Holmes, who carried rich history of Aspen, dies at 81
Aspen Times Staff Writer
Russ Holmes, an Aspen native and lifelong resident, died Thursday in a nursing home in Rifle. He was 81.
Holmes was born in 1921 on a homestead in Owl Creek to parents Threasia and Harry, both of whom moved to Aspen in the 1890s.
The Holmes family had a rich history in mining – one of his grandfathers worked in the Smuggler Mine while the other ran the hoist at the Schiller Shaft. And Holmes followed suit, getting his first mining job at Jake Yeckles Porfrey Mountain Gold Mine when he was 17 years old.
Later, during the 1940s, Holmes leased the Durant Mine with Bill Marolt. In an interview with Mary Eshbaugh Hayes of the Aspen Times in 1978, Holmes talked about his mining days with Marolt.
“Once you start mining at a young age like I did, it becomes so interesting to you that it’s hard to break away from,” he said. “When you are mining you always think you will be rich the next day – some days you can’t wait to go back to work.”
In one lucky streak, Marolt and Holmes made $103 in a couple days work. But with the reward came the risk.
“One time my dad and I were blasting in a mine. We had set the blasts and went outside to wait for them to blow. Only four went off. I was going inside to check … and my dad said to wait a minute while he lit the lantern. While I waited, that last blast went off,” Holmes told Hayes.
In World War II, Holmes put his knowledge of explosives to use, joining the Army as a demolitions expert. “Everything happens to me on the 8th of the month,” Holmes said. “I was born on the 8th and wounded on Jan. 8, 1945, in the Battle of the Bulge with George Patton’s third Army in Luxembourg.”
He received the Purple Heart, but never regained feeling below his knees.
Before the war, Holmes was a ski pioneer, learning on homemade boards. “After they cut Roch Run in 1936, I skied every chance I could get,” he told Hayes.
Marta Steinmetz, a neighbor of Holmes for 45 years, remembered her friend: “He was a super genuinely kind human being. He took after his father,” she said. “There was always – if you were new in town – a room for you to stay in [with the Holmes].”
Steinmetz said Holmes had a photographic memory, and loved to tell stories. He taught the next generation of miners through his stories, she said.
In addition to being a miner and a skier, Holmes used to work on the water diversions on Independence Pass above Taggert Lake.
And, “he was a very well-liked bartender at the Elks,” Steinmetz said.
Most recently, Holmes was caretaker of the Highland Tunnel.
He is survived by two daughters, Elizabeth Ellis Holmes and Carol Holmes; his brother, Douglas Holmes, of Kansas; and his sister, Utilla Poole, of South Carolina.
His service will be held Monday, Sept. 8, at 11 a.m., at the Farnum Holt Funeral Home in Glenwood Springs.
[Steve Benson’s e-mail address is email@example.com]
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