Chairlift chats about how many years someone had lived in Aspen always stopped short when I announced that I am a native. Eyes widened in wonder that someone was born in Aspen. As I skied down the ramp at the end of the lift, I would add, just for fun, “And my mother was born in Aspen, too.”
No one has ever counted the number of Aspen births, but they must number in the thousands. The count of natives currently residing within city limits would add up to a minuscule sum. Aspen transience is not a new phenomenon. The Diaspora of native sons and daughters is no different than that of casual, short-time residents.
My native status remained a longtime source of sibling rivalry with Jeanne, my sister. Childhood friends recount similar family feuds with older siblings. My sister, a self-described Coloradophile, continually choked over admitting, ” I was born in Glenwood.”
For a stretch of time in the 1940s, Aspen’s hospital closed. Complicating matters, mothers-to-be did not trust Aspen’s aging doctor. High-altitude births encountered enough complications without including a delivery doctor who trained before medical schools became widespread. Aspen went four months without any doctor.
Glenwood was the closest birthing location to Aspen. Some families took up residence in Denver for the final weeks of pregnancy or traveled to the distant towns of their parents.
Plans to reopen Citizens Hospital, Aspen’s pride of the 1890s overlain with a half-century of wear, began in fall 1946. The rapidly approaching grand opening of Aspen Ski Corporation’s lifts tipped the balance of need. As Aspen cleaned up and remodeled, opening a hospital to prepare for broken limbs made sense. After consulting with the Colorado Department of Health, the county commissioners took over the hospital and appointed a hospital board. Frank Willoughby, my uncle, and a commissioner at the time, agreed to serve as president to get things started. After Irene Janceski was hired as hospital manager, Curtis Slavens was elected president of the board.
Elevating interest in a licensed hospital, Blue Cross entered the scene and began signing up businesses. To win over Aspen citizens to the new idea of medical insurance, Blue Cross announced that, “Blue Cross Hospital Service is not socialized hospitalization in any sense.” The rate for member family coverage ran $2.90 per month. Blue Cross paid $6 per day to the hospital for a patient’s care and they did not accept members over age 65. Once you were a member, you could remain a member even if your employment changed.
Remodeling of the hospital began in October with new wiring, plumbing, and heating plus roof repair. The total remodeling cost of $18,000 was way over budget, but much of the expense was covered through local donations of cash and in-kind services. Equipment and supplies that had been left in the old hospital after the death of longtime local physician “Doc” Twining were purchased from his estate. An X-ray machine topped the list of new equipment to be ordered. The 15-bed hospital opened in April 1947, charging $6 for a semi-private room or $5 for ward care. Most important to Aspen natives of my generation, the new hospital featured a delivery room and a nursery.
While the hospital took shape, Aspen recruited a young physician, Dr. Robert Lewis, who had been practicing in Denver. Lewis remodeled a house across the street from the Red Brick School as both home and office. He opened the doors to patients in November 1946. Mrs. Lewis, a registered nurse and trained laboratory technician, completed their offering of one-stop medical care.
Ten baby-boomers were born in the year following the coming of a new doctor and the opening of a revived local hospital. Once again, Aspen awarded native boasting rights to babies.
Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while a teacher for Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For a stretch of time in the 1940s, Aspen’s hospital closed. Complicating matters, mothers-to-be did not trust Aspen’s aging doctor.
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