Darling, chef and wine connoisseur, dies | AspenTimes.com
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Darling, chef and wine connoisseur, dies

Aspen Times Staff
Nel Darling was at home in the mountains. She died Sept. 21 in San Antonio, Texas.
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Nel Darling died on Sept. 21 in San Antonio, Texas. She was born Nov. 15, 1930, in Meeker, the daughter of Herbert Edgar Bills and Essie McClanahan Bills. She lived in the Roaring Fork Valley for most of her life.A connoisseur of fine wine, she worked for several years at Louie’s Spirit House and later at Grape and Grain in Aspen. She married her husband, Ray Darling, on Sept. 25, 1969.Ray was a chef in various fine restaurants throughout his career, including Krabloonik, where, with Nel as hostess, they provided exquisite dining for discriminating palates. An avid mountain hiker, she gathered exotic mushrooms for the restaurants, as well as for their own personal use.

The mountains of Colorado were home to Nel, and hiking became an avocation. Every summer through age 70, she hiked to Crested Butte and back with friends. It was an annual trip she looked forward to and for which she trained to be in shape.She was an accomplished mountain photographer, and her work is known not only to friends and family, but has been exhibited in Texas galleries. She was also a lapidarist who created fine jewelry, an artisan seamstress fashioning eclectic clothing designs, and, along with Ray, a gourmet cook.Nel was lavish with her love of friends and family, whom she cherished. Though she had no children of her own, she was second mother to her best friend Juanita Larson’s children and was known to pin on the corsages at prom time with orchids from her greenhouse.

She had a host of friends, and was known to adopt many stray “children” and teach them about mushrooming, fine wine and the joy of being out in the wilderness.The close-knit nature of the family was “orchestrated” to a large degree by Nel’s sister, Pat Everly, recently deceased, of McAllen, Texas. Pat had been a teacher and kept the phone lines busy, keeping the family in touch with each other.Nel is survived by husband Ray, his son, Earl and wife Debbie, and her beloved dog, Piper. Other surviving family members, all cousins, are children of the brothers and sister of Nel’s mother, Essie McClanahan Bills. Her oldest cousin, Ruth, deceased, had two sons, Ted and Bruce Schmalz from Georgetown and Central City. Also surviving is Sibyl McClanahan Baker of Montrose; Ellie McClanahan, widow of Dean; and Jean McClanahan of Ignacio (widow of Bruce); all are children of Essie’s brother, Argus.

Shirley Harris, Ed Lee, Gale, and Lynn McClanahan are children of Essie’s brother, Russ Patrick.None of her Bills family is living, but she was attentive to her grandmother Bills and her father’s brother, “Jiggs” Bills, one of her very favorite people.For information on the memorial, contact Margie Sturgis at 920-9577.


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