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Mike Garrish, memorable Aspen mayor, dies at 92

Janet Urquhart
Mike Garrish, an Aspen native and fiesty former mayor of the town, died Sept. 17 in Rifle. He was 92 years old. Aspen Times photo.
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Michael J. Garrish, the feisty former mayor of Aspen and a man who never minced words about the town’s glitzy “destruction,” died Friday at the veterans’ home in Rifle.He was 92 years old.Garrish was born in Aspen on Jan. 6, 1912, son of Yugoslav immigrants Nicholas Garich and Agnes Baltizar. Local school teachers changed the family name to Garrish, he claimed in an interview with Mary Eshbaugh Hayes for her book, “The Story of Aspen.”He grew up in a house where City Market now stands, but sold the parcel in the early 1960s and moved into a house left to him by his aunt on Gibson Avenue. He missed out on the wealth the family land would have brought a couple of decades later.”What if I could have held it and gotten $5 million?” he mused in a 1997 interview with The Aspen Times. “Who could have put up with me as snotty as I am now and then with $5 million? Dear God.”

Garrish watched Aspen’s decline during the “quiet years,” after the silver boom had ended, but before skiing took hold. The town would recover – in fact become a famous ski resort – but he wasn’t exactly thrilled with the transformation.His father worked in the mines until his death in 1924; his mother raised vegetables and found a a way to help raise her family of seven (three other children died in infancy): bootlegging.”I watched her make it many a time. She’d buy the prunes or the raisins and put a little sugar with it and add some yeast. She’d put it in a big barrel behind the stove and boy, it’d heat up and start fermentin’,” Garrish told The Aspen Times.He lived most of his life in Aspen, before selling the Gibson Avenue home and moving to El Jebel in the mid-1990s. He graduated from Aspen High School and worked at the old Mesa Store, among his other jobs as a young man.”I spent 82 years in Aspen. That’s a long time. Figure it, you wonder why I’m so damn crusty. People call you names all those years, you get crusty,” Garrish told The Times. “I just got so I didn’t like the town’s modus operandi.”After graduating from Aspen High, Garrish enlisted and fought during World War II. He served as a master sergeant with the Army from 1941 to 1947. After his return, he worked for the Pitkin County Road and Bridge Department and then served on the Aspen City Council for 12 years. He was mayor from 1960-64. He also worked as an electrician along with his civic service.

Aspen was in tough shape by 1948, even as town patriarch Walter Paepcke and his wife, Elizabeth, began reshaping Aspen as a resort and place of humanistic/intellectual pursuits.Garrish served on a City Council that got the town’s streets paved, fixed the sewer system and pulled the plug on Aspen’s hydroelectric power plant in favor of electricity purchased “off the grid.”In his interview with The Times, he voiced pride in bringing Aspen into the 20th century, but decried the other changes taking place, led by the Paepckes.”The Paepckes came in. All the local atmosphere and color disappeared,” he told The Times. “I don’t know. I was kind of resentful of their ideas. Everything had to be named Paepcke.”By the time he was ready to leave, he was critical of Aspen’s focus on wealth, its crowds and even the goings-on at City Hall.

“This town will soon be a completely new and different place,” he told Hayes. “It will never be the same community it was. But you can never turn back.”From my way of looking, it’s been utterly destroyed.”Garrish is remembered by friends, though, as a man who loved to hunt and fish. Later in life, his flower and vegetable gardens were legendary. He is survived by a sister, Jessie Dundston of Glenwood Springs, several nieces and nephews, and many friends.Funeral services will be held at 10 a.m. Friday at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Aspen, followed by burial at Red Butte Cemetery, where his father is also buried. There will be a reception back at the church for family and friends.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com


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