Longtime Aspenite Dale Hower dies at 75 | AspenTimes.com

Longtime Aspenite Dale Hower dies at 75

Real estate agent and developer was part of Aspen’s counterculture scene in 1970s

Dale Hower.
Evan Solheim/Courtesy photo

Without exception, Aspenite Dale Hower was always entirely herself.

“She was very unapologetic in the way she lived her life,” said her daughter Evan Solheim, who described Hower as a determined and fiercely independent woman — “incredibly loyal and incredibly generous,” as well as incredibly frank — who left a lasting imprint on those who met her.

Hower spent more than four decades here in Aspen, first as part of the vibrant counterculture scene of the 1970s and then as a real estate agent and developer. She died in late April at the age of 75, Solheim wrote in an email.

“You’d meet her once, you never ever forgot her,” Solheim said. “She was a big personality and an incredible force, and she could almost, like, rip someone to pieces and build you up in like the same breath because she actually cared about people, so she had this wisdom and ability to really see what it was that you needed. And through that … a lot of people felt like she was a mother figure.”

And, to Maria Smithburg, a friend of two decades, “like a sister — we could talk about anything,” Smithburg said.

“She basically spoke her mind. She was not someone that would go around the bushes, and I think I appreciate that,” Smithburg said. “Other people just are too formal in their friendships. She was a true friend that really wanted to know how you were feeling. … She really cared.”

Smithburg, who lives in Chicago but has a home in Aspen, met Hower at a party and instantly clicked, finding in Hower “someone that fell in love with Aspen like I did and was able to share that love with other people,” she said.

Dale Hower.
Evan Solheim/Courtesy photo

Hower’s enthusiasm for this town was one of her defining characteristics, Solheim said.

“A lot of people have said to me that she was sort of ‘Miss Aspen’ to them, because … she had such a huge love for Aspen and it was contagious,” Solheim said.

Hower caught the bug herself in the early 1970s, when she arrived in town for what she thought would be a single season in Aspen, Solheim said.

“She had moved to New York to become an actress and a model, and my grandparents … they didn’t give her a lot of time to make that work, and they wanted her to come back to Detroit,” Solheim said. “And she said, ‘Just, please, one summer in Aspen, and then I’ll come home and comply and get married’ and do whatever women did back in that time.”

As the story so often goes, Hower spent a lot more than just the summer here.

“She just fell in love with Aspen to such an extent that she just couldn’t leave, at all costs,” Solheim said. “The nature and everything about it — the spirit of Aspen … the liberal spirit of Aspen and everything it’s good for — that was kind of like her religion, in a way.”

What she found in those early years was an immersion into Aspen’s counterculture scene in its ultimate heyday. She married Michael Solheim, the legendary manager of the Hotel Jerome’s J-Bar, and became party to the hub of intellectual and philosophical conversation (and debauchery, too) at the watering hole frequented by the likes of Hunter S. Thompson, Jack Nicholson and Tom Benton.

“She obviously wasn’t like the celebrity part of that because that was them, but she was a big part of that life,” Evan Solheim said. Hower was matter-of-fact in her involvement even then: When the need arose to serve food at the bar, “my mom just said no problem — I’ll learn how to cook,” Solheim said.

That steadfast pragmatism was one that would carry Hower throughout her life, much of which she spent as a single mother and real estate agent and developer after she separated from Michael Solheim. Her motivation for success was the ability to provide for her two daughters, Smithburg suggested.

Dale Hower.
Evan Solheim/Courtesy photo

“I think that was a driving force for her to try and do the best she could in her real estate world, and she did it out of a desire to be successful, but also to be there for her children and all their needs,” Smithburg said.

Hower was a “risk taker” who “learned from the street” and dove into the field with gusto despite no background in development or home sales, Solheim said.

“She took that risk, not only to go into real estate when she had literally no business experience whatsoever, and really hadn’t worked in a real job besides a few random things here and there, but to turn it around and make what she did of it is incredible,” Solheim said.

The evidence of that work is everywhere in this town and beyond it.

“There’s probably not a neighborhood in all of Aspen that doesn’t have a house that she built,” said Victoria Barrena, who knew Hower both as a fellow real estate agent and a fellow Aspen mom. (Barrena now splits her time between Aspen and Florida.)

In the offseasons, when business slowed, “I think she was the first person I would call pretty much every day. … I knew her number off by heart,” Barrena said.

Hower’s success in real estate was part and parcel of her “individualistic” approach to life, Barrena noted.

“She was very successful, really hardworking, and just a real — very individual, very, very independent person,” Barrena added.

Hower’s imprint on the landscape of Aspen, Snowmass and beyond isn’t necessarily a flashy one, but it’s fitting for the person that Hower was, Solheim said.

“The fact that (the homes she developed are) there, and that they’re almost — they’re just blending into the environment, it kind of is reflective of the type of person she was: that she just was kind of just no-nonsense, she just did her business and had her successes,” Solheim said. “She didn’t need any accolades, or to be recognized for anything. She was just doing it for her family and for her own self worth.”

Hower is survived by her mother, Roslyn Hower, her daughters Lauren Skye and Evan (and son-in-law Thomas Blondin) and grandchildren James, Olivia and Georgie. She was preceded in death by her father Felix and sister Barbara and ex-husband Michael Solheim.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made in Hower’s name to Aspen Junior Golf. The family plans to organize a celebration of life this August at the Red Butte Cemetery where Hower is buried.


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