The secret for staying married for 60 years? Don’t give up say Aspen’s Jerry and Judy Gerbaz
Jerry and Judy Gerbaz aren’t quite sure what drew them separately to a Carbondale High School football game in fall 1955, but they agree fate smiled on them that day.
At the time, Judy Slaughter was a 15-year-old student who had moved to the Roaring Fork Valley with her mom a couple of years earlier. They first lived in Glenwood Springs, then at a second-story apartment in Aspen’s Wheeler Opera House that her mom got through working at the Hotel Jerome.
Jerry was an 18-year-old ranching kid, a third-generation midvalley native who graduated in the Basalt High School class of 1955.
Jerry said Carbondale always had the best sports teams, so he figures he was just checking out the game even though Basalt and Carbondale kids didn’t get along so well.
“Everybody knew everybody,” Jerry said of the small valley.
Judy recalled starting to attend Carbondale’s games with friends just for something to do. She knew who Jerry was.
“I think my best friend had a crush on him,” she said.
But Jerry was interested in Judy and they started dating over the next couple of years.
“We’d go to dances quite a bit,” Jerry said.
The Sopris Six were a hot draw at dances at the American Legion and the International Order of Odd Fellows, both on Second Street in Basalt, now Homestead Drive. The Farmers’ Union held a popular picnic every summer. Potato Days in Carbondale and Strawberry Day in Glenwood Springs were events not to be missed.
When asked if he made a romantic marriage proposal, Jerry replied, “Judy says I never really did” ask for her hand.
Instead, she said, he just started referring all the time to when they would be married, so she finally asked him if he was going to propose.
Jerry’s parents and Judy’s mom had to sign their consent because of the kids’ young age.
“There were quite a few who said it would not last,” Jerry said with a chuckle.
They got married June 14, 1958, at St. Mary Catholic Church in Aspen. The Gerbazes celebrated their 60th anniversary this summer with 138 members of their family and friends.
The newlyweds moved to Cortez to seek greater opportunity. “In 1958, the valley was still sort of a poor valley,” Jerry said.
He trained as an electrician, but the draw of the Roaring Fork Valley was too strong. They returned from Cortez after 1½ years.
The Gerbaz roots went deep as one the families who migrated to the valley from Aosta, Italy. Jerry’s grandfather, Jeremy, was visiting his sister in the valley in 1892 when he saw property he wanted on the east end of Snowmass Canyon. He was able to buy it five years later and start his ranch.
Jerry’s father, Mike, was born in 1909 in a house that still stands today on the north side of Highway 82 and has recently been remodeled as part of a nursery property. Jerry was born on the south side of the highway in a house that also is still a residence.
The general area was known as Watson, which had a stockyard, post office, grocery store and even a dance hall in the vicinity of what is know called Watson Divide Road. When the ailing Colorado Midland Railroad pulled up its track in the valley in 1921, Jerry’s oldest uncle rechristened the area as Gerbazdale. The name has stuck ever since.
Jerry said the ranches were busy, but the valley overall was a quite place.
“We could play on Highway 82 and not even think about it,” he said.
While their house was in the Aspen School District, his parents paid tuition for him to attend school in Basalt, where he had cousins and friends. His graduating class had four boys and five girls.
After returning from Cortez, Jerry took a leap with his brother-in-law, Dick Stutzman. They bought a small excavation business in 1960 from Jim Hayes, who decided to pursue his calling as a silversmith. They started with one excavator and a dump truck. The Marolt family let them operate out of a small piece of ground at the entrance to Aspen.
Aspen wasn’t booming at the time; not anywhere close to today’s standards. Gerbaz and Stutzman worked on Lift 3 on Aspen Mountain during winters.
“Everybody worked on the hill,” Jerry said.
It wasn’t until 1968 that Gerbaz and Stutzman could rely on their business year-round. Ironically, their construction activity picked up as growth-control measures were enacted by Pitkin County.
Stutzman-Gerbaz Excavating moved to Gerbazdale, where one of Dick’s sons continues to operate.
Business started booming in the Gerbaz household right after they got married. Mike was born in 1959. Greg was born in 1960 and Jeff was born in 1961. Jerry and Judy built their home in Gerbazdale in 1962. It’s tucked in a quiet little enclave in the trees above Highway 82.
“We rested in 1963,” Jerry quipped.
Gina was born in 1964.
Jerry retired from the successful excavation business in 1996, four years after Dick exited.
“You bet we saw a lot of changes. We were part of them,” Jerry said, in response to a question about how he has witnessed the valley change from a sleepy ranching area to a booming tourism, cultural and second-home mecca.
The Gerbazes, now 80 and 77 years of age, spend winters in Indio, California, and warm-weather months in their Gerbazdale home. Their gardens and yards are filled with a fascinating collection of ranching and mining equipment.
“Everything around here is an antique,” Jerry said, “including me and Judy.”
When asked to reflect on what it takes to stay married for 60 years, Judy immediately responded: “Don’t give up.”
Jerry said they have been partners throughout their marriage. They don’t divide responsibilities into “his” or “hers.”
“Plus, a bit of it is good, old-fashioned luck,” Jerry said. “And a good argument every once in a while doesn’t hurt.”
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