Fiery Czech Lada Vrany passes away
September 8, 2010
ASPEN – A longtime Aspenite known for his crusty Czech exterior and fiery temper has died.
Lada Vrany passed away last month at the Heritage Park Care Center in Carbondale after a long bout of deteriorating health, according to his former wife, Lynn Vrany. Lada was 91.
Lynn Vrany, who was married to Lada from 1975 to 1992, said there is no way to sugarcoat it – lots of people will remember Lada yelling at them.
“Lada liked to stir the pot,” she said. He wasn’t shy about describing issues the way he saw them. That often got him in heated arguments and tough positions. “It’s his delivery that was his problem,” she said.
She caught his wrath as much as anyone. He would watch her in horse shows, then berate her if she didn’t win a blue ribbon. But she also saw the other side of Vrany.
“Basically he was very tender-hearted, especially around animals,” Lynn Vrany said. “I think the gruffness was a coverup.”
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Vrany, born on July 2, 1919, was a talented athlete, qualifying for both the Czech Olympic ski team and a national canoeing team. World War II snuffed out his chances to compete in the Olympics.
He fled Czechoslovakia after World War II rather than joining the Communist party. He lived in a refugee camp in what was then West Germany, then immigrated to Norway in 1948. He eventually went to Banff, Alberta, Canada, and from there grew attracted to Aspen for the skiing. Lynn Vrany said Lada met Stein Eriksen in Norway and heard about Aspen. They reunited in Aspen in 1958, when Vrany was hired to teach skiing at Aspen Highlands.
“He was happiest when he was skiing,” Lynn said.
He was also giving hell to Pitkin County government officials. His trips to county commissioner meetings and beratings of individual commissioners when he encountered them were legendary. Commissioner Patti Kay-Clapper recalled Lada shaking his cane at her in one encounter – with a mischievous look on his face.
County Manager Hilary Fletcher said Vrany relished being a gadfly. “He loved it. He lived it,” she said.
Despite some contentious times between Vrany and county officials, Fletcher gained his trust by meeting with him for an hour a week to hear him out. Beneath the tough veneer was a wonderful, caring person, she said.
“I think he was one of our more colorful characters,” Fletcher said.
Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis said Vrany stayed out of trouble with the law, but he still was well-known for his reputation.
“He was crazy for the rest of the world, but he wasn’t crazy for Aspen,” he said.
Vrany lived on what’s known as the Airport Ranch for 50 years, until spring 2008. He befriended Elizabeth Paepcke in 1958, when she hired him as caretaker at the ranch, a beautiful piece of ground on the Snowmass Village side of the airport runway. Vrany’s home was tucked in a secluded pocket of land surrounded by hills and trees that baffled noise from traffic on Owl Creek Road and jets at the airport.
He irrigated 480 acres of pasture at one time and ran cattle on the property. His passion was boarding horses, Lynn said.
Vrany also owned and operated a construction company to supplement both his ski instructing and ranching. He renovated numerous structures over the years, including the Pitkin County Courthouse, Aspen City Hall and the Floradora building on Main Street in Aspen. He also helped build the Aspen Square and countless houses.
Vrany generally criticized the county commissioners for their tough land-use positions. But the bickering intensified in 1996, when the county bought water rights connected to the Airport Ranch. (The county bought the actual ranch in 1988.)
Vrany repeatedly alleged that the county didn’t properly account for the water rights. He claimed up-ditch users were stealing county water for luxury home developments. The alleged inattention affected his ability to irrigate and grow hay to sell or rent pasture to cattle ranchers. He quit paying the county rent in protest.
The county investigated his claims and said they were unfounded.
A different dispute flared up in 2006, when the county ordered Vrany to stop renting trailers and outbuildings on the ranch as affordable housing. The septic system was inadequate and posed a health threat, the county claimed.
Vrany fought an eviction attempt by the county, and the issue was resolved with an agreement that allowed him to stay on the Airport Ranch as long as he didn’t sublet space or irrigate.
Vrany stayed on the land two more years, making it a total of 50 years there. He ended up going to Heritage Park to rehabilitate from injuries and liked it enough that he asked to stay permanently, Lynn said. His health gradually deteriorated.
Snowmass resident Janet Raczak befriended Vrany after he enlisted her help in researching some property records years ago. She would give him a ride to doctor appointments and other errands, and generally provide him with what he wanted most – someone to visit.
“If you were lucky enough to be on his good side, you could not have a more loyal and trustworthy friend. I got lucky,” Raczak said.