Longtime valley resident Richard Stutsman dies
A longtime Roaring Fork Valley resident who left ranching 45 years ago to help build what became one the best-known construction companies in Aspen died Monday.Richard Dean Stutsman, 72, died unexpectedly at St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction.Stutsman, known as Dick, was one of the founders of Stutsman-Gerbaz Earthmoving Inc., an excavation firm that was instrumental in the growth of Aspen and Snowmass Village starting in the 1960s. The name is well-known even to people outside the industry because the company’s shop is a fixture along Highway 82 about nine miles west of Aspen.Stutsman had a lifelong connection to the Roaring Fork Valley. As a child, he roamed the backcountry and saw more of it than many locals do in a lifetime.He was a ranch worker and supervisor when ranches were still a vital part of the local economy in the 1940s and ’50s.He was a popular lift operator on Aspen Mountain, then became a lift supervisor when Snowmass Ski Area opened in 1967.He was an electronics expert with the U.S. Air Force while serving in Morocco in the 1950s and turned down a job offer from Texas Instruments after he got out of the service in 1956, according to Dolores, his wife of 53 1/2 years.”He didn’t want to live in Dallas. He wanted to return to the Roaring Fork Valley,” she said.Checking the sheep herdsStutsman was born in Palisade on July 27, 1932, to William E. and Edna Madge Stutsman. He was an only child.His dad was a supervisor for the Love Ranch, an immense sheep operation. The family stayed in a cabin in Lead King Basin near Crystal in the Marble area during summers. His dad used the area as a base from where he checked on the sheep herds and herders scattered on summer range.The family spent winters northwest of Mack, near the Utah border.Dick developed a love of the mountains while exploring the backcountry with his dad, according to his son, Richard Jr.William Stutsman took a job on a ranch in the Carbondale area when Dick was young and he attended school there. Dolores said she first met him when they were 14-year-olds. Virtually everybody in the valley attended weekly Saturday night dances in Carbondale, Basalt, Aspen or elsewhere.Dolores said Dick asked someone at a dance who she was. The other person was a friend of her family’s and encouraged Stutsman to ask Dolores to dance. He didn’t, and they didn’t meet again until a couple of years later when Stutsman transferred to Basalt High School. They dated during part of high school and graduated together in 1950. They were married at St. Mary’s Church in Aspen in 1951.Service in MoroccoWhile serving in the Air Force in Morocco, Stutsman had secret clearance to work on radio frequencies that helped identify aircraft as friend or foe, according to Richard Jr.”He’s always been very mechanical, very good with his hands, a real problem-solver,” his son said.Stutsman indulged his passion for photography there and took numerous slides that the family still possesses.After Dick completed his four-year tour of duty in the service, the Stutsmans and their growing family moved to Henry Stein’s Mill Iron Ranch located between McLain Flats Road and Starwood.After a few years, Stein encouraged Stutsman to get into the construction business, Dolores recalled. He assured them Aspen was growing as a tourist destination and construction would boom. He said they could make good contacts during winters with skiers who would return as home builders.The Stutsmans initially thought Stein’s talk was just a “pipe dream,” Dolores said. But Stein persisted and he eventually hooked up Stutsman and his brother-in-law, Jerry Gerbaz, with Jim and Mary Hayes. The Hayeses had operated a small excavation company for about 10 years and wanted to sell out to pursue their interests. He was a silversmith and she was a writer.Mary said Stutsman worked for them during the summer of 1960 to learn the business, then Stutsman and Gerbaz finalized the purchase in January 1961.”It was real scary for Dick,” Dolores said. “We had been raised out here on the ranches, in the sticks.”Gamble pays offThe construction industry took the winter off then. Gerbaz said he and Stutsman worked for the Aspen Ski Corp. their first few winters in the excavation business. They both worked at the bottom of old Chair Three on Aspen Mountain.”It was the only thing to do in the winter. He was just telling me that the other day,” said Richard Jr.Dick loved the work. The line of skiers would stack up at the popular, slow lift.”My father, being somebody who really liked to talk, would talk to the people waiting in line,” Richard Jr. said. “That’s how a lot of people met him.”Stutsman stayed on with the Ski Corp. until about winter 1970 when the demands on the excavation business required year-round attention. Gerbaz said they did a lot of work in Snowmass Village when that resort was first developed. They excavated the sites for the Stonebridge and Pokalodi lodges and some other structures starting in 1965.”Things really took off in 1969 and ’70,” Gerbaz said. They maintained the size of the business to keep 14 workers employed year-round.Joe Zanin, a longtime builder in Aspen until recently retiring, said Stutsman-Gerbaz excavated the first house he worked on 38 years ago. Both Dick and Jerry were hands-on, operating machinery themselves, he recalled.Business was handled differently back then, with contractors and sub-contractors often calling each other at home the night before they needed work done, he said.Stutsman retired from the excavating business in 1992. Gerbaz followed in 1996, but the business remains in their families. Popular guyThroughout his endeavors, Stutsman was known as a personable fellow. He belonged to several community organizations. He was a member of the Aspen Elks Lodge for most of his adult life. He served with the Aspen Volunteer Fire Department. He attended St. Mary’s Catholic Church and served on its parish council.He enjoyed skiing and was at Buttermilk the day before he died. He also enjoyed photography and woodworking and was known for making beautiful frames for his pictures.”More often then not you would find him in the stands rooting for the Aspen High School sports teams,” said an obituary prepared by the family. The Stutsman had four kids, Richard Jr., Dave, Julie and Lisa. Willard Clapper Jr. said he asked his dad, who knew Stutsman for many years, what he remembered about the man. “What stuck out most was how he followed the kids,” Clapper recounted from his dad. “[Stutsman] was at every game. He was a fixture.”Gerbaz said his brother-in-law was “a very popular guy” who will be missed.”It’s too bad,” Gerbaz said. “It just leaves an empty feeling.”Stutsman is survived by his wife, Dolores; Richard Jr. and Joanna Stutsman; Dave, Vivienne and Shay, Dusty and Jyace Stutsman; Julie [Stutsman], Dexter and Darren Garner; and Lisa [Stutsman], Mark and Trey Thorpe.There will be a private family service only. In lieu of flowers, contributions will be accepted for the Disabled American Veteran winter Sports Clinic sponsored by the Aspen Elks Lodge No. 224, 510 E. Hyman Ave., Suite 300, Aspen, CO 81611.
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A ski season surrounded with uncertainty kicks off on Wednesday. The six inches of new snowfall Tuesday will allow opening of an additional 62 acres on Aspen Mountain, bringing opening-day total to about 160 acres.