John Dolinsek passes away at age 90, leaves lasting Aspen legacy with brother
John Dolinsek, an Aspen native who watched Aspen transform from the Quiet Years of the Depression to an international resort, died Tuesday at the home where he was born.
Dolinsek, 90, died Tuesday surrounded by friends and family, said his sister, Josephine. A funeral will by held at St. Mary Catholic Church in Aspen at 11 a.m. May 6.
John and his brother Frank, who died in June 2013, had a front-row seat to the development of Aspen Mountain as a ski area. They volunteered in summer 1937 to help cut Roch Run, the first ski trail on Aspen Mountain, Josephine said.
John served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, while older brother Frank served in the famed 10th Mountain Division of the U.S. Army. Josephine said she couldn’t recall much about John’s time in service except that traveling the world helped him realize he grew up in a special place.
“When he was in the Navy, he said when he got back to Aspen he was never going to leave,” Josephine said.
After returning, John and Frank helped build the original Lift 1 and Lift 2. The lower terminal of Lift 1 abutted the Dolinsek family property on South Monarch Street.
They were inducted into the Aspen Hall of Fame in 1998 for their role in Aspen Mountain’s development as a ski area.
A family of miners
The Dolinsek brothers were among the old-timers featured in the book “Aspen: The Quiet Years” by Kathy Daily and Gaylord Guenin. John said in the book that his mother was born in Aspen around 1901 “at the bottom of Roam Hill,” where Herron Park and No Problem Bridge are located. Their mother’s father came to Aspen in the late 1880s to work the mines. He also owned a saloon that had a boarding house above it.
John and Frank’s father, Frank Sr., came to the U.S. from Yugoslavia and landed in Aspen because of mining. The Dolinseks were married in 1917 and tried to settle in Minnesota, according to Josephine. But Frank Dolinsek Sr. became sick during the flu epidemic of 1918 and they returned to Aspen for the more favorable climate, Josephine said.
They joined family members at the house on South Monarch Street. John was born in the house Aug. 26, 1925, the youngest of five children.
“We loved to hike and fish,” Josephine said. The Dolinsek children naturally got to know Aspen Mountain well because it was in their backyard. They would bushwhack their way up or use old trails the miners created.
“Dad did not permit us to go by the mines because of the risk of falling in a shaft,” Josephine said.
They skied and helped establish the Aspen Ski Club.
Stillwater, east of Aspen, was a favorite fishing hole on the Roaring Fork River. The boys also played a lot of baseball.
Fixture at the Aspen Post Office
In “The Quite Years,” Frank recalled him and his brother chopping wood as one of their first jobs. They would ski down the mountain with sawed wood they collected and chopped it. They would tend livestock and were janitors at Albert Bishop’s car garage.
Frank said in his interview that John worked for the Aspen Ski Corp. off and on for about eight years. Josephine said John also worked at a mine in Leadville for a short time. He became a fixture at the Aspen post office, working for 35 years until he retired in the early 1980s, Josephine said.
John knew the mountains so well that he and a friend helped figure out the best placement for equipment for Aspen’s first television service, she said.
Lasting Aspen legacy
The Dolinseks studied Aspen’s history and knew all about the mines, Josephine said. The brothers expressed their irritation to an Aspen Times reporter in the mid-1990s about the misnomer of “Shadow Mountain” on Aspen’s southwest side. All the old maps identify it as West Aspen Mountain, they said, providing the proof.
Josephine said Thursday that she and her brothers also disliked it when people referred to Aspen Mountain as “Ajax.”
“They knew all about Aspen,” Josephine said of her brothers. “They did not like the changes in the mountains.”
When asked what John thought of Aspen’s climb to international prominence among ski resorts, Josephine said, “He thought it was good for Aspen but it was no longer a small town.”
John was preceded in death by two sisters, Nillie and Jennie, as well as by Frank.
The Dolinseks will have a lasting physical legacy in Aspen. John and Josephine sold their house and half-acre of land to the city of Aspen in 2014 for use as a community park. They reserved the right to live out their lives at the house. They sold the valuable, downtown property well below market value as a goodwill gesture to the town they loved.
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