, the town would not thrive,” Keilin explained. So Brown did just that, and in 1985, the 240-unit development opened its doors to Aspen’s workforce. Brown tapped Keilin, not yet 30, to oversee the development and its tenants.
For this and myriad other reasons, it’s difficult to imagine a Centennial without Keilin, residents expressed last week.
“Kim was the glue that held this all together,” said Pamela Herr, a Centennial resident since the mid-’90s. Herr emphasized the communal nature at Centennial and credited Keilin’s leadership for fostering such an environment. “She made sure everything ran smoothly, that nothing got out of control, that there were never any problems with crime or tenants or anything.”
Keilin and the two-person Centennial maintenance staff, Curt Larson and Jake Ryan, managed every facet of the 104,579-square-foot, deed-restricted property.
“Kim is what made our team,” said Ryan, who’s maintained the property under Keilin for a decade. “She’s been there for Curt and I through thick and thin.”
“Work and personal issues,” Larson chimed in. “She always went above and beyond her role. If anyone was ever injured or sick, Kim would offer to get their groceries or take out their trash — the little things.”
As a member of the framing crew that built Centennial, Larson has worked on-site and alongside Keilin ever since. Keilin created a family atmosphere — including her son, Miles, now 27, and late Tibetan terrier, Chewbacca — and served as the mother figure not only to her tenants, but to him and Ryan as well, Larson said.
Ryan echoed this sentiment and recalled Keilin dropping off days worth of meals and constantly checking on him after he suffered a head injury years ago.
“For me, one of the biggest losses is going to be having a mom-like figure. People love Kim — and they’re going to feel, I’m sure, a little lost without her,” Larson said. “She’s definitely made a lot of people’s lives easier.”
Many community members even attribute remaining in the valley to Keilin — not only as the gatekeeper to employee housing, but as someone who cared and advocated for local residents.
Keilin protected her people, said Sonny Lutgring, who lived at Centennial for 17 years.
“She was viciously loyal to locals, and she went to bat for us,” Lutgring said. “She was the person for that job. Kim is Centennial.”
Tim Bean, a past Centennial tenant of 13 years, said, “If not for Kim, I might not have stayed in Aspen.”
“It’s hard when you first come to town, especially when you’re young. But Kim made it so much easier,” said Bean, now an Aspen resident of 33 years, homeowner and established sommelier, formerly at Pinions and now at Casa D’Angelo. “I love this town, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else — but it’s not easy in the beginning.”
For Keilin, this has been one of the most rewarding aspects of her role: Watching young people move or return to Aspen, create a life for themselves and write their own success stories.
“Major life events happen to people here because they feel like they finally landed a spot to live long-term,” said Keilin, who’s even witnessed babies born at Centennial return to live as adults — like Pitkin County deputy Anthony Todaro.
Another highlight for Keilin has been getting to know such a diverse range of the local population, because Centennial is home to people from every slice of Aspen life.
“Nurses, teachers, tons of service workers, law enforcement, government workers, media, real estate agents, retail, lawyers, bankers — I can’t think of any industry that hasn’t been represented,” Keilin said.
Centennial is the lifeline of the town and the local economy, she said.
Naturally, overseeing nearly 400 local residents — many of whom account for Aspen’s younger generation — has also presented its share of entertaining, absurd and unfit-for-print anecdotes.
“We’ve always said that we should put up cameras and have a reality show or ‘Centennial the Movie’,” Keilin said. “The Kardashians have nothing on us.”
Whether telling a tenant to stop late-night mooning others in the parking lot, removing a bear locked inside a vehicle, requesting residents “tone down” the lovemaking, addressing an elaborate grow operation or unlocking a door for a naked tenant wearing only a welcome map covering his parts, Keilin assured, “You really can’t make this shit up.”
Despite “sitcom-level” behavior and questionable antics at times, Keilin is proud of the fact that in her 36 years, Centennial saw only two evictions.
“Overall, most people are really respectful and grateful for their housing,” she said.
Of course, there’s been heart-wrenching moments as well. During her time, Keilin estimated that nearly 60 people died at Centennial. Keilin is often the person who informs the coroner and interacts with police, as well as friends and family.
“That’s always the hard one,” Keilin said. “Being in such a small community, everybody knows everybody, so we’re all affected by someone’s death here.”
Another part of the job Keilin won’t miss is attempting to collect rent from financially strapped tenants.
“When you know someone is struggling and you have to ask for rent, it’s hard. It’s not a fun thing,” Keilin said. “We’ve all scrimped and saved and worked extra jobs to make our way here and stay in Aspen. And it’s paid off. People work hard and compromise to stay in Aspen.”
Considering the roles Keilin assumed outside property manager and landlord — mother, caretaker, mediator, therapist, landlord, financial counselor, among others — many residents have questioned what they will do in her absence.
“When I heard (Kim) was leaving, I was like, ‘What are we going to do without Kim? We call Kim for everything,'” Centennial resident Ashley Cook said. Cook recalled calling Keilin once because she thought there was a dead moose in her backyard, to which Keilin assured her, ‘Oh no, it’s just napping.”
“Kim took care of us when I had my baby, bringing us home-cooked meals,” said Cook, who moved into Centennial in 2009 with two random roommates and now resides with her husband, Cody, and their baby, Henry. “She’s a super-special person and I am just so sad she’s not going to be there.”
The future of Centennial’s leadership is unclear to many residents. A notice from owners Birge & Held, which bought the property from Brown in March 2020 for nearly $51 million, taped to the door of the leasing office on Thursday read: “We’re moving to a virtual leasing office.”
“We will still be available by phone and video conferencing when necessary,” the letter continued, noting that virtual hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday. The notice also said the property is “implementing a paperless process” and that residents are required to register to Birge & Held’s online portal.
Birge & Held is an Indianapolis-based private equity, real estate investment, construction and management firm that owns and manages 15,000 apartment units (and solely manages 22,000) across 13 states.
The company emailed Centennial residents Thursday afternoon with portal log-in instructions and an invitation to a “meet and greet” with the new regional manager and assistant property manager from 9-10 a.m. Tuesday. A location was not specified.
Like Centennial, Keilin’s next chapter also remains uncertain. She’s already received multiple job offers locally but looks forward to taking some time to herself before determining her next move. In her 36 years at Centennial, she typically only took a few days off at a time for vacation, and never more than a week — a function of both the workload to which she would return as well as the fact that there was no one to cover for her. When Keilin left town, the office was dark.
“I used to joke with Sam (Brown) that no one has ever come through this door and said, ‘I want your job,'” Keilin quipped.
From 4-6 p.m. Tuesday, Herr and other locals will host a farewell party in the yard outside the Centennial office to celebrate Keilin.
“I really felt valued by the tenants,” Keilin said. “It has been quite the journey.”
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