Organizer of The Wall out $12,000 | AspenTimes.com
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Organizer of The Wall out $12,000

Steve Benson

By helping other Vietnam veterans heal emotional scars, John Hoepfer is $12,000 in debt. The Aspen resident is responsible for bringing the Traveling Wall – a 4/5th scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the Mall in Washington, D.C. – to town last May. The cost of doing so, however, was not cheap. But Hoepfer was determined. Earlier this year, he met with representatives from Alpine Bank to discuss funding for the event.”They caught on to the vision right away,” Hoepfer said. “It was kind of fun when I went in. They got it so quickly I didn’t even have time to finish my rap.” Alpine Bank agreed to cover the cost of The Wall up front, and would work out a deal with Hoepfer later to decide how much he would have to pay back. “It was more of a handshake than a loan,” Hoepfer said. Hoepfer wasn’t initially concerned about paying back the money – he has been involved with four other Traveling Wall events, and each of those met their funding goals. And in the grand scheme of things, falling in debt didn’t really matter.”Money was not an issue of whether it would happen or not,” Hoepfer said. “It’s a significant social event within a community.”Sunny Redmond, a close friend of Hoepfer and a holistic healer, said Hoepfer never hesitated, even when faced with shouldering the financial burden. “He knew the enormity of the event,” she said. But when Hoepfer realized that donations came up not only short, but extremely short, Redmond said it was disheartening. “There was a sadness, a true sadness that the ability for the community to support this was not met,” she said. “We were not necessarily disappointed, but it was more a sense of sadness because it’s a nonpolitical event – these guys gave their lives.” Vietnam veterans from around the state visited The Wall in Aspen, where they healed old wounds, met new friends and paid their respect to old ones who died by their side – their names now etched on The Wall. “People are still moved by it, touched by it,” said Dan Glidden, a Vietnam veteran who lives in Basalt. “There are over 58,000 names. Look at each one of those names. It’s overwhelming.” Hoepfer said people of all ages and backgrounds made a trip to The Wall replica, which stood in Rio Grande Park for nearly four days. But for some reason, donations weren’t flowing in like the visitors. Which begs the question, how, in a prosperous community such as Aspen, could there be such a lack of financial support? “I don’t know, maybe people just weren’t aware,” Hoepfer said. “We all disconnect from things that are troublesome to us.” Glidden was also hesitant to point any fingers, but admitted he was puzzled.”It’s a shame. I think Aspen and the business community missed a real opportunity here,” he said. “How many times do you have an opportunity for Vietnam vets to get together and talk to international figures?” The figures Glidden referred to are Jan Scruggs, a Vietnam veteran and the founder of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C, and David Maraniss, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and author of “They Marched Into Sunlight,” a book about the Vietnam War. Both men attended The Wall in Aspen. But despite the lacking donations, Glidden and Hoepfer were pleased with those who did visit the memorial, and the emotional support the community provided.”I’m so grateful for the community effort that went into it,” Glidden said. “That’s what Aspen is all about.” And Hoepfer said he’d do it all again in a heartbeat. “I know how good it was for the community, not only the veterans but all kinds of folks,” he said. “I think it’s very powerful for our children, even the kids 8 or 9 years old – they might not have understood the circumstances but they felt the emotion and knew it was important.”I didn’t see any age group that wasn’t represented and touched, and learned some things about themselves and others, and when we’re all kind of doing that together, you feel supported, you feel you’re not alone in the things you’ve experienced.” While some donors have stepped forward and promised to help Hoepfer pay off his debt, Alpine Banks around the state are still taking donations, care of The Wall in Aspen. Steve Benson’s e-mail address is sbenson@aspentimes.com


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