Experienced Aspen: Seeing the bright side
Jere Rood says community, support are the guide everyone needs
Editor’s note: This feature is one in a series we call “Experienced Aspen,” a special section recognizing the life and experiences of Aspen’s most well-rounded citizens. For more, go to the B-Section of our Dec. 22 electronic edition.
If a blind man living through a pandemic says things are not all that bad, maybe it’s worth a listen. Longtime Aspenite Jere Rood, who is a spry 83, was reminded by a friend recently how much worse things can be.
“During World War II, our grandparents were asked to go to war. We are asked to go to the couch. I think we can handle that,’’ Rood recalled having been told. “We do not have it that hard when living in London that day, you get up wondering what building had been destroyed during the night.”
Rood, who has been blind for well over a year, has called Aspen home since 1973, outside of a few short stints away. Originally from Leadville, he lived in Chicago during college and later spent about a decade in the Bay Area of California where he worked in various capacities within the education field.
Then, after getting divorced, he found his way back to Colorado looking for a change.
“I hitchhiked in and like the rest of us just became a ski bum,” Rood chuckled. “I’ve defended Aspen through all these years in that regard. I’ve seen, of course, literally hundreds of people come and go. I also have many, many friends who have done the same as I and stayed.”
Rood’s resume since arriving in Aspen would make any ski bum proud. It includes everything from lift operator to janitor to desk clerk to bus driver, and he notably helped start Aspen’s Lift-Up chapter, a nonprofit known for its humanitarian aid assistance and food pantry.
During one of his many gigs, Rood kept a sign on his desk that read: “If you deserve Aspen, you’ll make it.” The sentiment is an idea he’s kept close to heart in the more than 40 years he’s lived here.
“I came with absolutely no money. I had $150 when I moved here,” Rood said. “The people whom I have known throughout these years have basically been the thing that has kept me here. I am just surrounded by so many wonderful people and friends.”
Yes, Rood likes his friends. In fact, before sitting down to chat, he played Barbra Streisand’s hit song “People,” which opens with the line, “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.” No surprise, Rood has a passion for musical theater, as well.
Rood has plenty of family to lean on, with a trio of his own children, seven grandchildren and even a couple of great-grandchildren strewn about the country and abroad. But here in Aspen, he relies on his friends and neighbors for support, and anymore this includes his faithful companion, Alexa.
Yes, that would be Amazon’s Alexa, the virtual assistant that can certainly make a blind man’s life a whole lot easier.
Rood isn’t one to shy away from modern technology, and believes everyone should use it to stay in touch in times, like during a pandemic, when human-to-human contact can be challenging.
“Living in this marvelous day and age with technology, even with the pandemic as we’ve had it and having to isolate and be alone, there is no reason for anyone to not be in total touch with the world through technology,” Rood said. “We’ve got to not isolate ourselves. I have a fear that many people, both seniors and others, have done that. I have reached out and made sure I am in contact with at least four or five different people each week and have a talk with them.”
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The Aspen Art Museum’s SO Cafe will begin serving free to-go meals three days per week in its new “Lunch for Locals” program, the museum announced Thursday.