Sam Stapleton remembered as family man |

Sam Stapleton remembered as family man

Catherine Lutz
Sam Stapleton in his home in July 2003. (Aspen Times file)

Lifetime local Sam Stapleton, patriarch of one of the last ranching families in the Roaring Fork Valley, died of heart failure Saturday night on the Owl Creek ranch where he was born. He was 79 years old.Stapleton was described as totally devoted to his family and community, a man who loved a good party, worked hard and thoroughly enjoyed the outdoors. Neighbors helping neighbors, sticking with the things you enjoy and playing a role in bettering your community were tenets of the old ranching lifestyle that Stapleton followed throughout his lifetime in the Roaring Fork Valley – a place he never considered leaving.

The Stapleton family ranch, where Sam was born in January 1927, once encompassed the airport, the Aspen Business Center and much of the Owl Creek Valley. He grew up tending his family’s sheep herds on what is now the Divide in Snowmass Village. At the age of 13 he tended more than 800 sheep alone throughout the summer from a small cabin with no electricity or running water. Sam’s Knob, which is named after him, was part of the pastures he wandered extensively as a child. Stapleton continued the family ranch with his wife, the former Elizabeth Hammerich of Glenwood Springs, until the late 1960s, when they sold their Divide land to the Janss Corp. to become part of the new Snowmass Ski Area. They kept cattle on their Owl Creek land until the early 1990s, and managed a small hay operation and farm to the present day.”He always loved farming, loved to work with sheep and cattle,” said his wife, Liz. “There was no money in it; it was a lot of hard work, but there was a lot of pride in it. But he also played hard.”

Stapleton retired last year after working in Aspen Skiing Co. ticket sales for 48 years, one of the longest tenured employees in the company. Lack of ranching work in the winter was what prompted him to start at the Aspen Mountain ticket office, but “he continued working because he loved it,” said his son-in-law Bill Tofany. “He didn’t want to go anywhere. It didn’t take a lot to make him happy, just a cold beer and good company.”For the 52 years that the Aspen Fire Protection District has existed, Stapleton has been its president. He also served long stints on the Aspen School District board, the Red Butte Cemetery board and the local conservation district board.”The Stapleton family always believed in community service; they’re all very involved,” said Jane Stapleton, who married the son of one of Sam’s half-brothers.

One of nine children in an extended Irish-American family, Stapleton also enjoyed family and social gatherings. A member of the Elks Club since 1962, he often played cards there. He loved to dance and was a proud grand marshal in the Aspen Fourth of July parade in 2003.”He was a great storyteller, loved his kids and grandkids, and would do anything for anybody,” his nephew Dave Stapleton said. “He would keep people laughing all the time. Life just never got too serious for him, and he had a great time all the time.”Stapleton was an avid hunter and fisherman, and until his death enjoyed his animals and farmwork. “He always said he wanted to live and die on the ranch, and that was what he did,” Liz said.

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