Community grieves the loss of Lonnie Bones, the Basalt barber and master storyteller
You’ve gotta think that Lonnie Bones is looking down from somewhere above and smiling at all the stories being swapped about him.
Bones — a well-known and well-liked community member — died Nov. 6 from complications from COVID-19. He was the owner and operator of the Basalt Barber Shop, a tiny building on the east end of Midland Avenue that plays a huge role as a community hub. He created an atmosphere where the conversation was as vital as the haircut.
“He just really enjoyed conversing with people,” said Chad Bones, Lonnie’s son and partner at the Basalt Barber Shop since 1995. “That was a huge part of his life, walking in that 250-square-foot space. He loved to talk and tell stories, and that was his stage, so to speak.”
Lonnie’s daughter Yalonda said her dad was one of those people naturally talented at putting friends as well as strangers at ease and getting them to talk.
“I liked to say that 90% of his stories had 10% truth, but they were 90% more exciting,” Yalonda said with a laugh.
“I will say my dad was a character, a good character,” she added. And he valued other people of character, she said.
Bones, 72, grew up in Ottawa, Kansas, in a family that had barbering in their blood. Both his dad and his grandpa were barbers and they worked together for about eight years in Ottawa. Lonnie told The Aspen Times in a story about his shop’s 25th anniversary in 2017 that he tried other lines of work but kept returning to barbering. He spent roughly 54 years in the trade.
When asked what kept him interested in operating a barbershop, Bones said in the 2017 article it was the people he met.
“It’s the stories, man,” Bones said. “People have good stories. It’s so fun to listen to — what people come up with, where they’ve been and what they do.”
People haven’t stopped swapping stories even with Lonnie’s passing. Dozens of notes of condolences and memories have been taped to the outside wall of the Basalt Barber Shop after Yo started a memorial Thursday.
“It’s hard not to weep over what people had to say,” Yalonda said. “Dad was like the mayor of Basalt, in a way.”
Many customers have been going to Basalt Barber Shop since it opened in April 1992. Tom Clark has been a regular customer all 29 years and took his sons there. Lonnie was the only person who would cut the hair of Tom’s son David, now 32 years of age. David had a case of the fidgets as a youth.
“You had to hold his arms down and keep him in the chair,” Tom recalled. Lonnie just smiled and kept David occupied. When David played offensive lineman on Colorado University’s football team, Lonnie hung a picture of David in the shop.
There are all sorts of quirky memorabilia in the shop, including the stuffed bass that Lonnie would tell people came from the Fryingpan River, with a sly grin and sparkle in his eyes.
In pre-COVID days there would often be four or five people waiting in the spare chairs while two people were getting their haircuts from Lonnie and Chad. Engaging in conversation while waiting your turn was half the fun of going to the barbershop.
“You didn’t mind waiting,” Clark said. “There was always interesting conversation.”
While many people typically get a haircut every six weeks or so, some regular customers were on a more frequent rotation.
“There were a lot of guys that went in there even though they didn’t need a haircut,” Yalonda said.
Bob Guion, another customer since the shop’s opening, said there was always lively discussion and freedom to express views without the risk of triggering trouble.
“You could go in the barbershop and just have a discussion,” Guion said. “It’s the one place you could express your opinions and not worry about a fight.”
Guion said Lonnie’s ability to engage people in conversation went beyond yucking it up with people. When Bob’s son Colter Guion recently returned to the Roaring Fork Valley on three weeks’ leave after serving in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan, he stopped in for a haircut from Lonnie and ended up in a conversation that lasted nearly an hour. Bob believes the talk helped Colter process his experiences in the war.
Chad and Lonnie had a special bond from working side by side for so many years. Chad said his dad was a “really an outside-the-box, adventurous kind of guy. He was always on an adventure. He never sat still.”
Lonnie loved flying and spent a period ferrying small aircraft from location to location. He was an avid barefoot water skier and loved to hit the water at Ruedi Reservoir and Kodiak Lake in the midvalley, where he was a member. He was in the National Guard as a youth and earned several accommodations for marksmanship.
It was the sense of adventure that brought him to Aspen in the 1970s. Lonnie’s brother Larry was living in Aspen and told him about the wonderful place. Lonnie moved his young family out in an old pick-up truck with sideboards, with their belongings piled high Beverly Hillbillies style. The Bones bothers started a record store in Aspen that met a quick demise when their inventory was ripped off. The family split time between Kansas and Aspen until Lonnie moved permanently to the Roaring Fork Valley in the early 1990s.
Yalonda said her dad was attracted to the valley for the mountains, the water and the ability to connect to the Earth. She remembers him talking her on hikes into Hunter Creek Valley when she was a young girl.
“He found contentment in simple things,” Yo said.
Lonnie was thrilled when he recently acquired 11 acres of vacant land along the Colorado River near Silt.
“He said, ‘I finally have my little piece of the river,’” Yalonda said.
His dreams were cut short when he contracted COVID. Yalonda said her dad had decided not to get vaccinated. He developed pneumonia and died at Valley View Hospital.
In their last conversation, Yolanda said she raised the topic of the COVID vaccination. “I said, ‘Dad, would you get the vaccination now after all of this?’ He said, ‘Yes, I wish that I would have.’”
His survivors include son Jesse as well as Yalonda and Chad. He was currently married to Roxanna Bones.
A remembrance of his life is being planned for next spring or summer, after the threat of the pandemic has hopefully eased. Meanwhile, Chad will reopen Basalt Barber Shop next week.
“I don’t know what it’s going to feel like walking through that door,” he said.
Lonnie’s longtime friend Palmer Hood said Lonnie was always optimistic that “everything was going to be alright.” That’s the way Hood is looking at it despite Lonnie’s departure.
Hood said he and Bones were “astro twins,” people with a close connection despite being born in different times and difference places.
“Lonnie and I had a lot of ideas in common about what we’d like to do if we didn’t have the jobs we have,” Hood said. “We agreed we’d like to be sailing across the Pacific to the South Pacific. Maybe he went ahead and got that sailboat.”
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