David E. Stapleton remembered for selfless spirit, love of Aspen
Third-generation Aspenite defined by roles in community and skiing world died from COVID-19 at age 86
As a native of Aspen and from a family whose ancestors were some of the first miners to come over Independence Pass, David E. Stapleton had a legacy to follow. He had no trouble doing that, and even elevated it for generations to come.
Stapleton died Thursday afternoon from complications due to COVID-19, his sons said. He was 86.
After decades of service to the Aspen community, the country with his time in the Army and for local and World Cup ski racers, Stapleton was honored through the years with inductions to halls of fame for his tireless work and the ways he helped shape Aspen and the international ski scene.
Stapleton had a fall in his Grand Junction home before Thanksgiving fracturing his femur, his son Dean said Thursday evening. After surgery, Stapleton was moved to a rehabilitation center and contracted COVID-19 about two weeks ago, Dean said.
“I was able to see him (Thursday) morning while in a Hazmat suit, and he held my hand with so much strength,” Dean said, “and that was his spirit in life.”
At his home, the third-generation Aspenite and his wife, Sigrid, raised five children in their more than 60 years of marriage and gave them constant support. In his hometown, he was everything from a 20-something year-old city councilor in the 1960s to an active member of countless boards, including the Aspen Valley Ski Club and the hospital. And on the world stage, Stapleton worked to keep skiers safe with such initiatives as fencing on courses, making sure there was uniformity in racing and a focus on risk management.
“The list goes on and on and on. I don’t know if there is another Aspenite who has done as much for this town as he has,” his son David W. Stapleton said Friday. “I think he cared about the town and the people in it. His compassion for people, he always had a smile on his face. He knew everybody. Everywhere he has gone.
“When he was in Aspen he was like the mayor of Aspen, even though he wasn’t the mayor. When he moved to Snowmass, in the neighborhood, everybody thought of him as the mayor out there. Where he recently lived in Grand Junction, he was like the mayor of the neighborhood, everybody would stop by and say hi. That was just his personality. It’s hard to find somebody that is like that.”
At home in the valley
David’s great-grandfather, Timothy Stapleton, came to the Roaring Fork Valley in 1881 to homestead and started the Stapleton legacy on the land that is now the Aspen airport.
Born on April 17, 1934, David spent his youth in the Aspen schools, where he would later meet his wife who was a year younger. Sigrid’s father — mountaineer Fred Braun, the namesake of the Alfred A. Braun Hut System — moved the family from Chicago to Aspen in 1952.
David’s love of skiing started then, and he was a junior racer with the Aspen Ski Club beginning in 1945. He was part of the early local racing success with the ski club, and in the 1950–51 season he and a group of Aspen natives (Max Marolt, Ted Armstrong, Tony Deane and John Thorpe) qualified for the Junior National Championships.
After high school, Stapleton enlisted in the Army in 1954 and spent his tour of duty in Alaska.
“As my school bus driver in the 1950s, he told me tale after tale of Alaskan events. I wanted to move to Alaska,” said Tony Vangeur, who was related to Stapleton through a shared great-grandfather. “He and Sigrid always treated me as one of their family, something which meant an awful lot to me. David always called me his half-assed cousin, as we had the same great-grandfather on the Stapleton side, but different great-grandmothers. It used to piss me off, but I got used to it.”
When he returned from his service and Sigrid returned from Western State College, they reunited and married in 1957.
They lived in the same Aspen home for 37 years before moving to Snowmass (“because he didn’t agree with the politics of Aspen at the time,” his son David said) and lived there for seven years.
Because of health reasons, David and Sigrid moved to Grand Junction about five years ago.
“He was trying to find his footing in life after 63 years of marriage,” Dean Stapleton said Thursday night. “He got into a groove in Grand Junction with golfing buddies and living on the golf course, but at the end of the day he came home to an empty house.
“It just was a matter of trying to navigate that lonely world. He did a really good job for a year and a half. A really good job. But unfortunately he tripped and fell and fractured his femur.”
Instrumental in the ski world
For his decades of work in the ski world, David was inducted to the Colorado Snowsports Hall of Fame in 2017 as a “sport builder,” which included among other accomplishments skier safety.
He was the first World Cup ski race official from Aspen, and for nearly 25 years served in roles including as chief of race, chief of course, race chairman, TV coordinator, starter, timer, finish and start referee from 1968 until 1991.
David was behind the push to standardize alpine courses and was the chief of course for the women’s downhill at the 1980 Winter Games in Lake Placid.
He served as president of the Rocky Mountain Division of the United States Ski Association (USSA) and was a national vice president of USSA.
Locally, he promoted to the world what ski racing meant to Aspen and was integral in getting World Cup racing in town.
“He did more for the legacy of skiing in Aspen — national and internationally — than anyone,” Jeff Gorsuch, whose family also has prominent Aspen legacy, said Friday. “He was a leader for our community and showed we could do the same thing here.”
Gorsuch, who twice has served as the Aspen Ski & Snowboard Club (AVSC) president, saw Stapleton as a mentor. Stapleton spent 20 years on the AVSC board of directors and served three years as president (1972-75).
“He was involved with AVSC his whole life – whether it was just being a parent or an official, the president and anything else,” Dean said. “His spirit through just supporting the club, whether it’s the fundraising, the allowing the kids to grow with my brother David’s support and making skiing available to all these kids who can’t afford it. It’s just an extension of that whole generation of the Marolts and Stapletons and Gorsuchs. It just continues to go forward.”
The younger David Stapleton is currently working in development at AVSC; when he was 8, he started racing in what was then known as the Aspen Ski Club. As a member of the U.S. Ski Team, he went on to claim more than 70 podium finishes on the World Cup and U.S. Pro Ski Tour, and earlier this year followed his father into the Snowsports Hall of Fame in Vail.
“Back when I raced World Cup, it was wooden fences that would stop you from going into the woods. Nowadays, there’s the netting and (my father) changed all that,” David said. “I think his biggest accomplishment on the world stage was making sure racers were safe and weren’t going to die.”
Man about the town
Beyond his ski racing history, beyond his work with the World Cup races in Aspen, the Roch Cup and being a race official, Stapleton always had his hand in the pot to make Aspen a better place.
At 29-year-old, Stapleton was elected to the Aspen City Council and was sworn in on Jan. 13, 1964. He went on to serve two, two-year terms and on Sept. 5, 1967, there was a resolution read into the city record that called his service “unselfish and unstinting.”
“Whereas, such service has resulted in the orderly growth and continued prosperity of the City of Aspen and has naturally contributed to the accomplishment of the goals and programs of the City of Aspen … therefore be it resolved that this resolution commending the service of David E. Stapleton to the City of Aspen be spread upon the public records … as evidence of the appreciation of the City of Aspen for his service.”
After serving on City Council, he and Sigrid worked with the ski club, the school district, hospital board and ”countless other boards and committees,” the younger David said Friday.
The couple helped raise money for Whitcomb Terrace, Aspen’s assisted living center. He chaired the local Red Cross and was a member of Mountain Rescue Aspen.
“Mom pounded some things into us. She was a big community service person,” Don Stapleton, David’s younger brother, said Friday. “She drummed that into us about being involved in the community. It was small community then, so it was fun to do.”
It was David’s outgoing personality and ability to make anyone feel comfortable that made him stand out, Gorsuch said.
“He always stepped into the light and was man of grace,” he said. “Dave was a go-getter. … He was always about that and stuck his hand out to welcome anyone.”
After 13 years at the Pitkin County Clerk and Recorder, David’s father started the William C. Stapleton insurance agency, and he went to work for his father and later took over the agency with Don. Eight years younger, Don said the brothers bought the agency from their mother after William died and together the sons ran it for 31 years.
After he retired, David Stapleton got bored.
His son David offered for him to work at his ski shop. It was kind of a volunteer thing as he paid his father by buying lunch and giving him ski equipment.
“Well, I had to fire him because he was talking too much to the customers and they couldn’t get out the door,” David recalled Friday. “It was like, ‘OK, Dad, come on. These people want to go skiing.’ … He worked for me for that one winter.”
It was that personality and charm that helped shape his legacy, and is why so many people are remembering him so fondly. His son Dean said his father’s dedication to the community never wavered.
“Someone came into the store the other day, and she was probably in her late 60s, and she said, ‘Dean, I want you to know your dad is a gem of Aspen.’ … That’s his legacy. That’s my mom’s legacy,” he said. “It’s going to be a challenge to continue such a legacy.”
David E. Stapleton is survived by his brother Don and his sister, Billie Lou Speer; his five children, Kim, David, Dean, Stefanie and Dash; and eight grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his wife, Sigrid, and his brother Darrell. The family said they likely will not have a public memorial event, but will hold a private ceremony.
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