Medical pioneer Dr. Oden dies at 85
ASPEN ” Aspen icon Dr. Robert Oden, who started Orthopaedic Associates of Aspen and had a hand in the creation of many other local institutions, died peacefully Sunday night at his home in Florida. He was 85.
Oden moved to Aspen in 1957 and established the resort’s first local orthopaedic practice. His Orthopaedic Associates, which employs 60 people today from Aspen to Rifle, still helps this active community recover from various injuries related to sports. It was the first orthopaedic clinic on the Western Slope, serving Aspen, Vail, Glenwood Springs and Rifle.
“He was an institution to this town,” said Dr. Mark Purnell, an orthopaedic surgeon who began working with Oden in the mid 1980s. “He was the first orthopaedist on the Western Slope and he was my mentor. … He was like a second father to me.”
Oden also helped establish the Vail clinic, which now competes for business with Orthopaedic Associates in Aspen.
Oden also was one of the founders of the Aspen Valley Medical Foundation, which since 1973 has provided financial resources and philanthropic leadership for medical needs throughout the valley, including Aspen Valley Hospital.
“He had incredible foresight,” said Kris Marsh, the foundation’s executive director.
“He wanted a foundation that was independent of the hospital and for the whole community.
“Bob was a real visionary, and he had a real good heart,” she added. “He was a warm, kind person who cared about people and the community.”
His entrepreneurial spirit also came through when he started the first on-mountain medical clinics at both Snowmass and Vail.
Oden in 2004 was inducted into the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine Hall of Fame. Only a couple of dozen doctors have received the prestigious honor that began in 2001.
Oden became part of both the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame and the U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame for his extensive contributions to sports medicine. Specifically, he initiated the U.S. Ski Team doctors pool in 1968, recruiting and training orthopaedists to travel with the ski teams to provide medical assistance.
He also was appointed to the U.S. Olympic Committee in 1960, 1972, 1976 and 1980, and was chairman of the Medical Committee for the Aspen Winternational. In 1995, he was inducted into the Aspen Hall of Fame.
“He was a big pioneer in the medical field,” said George Trantow, executive director Orthopaedic Associates. “He was extremely generous and he lived life, always had a smile, always had an idea, always an optimist and thinking of ways to help the community.”
Oden spent the winters on Captiva Island in Florida, fishing, reading and relaxing. He and his wife, Nancy, returned to Aspen during the summers.
The longtime couple had one child together and Oden helped raise Nancy’s three other children from a previous marriage.
“When I first met Bob in 1964, he was known for always going out with the newest blonde in town,” Nancy Oden said. “Fortunately, I was the one he settled on, even though I came with three young children, a Saint Bernard, three cats and a goldfish.”
Described by many as a “larger than life character,” Oden was just as a devoted father as he was a doctor to hundreds of valley residents.
“I call him my Energizer bunny and my Rock of Gibraltar,” said his daughter, Beth Oden. “I had the best dad a girl could ever ask for.”
Oden recalled a time in her childhood when her father bought her a horse, even though he disliked the animals. Concerned for her safety, he wouldn’t let Beth ride alone on their ranch. Instead, he tied the reigns to the back of his bicycle and escorted Beth and the horse around the property.
“There are a 1,000 stories like that,” Beth Oden said. “He would take whatever and make it work.”
Purnell said the same about Oden, who would travel the world and bring innovative ideas back to Aspen to be employed in the medical practice.
“We would actually make things happen, not just talk about them,” Purnell said, adding he was always amazed at how many people Oden knew not just in the valley but throughout the world.
He recalled having dinner with Oden years ago at the Aspen Meadows when he spotted former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, who gave Oden a big bear hug upon their meeting. Purnell also said while in the Air Force, Oden roomed with Chuck Yeager, who was the first pilot to break the sound barrier. Oden also dated Nancy Reagan in high school and was good friends with Lucille Ball, who was a patient of his, Purnell said.
Longtime friend Charles Israel said Oden helped start Pitkin County Bank, which is now Vectra Bank, and was a partner with him in owning the Red Onion building until it was purchased by Ron Garfield and Andy Hecht.
And because of his love for airplanes, Oden helped start Aspen Base Operations at the Aspen airport.
But with all of his business and medical ventures, Oden still made time for family and friends.
“He had an amazing sense of humor, and he always made time to listen to you,” Israel said. “Aspen was fortunate to have a man like him here. He will be missed.”
Born in Chicago, Oden is survived by his wife; his children, Lisbeth Oden, Louise Edwards, Boyd Edwards and Beach (Katy) Edwards; as well as three grandchildren, Zackary Robert Oden, and Kaela and Aubrey Edwards.
Other survivors include his nephew, William Bohman, and his niece, Deborah Crawford. He was preceded in death by his parents, Rudolph and Olga Oden, and his sister, Constance Flenner.
A memorial service to celebrate his life will be held this summer in Aspen. In lieu of flowers, the family is asking to commemorate his life and favorite project to: Aspen Sports Medicine Foundation; 100 E. Main St.; Aspen, CO, 81611 or to Hope Hospice; 9470 Health Park Circle; Ft. Myers, FL, 33908
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