One of Aspen’s ‘old guard’ to be honored
ASPEN – A memorial service will be held Saturday for a man who was raised in Aspen during the Quiet Years and stuck out the tough times to become a successful businessman during the town’s ascension as a ski resort.
Jesse James Maddalone acquired a modest little gas station on Main Street in the mid-1950s and built it into a popular place for locals to congregate and swap tales. (It later became known as the Locals’ Corner.) He would later own the Conoco stations in Snowmass Village and Old Snowmass as well.
Maddalone and a business partner also developed the Smuggler trailer park to provide Aspen’s working class with a place to live.
He died in January at age 93. A memorial service will be held at noon Saturday at Red Butte Cemetery. A luncheon will follow at the Elks Lodge.
Maddalone was born in Aspen in October 1918 and was raised in a small house where the railroad tracks ran near the current post office. His dad, James, was a Italian immigrant who came to Aspen at a young age and worked in various mines. His mom, Ida, was born in Granite, Colo. They had 10 kids.
In the book, “Aspen, The Quiet Years,” Jesse’s youngest brother, Chuck, now deceased, recalled growing up poor but happy.
“My dad was a great gardener,” Chuck said in the book. “He had to be, raising 10 of us kids. They wondered why we could run and swim so good when we were kids. If you ate as many fish, jackrabbits and buckskin as we did, you could, too.
“Everybody ate well in Aspen, but nobody had a dime,” Chuck continued in the book. “We were a very poor people.”
Jesse’s nephew, Willard Clapper, said it was a different era in the 1920s and ’30s, where kids in the dirt-poor town often lived with another family and helped with chores or running a business. Jesse lived in the home of Eldon Bishop, whose family co-owned a grocery store.
Maddalone graduated from Aspen High School. He went on to serve in the U.S. Army in the Philippines during World War II and learned construction skills. After the war, he traveled to Greenland and worked in the concrete business during the construction of a large air base.
“He went away to grubstake and raise the money to buy a business,” Clapper said. “You couldn’t do that in Aspen.”
Another nephew, Jessie Caparella, said his uncle might have sensed that Aspen was waking from the slumber of the Quiet Years when he returned. The town made a splash in the ski business by hosting the FIS World Championships in 1950. Caparella said the gas station Maddalone purchased was just a small house with an old-style pump out front and a ramp for vehicles to drive onto to elevate them for service. The pump was the type where gas would get pumped into a visible container before being released into the vehicle’s tank.
Maddalone rebuilt the station as Aspen and his business prospered, adding two bays for changing oil and tires, Caparella said. More renovations would come in the future.
Clapper said he remembers his uncle’s Conoco station as a hub of activity in the early 1960s. He would always take his bicycle down to the shop to get his uncle’s help changing a flat tire. And a 10-cent Coke machine was a magnet for Clapper and his friends.
Along with running businesses, Maddalone was immersed in community service. He was a member of the Aspen Volunteer Fire Department for about 25 years, Caparella said. He had badge No. 9 (badges started getting assigned in 1953, according to Clapper).
Clapper said his uncle was a notoriously poor truck driver, but he always ended up driving since he worked so close to the station. Firefighters would scramble to jump onto the back of the truck and hold on as Maddalone flew out of the bay.
Maddalone was also a long-standing member of the Elks Lodge, the American Legion and the Eagles. He was an avid sportsman with a passion for golf and a love for fishing, boating, skiing, and sports of every stripe, Clapper said.
Maddalone also had “the gift of gab,” according to Clapper.
“He was always asked to be the master of ceremonies at Aspen activities,” he said. Maddalone was well known for using a particular phrase of praise for someone being recognized for a civic endeavor or good performance at work. “His signature saying was, ‘He done us a good job,'” Clapper said.
Caparella said his uncle continued working at the gas station until he sold it in the 1990s. He and his second wife moved to Grand Junction after he retired and they spent winters in Lake Havasu, Ariz.
His death represents another passing of Aspen’s “old guard,” Clapper said. “There are not many left of his generation.”
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