Former Aspenite Jim Furniss died suddenly Monday morning, May 28, at his home in Clearwater Beach, Fla. He was 67.
“Big Jim” came to Aspen in 1974 with his wife, Betty, and son, Steve. He was tapped to be the construction supervisor of the Aspen Mall in 1975, and later became the transportation director for the city of Aspen.
Jim attended Penn State, where he played football and earned a degree in agriculture. He met Betty there, and they married shortly after graduation. After reading an article in Life magazine about Jim Rouse and the Rouse Co. creating Columbia, Md., Jim got in his open Jeep and drove from Pennsylvania to the Rouse Co. office in Maryland. The 6-foot, 7-inch Furniss walked in and introduced himself: “Mr. Rouse, I’m Jim Furniss, and I’d like to work for you on this project.” Jim Rouse responded, “What can you do for me?” to which Furniss answered, “Anything you want me to.” Jim Furniss was hired by the Rouse Co. that day and was looking forward to being honored this August as one of the founders of Columbia during the 40th anniversary celebration of the community.
While in Aspen, Jim pursued his passion of playing bluegrass music and was a founding member of Aspen State Teachers College, along with Al Pendorf and Marc Demmon.
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“I have never experienced a person with the ability to become known and liked so quickly,” Demmon recalled. “In a time when outsiders were not received well, Jim took on the mall job, knew everyone within days, and everyone liked him. He had a great sense of humor and was always up for anything, from a rafting photo on Main Street to playing center for the Aspen State football team under the alias of Harold Center.”
For the past 15 years, Jim had been running a software business with his son in Clearwater. He attended the 30th anniversary ASTC homecoming in October 2005, and the 20th Sneaker Ball in March 2006. Jim enjoyed coming back to Aspen to see friends and how the trees in the malls had matured.
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