People of the Times: Nancy Morgan Smith |

People of the Times: Nancy Morgan Smith

Nancy Morgan Smith (Contributed photo)

In late August 1949, Nancy Smith first visited Aspen with her husband, Jimmy, and her three children, Morgan, Sandra and Dinah. Within 48 hours they had decided to buy a ranch east of Aspen (now the North Star Nature Preserve), sell their home on Long Island, resign from Jimmy’s job as a vice president at Pan American Airways, and leave the East Coast where they had always lived. Lifetime Trustee of the Music Associates of Aspen, Nancy Smith died Christmas Day 2005 after many years of Alzheimer’s disease. She loved her years in the Aspen area and supported many activities. For example, Colorado Mountain College named its new veterinary center the Nancy Morgan Smith Veterinary Technology Center in her honor.Here are some of her recollections of those early days in Aspen, based on an interview conducted by Morgan Smith, her son, on July 15, 1984.Morgan: Tell us your first impression of Aspen.Nancy: It was the last day of August 1949, pouring rain as we came down over Independence Pass. I was sound asleep in the car and woke up as we arrived at the Hotel Jerome. My first comment was, “What is the name of this dump?” I remember thinking that I was never going to live there.M: But you did live in Aspen for many years. How did that happen?N: The next morning, Jimmy went to get a haircut. In those days, Jim Moore was not only the only barber in Aspen but also the only real estate agent. So while your father was getting the haircut, a lady named Emily Barrailler came in, all worked up, and said to Jim Moore, “I can’t manage our place anymore. I have to sell it because my son wants to go to be a mechanic in Kansas City. My husband, Emery, is too old.” Jimmy then offered to drive Mrs. Barrailler home because she had no car. Later he came back all excited and took you and Sandra out to see this ranch. You thought it was absolutely wonderful. When I saw it, however, my heart sank. After all, I had been born and brought up in New York City and knew absolutely nothing about the West or small towns or ranching.Incidentally we paid about $80 an acre for the ranch, which everyone thought was way too much.M: What happened next?

N: We came out the next summer and lived in Cooper’s Cabins up beyond the ranch while our house was being built. A Swiss couple, Paul and Hannah Wirth, and their small child, Anna Marie, came with us. They were fabulous.

Then we bought a horse named Tony. Afterward your father said, “We better have a corral for the horse.” So you, Sandra and I tried to build one. We got aspen poles and huge nails and a certain amount of arguing would be going on. Someone would be putting in a nail and either you or Sandra would drop the other end. It was not that easy but finally we nailed it together and put buckets of water in with Tony.The next morning he was gone and there was a message from our neighbor, Mrs. Sparovic, asking us to collect our horse and clean up the mess he had made in her garden.Our contractor Horace Hendricks was laughing his head off. “You nailed all the rails on the outside of the posts,” he said. “All Tony had to do was push them loose with his rump.”M: What other ranching experiences did you have?N: Oh, everything. One summer when Jimmy was working in Washington (he was assistant secretary of the Navy for air), we put up the hay crop. Unfortunately we cut it all at once. Then we hired waiters from the Red Onion and some other locals to help us bale it. But it rained, the hay got soaking wet and everything rotted.

M: What about the winters?N: That winter we took up skiing. My first lesson was with Paul Wirth on a pair of skis that your father bought me at Macy’s for $6. Later Paul took me down Buckhorn. “Turn, turn,” he yelled at me the whole way down because I was headed for every tree. I finally got down and have never been scared of skiing since.M: Your main love, however, was the music.N: Yes. Our first concert was the Budapest Quartet and there were 17 people in the audience, including Dinah and me. Soon afterward the musicians, led by Mack Harrell, decided to create an independent organization [the Music Associates of Aspen]. Walter Paepcke, who had started both the Institute and the Music Festival, agreed. A number of us put up $1,000 each, and Courtie Barnes was our first chairman.But the next year Walter wanted us to pay more than we could afford. Our meeting with the Institute directors turned into a real fight, and we were evicted from all of the facilities. Fortunately, Courtie Barnes said, “Well, I am terribly sorry, gentlemen, we are going to continue anyway.”

About an hour later several directors came back to us saying that there had been a terrible mistake and we got it worked out. That was a huge turning point for music in Aspen.M: Who are some of the people you remember best from those early days?N: Oh, there were so many. Fred Iselin and Friedl Pfeifer were the heads of the ski school. They and their wives, Elli and Bunny, became our good friends. Also Tom Sardy, who owned the Aspen Lumber and Supply and the mortuary. The McLaughlins, who had the Diamond G guest ranch past Basalt. The Stapletons – we used to buy oats from Sam when we couldn’t get it from Tiedeman’s store. Bill Stapleton and Orest Gerbaz helped Jimmy fight the Fryingpan-Arkansas dam project, which would have flooded the whole valley. Newt and Angie Klusmire had the White Kitchen. You used to rodeo with him and his brother, Bob, which I disapproved of. Albert Bishop and Henry Beck, who had Beck and Bishops – they were great friends. Jim Hayes sold us that bulldozer, which we used for years. Clyde and Wayne Vagneur, who brought their cattle up to our pastures for the summers. They didn’t know that you would practice roping on their calves. Wonderful teachers like Mona Frost and Hilda Anderson. The Barnes – Courtie was the savior of the music. The Gliddens, the Stantons, Tukey [Koffend], the Benedicts, the musicians – I could go on and on.Yes, I loved the music but it was the people that always made Aspen so wonderful.

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