Aspen, CO Colorado
Ramona Markalunas was born in Wichita, Kan., on Feb. 20, 1932, to Velma and Walter Conner. She passed away on the eve of her 80th birthday on Feb. 19, 2012.
She graduated valedictorian of her class from Central High School in Grand Junction in 1950 and went on to receive her associate’s degree in business. She married Jim Markalunas in June 1953 and moved with him back to Aspen in 1954. She worked as a legal assistant to Clint Stewart, the only attorney in Aspen at the time. Ramona retired as a real estate broker after establishing her own firm, Accent Properties.
Where does one begin to outline a life so well lived as Ramona’s? She raised a family of four children with great love and family was something she knew a great deal about, being the oldest of seven brothers and sisters. Aspen was also close to her heart.
Ramona’s community service was rooted in the heart and soul of Aspen. She befriended many of its “old timers” and they filled her with their stories of “Old Aspen.” In 1963, she became a founding member of the Aspen Historical Society, an all-volunteer organization in those days, and served on its board of trustees as secretary and president, starting in 1967. Together they raised the funds to purchase of the Wheeler-Stallard House and grounds. She spearheaded the construction of the Carriage House at the Wheeler-Stallard House which continues to this day to provide space for archiving and cataloging the Society’s extensive collection of documents, photographs and artifacts, ensuring the preservation of these priceless treasures from Aspen’s historic past.
For a decade she was actively engaged as a trustee, who worked tirelessly on fund-raising, and the project and grant work to accomplish the successful preservation of the ghost towns of Ashcroft and Independence. Through her work with the Aspen Historical Society, the Mace Family and the US Forest Service, and a large crew of volunteers, she accomplished the restoration of the hotel at Ashcroft from a pile of lumber to what you see there today. Other key buildings were restored along with the Crystal Mill. Future generations will continue to enjoy what is truly one of her many legacies.
Ramona served as Aspen’s first city councilwoman from 1971-1975, including service as mayor pro tem, and was actively involved in the successful acquisition of key real estate parcels including the golf course, the Thomas property and the Rio Grande property. She was instrumental in defining Aspen’s philosophy on growth control and historic preservation, preserving open space and the character of both the town and the valley for generations to come. She was instrumental in writing and adopting the City Charter.
In addition, Ramona was a charter member and founding director of the Pitkin County Parks Association (now the Aspen Valley Land Trust) and worked to establish the Ute Children’s Park, preservation of Ute Cemetery and continued acquisition of open space and parks throughout Pitkin County. She was instrumental in developing Aspen’s historic preservation program and in the efforts to preserve Aspen’s historic past.
Ramona continued her passion for preservation with the restoration of Independence Pass. She served on the board of directors of the Independence Pass Foundation from 1989 to 2008 and as president of this nonprofit organization, which is dedicated to the educational and fundraising efforts in order to encourage the reconstruction and revegetation of Independence Pass. She continued as director emeritus of the organization until her death. She worked tirelessly with the Foundation’s staff and board to raise funds to restore the environment of this sub-alpine climate. There was not a piece of this beautiful mountain pass that escaped her notice or her devotion.
As a task force and chairwoman from 1996 to 2001 of the Pitkin County Senior Housing Task Force, Ramona took up the cause of Aspen’s elderly both in advocating for a local care center and succeeded in securing housing through her work with the task force to convert the Pomegranate Lodge into apartments for senior citizens at what is now known as the Aspen Country Inn. Ramona served in various capacities including as the president of the League of Women Voters from 1971 until 1982.
In later years, she was an advocate for light rail as a way to preserve the quality of life that she knew and loved in Aspen. She served as president of the Western Slope Rail Association, a community organization dedicated to promoting and developing the use of light rail and mass transit solutions in the Roaring Fork Valley. She saw a vision for rail transit in the valley as an alternative to the degradation caused by the automobile. She came so very close to succeeding in this dream for Aspen and the entire Valley.
She also served as a member of the Board of the Aspen Grove Cemetery board as secretary/treasurer and was instrumental in bringing the cemetery back to an active and restored community asset. She was a member of St. Mary’s Parish and was actively involved with both preserving the historic assets of the church and its archives as well as volunteering for a variety of other parish projects and events.
In honor of Jim and Ramona Markalunas, the city of Aspen recognized Aspen’s most significant historic flower. The sweet pea was adopted as the official flower of Aspen, Colorado on May 14, 2001. Whenever we see the beautiful bright blossoms of sweet peas and our spirits are lifted by their fragrance, we will remember Ramona. She was as bright and energetic as their colorful blossoms. These were the flowers of Aspen’s pioneers and her pioneering spirit.
Aspen was built on the dreams and visions of the early pioneers. We owe it to our founders and our forebearers, but most importantly, we owe it to ourselves and to our progeny to live up to that dream. Ramona was passionate in her efforts which were always dedicated to the best interest of the community of Aspen. Her selfless service to Aspen is her legacy and our example to follow.
Ramona is survived by her husband Jim, daughter Julie Markalunas-Hall, son-in-law Marshall Hall, grandsons Carter and John Hall, daughter Lisa Markalunas, son John Markalunas, son Tom Markalunas, daughter-in law Leighann Markalunas and granddaughters Ella Grace and Lily Kate Markalunas, brothers Ed and Curt Conner, sisters Donna Huth and Ellen Sieminski and her extended family. She was preceded in death by her mother Velma Conner, her father Walter Conner and her brother Charles Conner.
The family requests donations be made in her memory to the Independence Pass Foundation, P.O. Box 1700, Aspen, Colorado 81612. More information is available at http://www.independencepass.org.
A funeral Mass will be celebrated at St. Mary Catholic Church at 10 a.m. Friday, Feb. 24, 2012. Reception to follow at the church. A rosary will also be held Thursday evening at 7p.m. All members of the community are invited to attend.
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