Hey, hey! Hayes receives Living Landmark Award
Aspen Times Staff Writer
Aspen is bursting at the seams with important people – the kind who make history or influence its course on the local, national and international scenes.
But HeritageAspen has chosen Mary Eshbaugh Hayes, a person who has spent the bulk of her life chronicling all those important people and local history, as the first recipient of the Living Landmark Award.
Grace Gary, executive director of HeritageAspen, formerly the Aspen Historical Society, said Eshbaugh Hayes was chosen in honor of her 50-year career in Aspen as a newspaper columnist, editor, photographer and author.
“This award means we believe her contribution to the community and her role documenting the community’s history has been invaluable,” Gary said.
Hayes will be honored next Monday with a dinner and dance on the lawn of HeritageAspen’s flagship property, the Wheeler Stallard House. Gary said as many as 250 people are expected to attend the party, which is doubling as a fund-raiser for HeritageAspen.
Hayes, a member of the board of trustees at HeritageAspen, said she was embarrassed initially last March when she heard she had won the award and even considered turning it down.
“I kind of thought I shouldn’t do it, because I don’t like being in the limelight,” she said.
But she thought it over.
The point of the award was to create an annual event that improves the ties between HeritageAspen and the community it celebrates. But for years the organization has struggled with its place among Aspen’s nonprofit institutions.
Under its old name, the Aspen Historical Society, locals often confused it with the city of Aspen’s Historic Preservation Commission, which regulates development of the town’s historic buildings. A power struggle among historical society supporters and board members in the late 1980s and early 1990s also clouded its reputation to the point that it was nicknamed the “Aspen Hysterical Society.”
“Then I thought I should accept it, because I am connected to the community and my name could help get the award started,” Hayes said.
Hayes, wife of silversmith Jim Hayes, mother of five children, former Aspen Times editor, longtime society columnist who has become a must on every invitation list in town, artist, swimmer and full-time resident on Bleeker Street, will no doubt help HeritageAspen kick off its Living Landmark Award and the summer fund-raiser that goes with it.
“I think history is important,” Hayes said. “My father was interested in history. The town I grew up in had a great historian. And there were some great history books about the area I grew up in. I was stimulated by those books.”
Hayes grew up in Geneseo, a town in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. She remembers a columnist for the nearby Rochester Times Union named Arch Merrill, who would walk from village to village, talk with locals and write columns about their histories.
She still contrasts the rich history gathered by Merrill and others in her region with the empty memories of the mining and logging town in Pennsylvania where her father was raised. That town had no real historian or record of its existence, except for the local newspaper, which burned down one day and left the town with little to remember itself by.
After graduating from Syracuse University with a double degree in English and journalism, Hayes took a trip to Europe before moving to Colorado. She spent her first two years in the state working at a suburban newspaper near Denver. Then one night in 1952 she knocked on the door of The Aspen Times, rousting publisher and owner Vernon Ringle from the back of the building.
“I said to him, ‘Can you use a good photographer and writer?’ and he said ‘Why don’t you come on in and talk to me,'” Hayes told The Aspen Times in an interview last year.
The rest is history.
Hayes became a writer and photographer for Ringle in 1952. In 1953 she married Jim Hayes, a handsome young veteran of World War II who moved to Aspen on a whim in the late 1940s.
After a respite from the news business in the 1960s, Hayes returned to the Times to become writer/editor/columnist. Now in her 80s, Hayes still writes one of the paper’s most-read features: the weekly Around Aspen column. She has won numerous awards from a variety of associations, including Colorado Press Women and National Press Women.
In 1968, Hayes published a collection of photographs, recipes and ideas of local residents called “Aspen Potpourri.” A few decades later she published a book called “The Story of Aspen” that chronicles the recollections of many of modern Aspen’s pioneers.
Aspen Potpourri has been released with new contributions several times over the years. “I never take anyone out, I just add more people,” she said.
Another edition – more than 300 pages in hardcover – is scheduled for release next month. “We went with the hard bound this time because it’s not just a cookbook anymore – it’s a history book,” Hayes explained.
HeritageAspen director Gary said there were several people who were considered for the first Living Landmark Award. But Hayes won out for a number of reasons, including her work over the years chronicling the accomplishments of others with little recognition.
“I think we all felt when Mary’s name came up we indeed had a winner,” Gary said.
Tickets to the Aug. 5 party – which includes hors d’oeuvres, drinks, dinner and live music – can be purchased for $75 and $150 by calling 925-3721.
“It’s a great deal – the best deal in town this summer,” Gary said.
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