Doing what needed to be done |

Doing what needed to be done

Joel Stonington
Aspen Times Weekly
Sigrid, at the age of 16, in Chicago just before she moved with her family to Aspen. (Courtesy Stapleton family)

David Stapleton Sr. and Sigrid Stapleton were more than a little surprised at being chosen this year as Aspen Hall of Fame inductees. The honor is hardly unfounded but the recognition seems to make them slightly uncomfortable.

The two are not generally the types who take credit or who really care about being recognized. They just get the work done because it needs to be done. They’re the ones who raise their hands to accept a chore and never think twice about it.

“The Stapleton family, to me, they’re what make Aspen a community, volunteering for everything,” said Charlie Hopton, a longtime local and friend.

Mary Eshbaugh Hayes, who writes the well-known Around Aspen column for the Aspen Times Weekly (see page 43), was the other Hall of Fame inductee this year; Hayes and the Stapletons were inducted in a Jan. 31 ceremony at the Doerr-Hosier Center at the Aspen Institute. During her 50-year career at the Times, Hayes has served as a photographer, reporter, feature writer and editor. She raised five children with her husband, silversmith Jim Hayes, and has published several Aspen-related books including “The Story of Aspen” with former Times photographer and cartoonist Chris Cassatt.

Hayes said the kind of volunteerism embodied by the Stapletons isn’t as apparent in Aspen today, though the Stapletons’ impressive and much-needed contributions helped make the community so strong.

Hayes remembered working with Sigrid on the 50th anniversary celebration of the Aspen Skiing Co. in 1997, just one of Sigrid’s many volunteer jobs.

“Sigrid was fun, and she worked real hard on that,” Hayes said. “She’s so community-minded.”

Sigrid was a substitute teacher who also volunteered in every unit at Aspen Valley Hospital. She served as the president of the Colorado Association of Hospital Volunteers and played the organ at St. Mary Catholic Church for 40 years, every week.

“It’s everything every mother did,” said Sigrid. “I was not unique in that respect. I just did what every woman in Aspen would do.”

From an outside point of view, David and Sigrid are the kind of people who seem to find more than 24 hours in each day. Aside from all their community activities, David worked full time at his insurance agency for 41 years and Sigrid spent much of her time raising five children.

Somehow, David also found the time to volunteer on Mountain Rescue for 16 years, serve on the Aspen City Council and help organize Aspen ski racing at all levels from 1968 to 1991.

David and Sigrid were instrumental to Aspen’s postwar renaissance, when the town reinvented itself as a ski resort and cultural center. There was more than enough opportunity to do essential work during those years, and David and Sigrid performed that work and asked nothing in return.

David Stapleton was born in 1934 on the Stapleton Ranch, a 1,100-acre parcel that included what is now the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport, the Aspen Business Center and much of Buttermilk ski area.

It was the original homestead of Tom Stapleton, an Aspen pioneer who came from Ireland to work in the silver mines in the 1880s and later took up ranching. David grew up in the days when all the roads were dirt and getting out of town meant walking across the Maroon Creek railroad trestle.

“You just hoofed it,” said Sigrid. “No buses, you walked everywhere.”

David remembers spending two summers herding sheep in what is now the Campground section of Snowmass Ski Area. Every summer, David lived and worked farming potatoes, hay, oats, and lived in town during the rest of the year.

Around that time, Sigrid moved to Aspen from Chicago with her parents, Fred and Renata Braun.

“I came from a big Chicago school so it was a big adjustment,” said Sigrid, who entered a class of 10 students as a junior and met David, who was one year ahead of her in school.

“We would go to the Little Nell Cafe where we would all hang out. They’d stay open until about 3 a.m. We’d hang out at Matthew Drug Store, which is now Carl’s, where they had a soda fountain. It was great.”

Sigrid’s father, Fred, is well known for starting Mountain Rescue Aspen and, for 20 years, operating a system of backcountry huts south of Aspen that now bear his name.

“It was, ‘You gotta take care of my father on the mountain,'” said David, of joining Mountain Rescue and working on the Braun huts with Fred. “We’d all be up in the woods, cutting firewood every summer.”

Sigrid’s parents ran the Holiday House in town, and she would wake up early to serve breakfast to the ski bums who stayed there.

David remembers playing high school football when the sport was reintroduced here in the 1950s. They played in six-man teams at Wagner Park when it was a dirt field and Cooper Street ran through the middle. The squad would get dressed on the third floor of Armory Hall (now City Hall).

“We put the first grass seed down on Wagner Park in 1957,” said David.

In 1955, David’s father, Bill Stapleton, created the William C. Stapleton Agency and started working in the insurance business. In 1958, David started his 41-year career with the agency; he would purchase the company in 1977.

It was just before David began his insurance career that he and Sigrid became more serious. When Sigrid graduated from high school, she went off to the teachers college at Western State in Gunnison. David went into the Army and was stationed in Alaska from 1954 to 1956.

“She became my pen pal,” said David, describing a romance that developed in large part through the mail. “I came home, we got married, next thing I know we had a family and my nose was to the grindstone.”

The wedding reception was at Guido’s Swiss Restaurant, where the Hickory House is now. In 2007, when David and Sigrid celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, they did so in the same building, at the Hickory House.

The Stapletons were one of Aspen’s original skiing families. David raced locally from 1947 to 1957. He started at the age of 14, when the only lift in town was a rope tow and the infamous boat tow, and skiers wore leather boots and wool socks.

“It was pretty rustic,” said Sigrid. “It wasn’t a fashion statement to come skiing. You either wore a red parka or a black parka, and there was no in between.”

His kids followed in David’s tracks, with daughter Dasha and sons David Jr. and Dean joining the local ski team in the 1970s and ’80s. Young David went on to race with the U.S. Ski Team.

“They gave me the opportunity to do what I wanted to do as a youngster,” said David Jr., who runs and owns Stapleton Sports in Aspen. “They supported me in every way a parent should.”

Starting in the late 1960s, it wasn’t actual racing but the staging of races that took over David Sr.’s life. From 1968 to 1991, he either was assigned or accepted positions as chief of race, chief of course, race chairman, TV coordinator, starter, timer, finish referee and start referee on virtually every race, from regional FIS to Can-Am to Nor-Am to World Cup.

He was named best race organizer in America by the U.S. Ski Association in 1978 and served as the chief of course for the women’s downhill at the 1980 Olympics.

“[David] was very, very involved with ski racing,” said Jack Brendlinger, president of the Aspen Ski Club in the late ’70s. “He did some fantastic jobs with early World Cups that we had. He was instrumental with those. Other than being an insurance man, his real joy has been giving back to ski racing.”

David really gets excited when talking about new ski-racing tools and technologies.

One big accomplishment was expanding the use of the Willy Bag, used to cushion lift towers and trees and thus protect out-of-control racers from injury. Until the mid-’70s, race organizers used hay bales. But when snow thawed, ice would form in the bales and they would turn rock-hard, more likely to injure than protect. The Willy Bag used Styrofoam for insulation and helped make ski racing safer.

David also developed the U.S. Ski Association Alpine Officials manual in 1983, so that all officials involved with timing, gates, course preparation, etc., could use the same instructional program.

“Our kids were racing so we worked on racing,” said Sigrid. “Everyone just chipped in and did what they could.”

The Aspen Hall of Fame has inducted 75 people who have demonstrated a lasting impact on the Aspen and Snowmass community.

“The Stapletons have been nominated by numerous people over the years,” said Jeanette Darnauer, president and founder of the Hall of Fame. “They’ve made such a terrific contribution to the community for so many years.”

Jeannie Walla, a member of the St. Mary congregation since 1974, said Sigrid’s contribution could hardly be measured considering the more than 40 years Sigrid spent at the organ.

“That’s serious commitment, every week,” David said.

When things are running smoothly, people don’t tend to notice. And that’s just fine with the Stapletons.

“We worked closely on the St. Patrick’s dinner,” Walla said. “Every single time I was the chair person, she was in charge of all the cakes and desserts. She’s just so organized. She got all kinds of people to make cakes and pies. They’re both real givers. They really care about the community.”

These days, the Stapletons are retired and living in Snowmass Village, after moving away from their house of 39 years on Mountain View Drive. They are still involved and active, though perhaps in smaller roles. Even so, the spirit is still there and the Stapletons are behind the scenes, making things happen.

“In the old days, if you wanted stuff done in town, you just had to get people together and do it,” said Hopton. “It was just, to me, it was part of the town. You got involved with things. They felt that this is their town and they had to be part of the town. That’s the way they operate. That’s the old Aspen spirit.”

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