Modern-day movers and shakers
Fritz Benedict, Klaus Obermeyer and their ilk helped put Aspen on the map. But with each passing year, these old-timers gradually pass the torch to a new generation – men and women equally committed to Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley.But who are these people? Who is shaping the valley today? Who will carry our community into the future?To answer this question, we set out to find people in six different areas of community life – education, sports, development, politics, the environment and the arts – who have a vision for our valley.It was no easy task, as Aspen and the valley have become harder to define, let alone influence and shape. Still, there are countless people making a difference – a generation of “up-and-comers” that embodies a new Aspen Idea.On the following pages we talk with a half-dozen people whose influence we think will be felt in the years to come; it is by no means an exhaustive list of locals leading the charge or doing good work. But we feel these individuals reflect broader trends in their fields, and their thinking will affect our future. We asked them three questions – What professional accomplishment are you most proud of? What, in your opinion, is the role of your particular field in the Roaring Fork Valley? What is your vision for the future of the valley? – to get a glimpse into what the valley stands for today and what its future might hold.Jeanne McGovern’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.orgArts: Laura ThielenSince taking the helm of Aspen Filmfest in 1995, Laura Thielen has led the nonprofit organization to new heights. Under her leadership, and with the help of a talented staff and dedicated board, Filmfest has grown more than threefold, introducing year-round programming, downvalley screenings, family events, a youth education program and more.But Thielen, a Carbondale resident and the married mother of a 12-year-old daughter, has done more than change the face of Filmfest; she has become one of the valley’s most articulate and outspoken proponents of the arts and their importance in the community. Making her markThielen’s biggest challenge in becoming executive director of Aspen Filmfest was perhaps her greatest accomplishment. “To maintain an organization with strong roots in the community, but still allow it to grow both within and outside the valley has been a balancing act,” she says. “I had to take what was here, which was a fabulous foundation, and enhance and enrich it … to create programs that would continue to generate excitement for audiences while gaining recognition in the international film community.”The role of the artsThielen defers to modern-day Aspen’s founding fathers on this one – “the arts nurture people’s hearts and souls.” Beyond that, though, she sees the role of the arts as fourfold: To enrich children’s lives; to develop good citizens; to support the local economy; and, perhaps most important, to serve as a means to an end.”The arts can raise the level of dialogue between not only individuals, but between different constituencies,” she says, referring to the valley’s diverse population of working locals, second-home owners and visitors. “There is such a wealth of arts here, and so many ways to appreciate those offerings, that there is real potential for deepening a sense of community through the arts.”Leaving a legacyThielen’s vision for the valley is, in fact, a question for its people: “How do we perpetuate a sense of roots?” She asks this because the Roaring Fork Valley of Thielen’s dreams is a place filled with vitality, diversity and close-knit communities, which she believes we can only attain through a measure of continuity and consistency.”Change is a huge part of life, and it’s a huge part of this valley,” she acknowledges. “But we must find a way to incorporate these changes into an infrastructure that keeps people here and rooted … we need that constant thread to keep the dialogue open and moving forward.”Education: Chris KeleherThe only reason Chris Keleher wanted to be a teacher was his years spent as a student at the Aspen public schools (he’s an Aspen High grad, class of ’86). And the only place he wanted to teach – in fact, the only place he applied for a job – was with the Aspen School District.”It’s interesting to be back as a teacher … some of the teachers I had are now colleagues,” says Keleher, who is headed into his sixth year as an eighth-grade teacher at Aspen Middle School. “But for all that’s changed, I think the school district is still committed to trying to do the right thing.”The “right thing,” in Keleher’s opinion, is educating the whole child. It is something he keeps in mind every day he spends with his charges (in addition to teaching, Keleher is the cross-country running coach for Aspen High School).Making his markA few years back, Keleher was named one of the Aspen School District’s most distinguished teachers, an honor bestowed on 10 local educators each year. “Being honored was nice, of course, because it’s an indicator that what I’m doing, what the others teachers are doing, is the right thing,” he says. “It shows that the community does support what we’re doing and recognizes the importance of our teachers.”Public kudos aside, though, Keleher is most proud of the impact he has on students. “To inspire the kids. To challenge them. To get them to think about themselves and how they fit in the community and the world as a whole,” says Keleher. “That’s what matters.”The role of the educatorTo some, a teacher’s primary job is to ensure students learn their ABCs, pass standardized tests and remain safe during the school day.”These are tangible things, something to focus on … you know, you’re a teacher so all you have to do is teach,” he says.But to Keleher, the role of the educator is so much more: “To inspire. To challenge. To nurture. It’s a fine line, but sometimes you have show them what’s attainable and let them fail. And then you hope, and help, them learn life’s lessons.”And it’s not all about teachers helping students. “We learn from the kids, they teach me so much. It will be a sad day when I learn less from the kids than they learn from me,” concludes Keleher. Leaving a legacyKeleher’s vision for the Roaring Fork Valley reveals his Aspen roots: “It’s the whole Aspen Idea – body, mind and spirit. I would love to see it continued and furthered. It would benefit everyone, not just the kids, the community as a whole,” he says.Development: Michael LipkinAs a developer, Michael Lipkin stands out from the rest. Perhaps it’s the fact he’s also an architect (he holds a master’s degree in architecture from Yale). Or maybe it’s because he’s a longtime local with real roots in the community (he moved to the valley in 1982, has offices in Basalt, and is the married father of a 12-year-old daughter and a 15-year-old son).Better still, it could be that his projects, which range from high-end homes across the Rocky Mountains to the Snyder Park affordable housing project in Aspen to the midvalley’s booming Willits development, are top-notch.Whatever the reason, Lipkin – a partner in Lipkin Warner Design and Planning since 1981 and The Willits Group since 1994 – has a rock-solid reputation. In a valley that often loathes developers, that’s saying a lot.Making his markWillits is more than just a job to Lipkin. It is a passion; some might say an obsession. “I’m proud of how Willits looks, but also proud of how it’s working,” Lipkin says. “There are about 650 people already living in Willits – sharing their lives, their children, their parks, their neighborhoods – creating a community.”It is in this, the creation and nurturing of a small town, that Lipkin takes the most pride: “Small-town living is about relationships, involvement and a sense of belonging to a place,” he says. “Willits is a cross-section of the working backbone of our valley.”And there is more – the Willits Town Center, a new Saturday Farmers Market, Town Park, plans for a performing arts center, to name a few. “Willits and the surrounding neighborhoods will grow into the first new town in the valley since Basalt, Aspen, Glenwood and Carbondale were laid out by surveyors in the 19th century.”In fact, says Lipkin, the Willits General Store and Willits Wines and Spirits are good examples of what he and his partners envisioned. “They are operated by longtime valley restaurateur Bob Hite – a Willits resident who bicycles to work, appears to know everyone who walks into his store, and has attracted a terrific, friendly team,” he says. “Sure we sell gas. But we also sell organic vegetables and good food. And we’re learning from our neighbors what else they’d like to see in the store. It’s a handsome building. Instead of the usual plastic canopy over the gas tanks, we have a beautiful, intricate wood-trussed roof.”Still, Lipkin knows Willits is not just about his vision: “I’m proud that people are making Willits their own, and I’ll be able to just disappear.”The role of the developer”We need more diversification of our economy that will in turn attract different kinds of people to the valley,” says Lipkin. “We need to build more opportunities for businesses ideally suited to our quality of life.”Unfortunately, the role of the developer to affect such changes is limited. “Given the complexity of our land-use process and the limited approvals for workplace zoning, developers don’t have the opportunity to do many projects with vision,” Lipkin explains.”Let’s not let our public review process get so unpleasant that out-of-town developers are the only ones willing to do business here. Let’s plan it and build it ourselves.”Leaving a legacyLipkin simply says, “Willits is my vision for a piece of the valley. Isn’t that enough?” Environment: Auden Schendler Auden Schendler is in the unique position of being both a company guy and a staunch environmentalist. As director of environmental affairs for the Aspen Skiing Company, a position he took in 1999, he knows it’s difficult to make systemic changes in the corporate world.But Schendler, a Basalt resident and the married father of a new baby girl, has made great strides. “We’ve changed the culture of the company so that everyone incorporates the environment into how they work,” he says.Making his markSure, the Aspen Skiing Company has garnered awards and recognition for its environmental ethic, but that’s not what Schendler is most proud of.”I could care less if we did one trophy green building, or bought a token amount of wind power. I’m so proud we’ve gone beyond that. We don’t just have one green building; we have a green development policy and many green buildings. We don’t just buy renewable energy; we’re currently exploring a new goal of 25 percent renewable power, and now we’re making clean power on the hill with our hydroelectric station at Snowmass.”Of course Schendler is quick to point out he’s not the only one raising green standards at the Skico. “The Highlands Patrol headquarters, for example, is a model of green design, and I didn’t have a damn thing to do with it.”The role of the environmentalistEnvironmentalists tend to come off a bit lofty and left-winged, but Schendler has a firm grasp on the realities of his role in the valley and beyond.”The goal here has to be to think globally and embrace a new perspective on environmentalism,” he explains. “Sure, we need to protect open space and address sprawl and figure out mass transit, but we can’t see our valley as a distinct utopia, because if the world goes to hell, so do we.”Rather, Schendler advocates systemic change and becoming a model for other communities and government. “And we will be, because the name ‘Aspen’ gets global recognition. The real environmentalists here are looking [at the] big picture and are unrecognizable by the old definition of tree-huggers.”Leaving a legacy”Sustainability,” states Schendler.”I used to have a very utopian view of ‘sustainability,'” he continues. “I thought we as a community had to eliminate all waste, create no pollution, be all renewably powered, have no greenhouse impact and pull no water from the streams. But my thinking has evolved.”In fact, notes Schendler, his old view was hopelessly unrealistic. His new view, which he calls his “good enough” theory, holds that we should take actions that, collectively, are good enough to protect and restore the environment.”So sustainability is really the ability of the businesses, families, towns, and ecosystems in this valley to be able to stay in business forever. Not 100 years – forever.”My hope and vision is that everyone here embrace this idea of sustainability and apply it to the big, nasty issues facing themselves and the local environment – like sprawl and climate change, for example. We don’t have to be perfect, we just have to be good enough, and while that seems bland I think it’s a powerful and hopeful message, because we are imperfect and utopia is hard to achieve.”Politics: Alice Hubbard LairdAlice Hubbard Laird’s place in the public eye has changed over the years, but one thing has remained constant: a commitment to her chosen causes.After moving to the Roaring Fork Valley in 1990, Laird worked at the Rocky Mountain Institute, helped create CORE (Community Office for Resource Efficiency) as a citizen volunteer, was integral in the formation of the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority and, most recently, was elected to the Carbondale Town Council. The consummate public servant, Laird has been part of the public process as a volunteer, employee, citizen and elected official. But to Laird, a married mother of two young children, public service is just part of living in a community; it is second nature. Making her markWorking to help create CORE, which advocates in numerous ways for energy efficiency and smarter resource use, is among Laird’s most satisfying accomplishments. “To have an idea – CORE – and to work with other citizens and elected officials to create it and to see what it has blossomed into through the hard work of Randy Udall and Joani Matranga and others has been incredibly rewarding,” she says.The role of the politicianLaird believes elected officials are just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to solving community problems and protecting the valley. “Politicians can only do so much – active citizens, the staff that implement things day in, day out, and organizations that endure beyond my time in office are all a crucial part of shaping the future.”But this doesn’t mean Laird is afraid to step up to the plate. In fact, “elected officials can play a key role in making tough decisions, establishing priorities for a community, and moving a vision forward.”In other words, she acknowledges that the buck often stops with the elected official.Leaving a legacyOnce mainly concerned with the valley’s environmental, energy and transportation future, Laird has changed her focus as a wife and mom. “Having kids has made me more aware of the crucial issues of quality daycare and early-childhood education, great schools and other family issues,” she says.But her hopes for the valley remain broad and far-reaching: Reducing our contributions to various global problems; nurturing a strong, stable economy that preserves the qualities that bring people here; protecting the remaining open space between communities so the valley is not one sprawling suburb; and creating a valleywide trail and bikable/walkable communities.
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