Sardy, one of Aspen’s ‘sweetest,’ dies at 101
ASPEN – Alice Rachel Sardy “cried for a week” when she moved to Aspen in March 1938, she used to recount for friends. There was so little activity in the dumpy little town that grass was growing in the unpaved streets.
But she soon developed a love for Aspen that lasted until she died at age 101 on Saturday at the Heritage Park Care Center in Carbondale.
She tried to move away from Aspen once, after infirmaries of old age wouldn’t allow her to live alone. She moved to her daughter Sylvia Hellums’ house in Alabama but had to return to the Roaring Fork Valley after six months.
“She missed the mountains. She missed the snow,” Hellums said.
And now, many people connected with an earlier era of Aspen will miss a woman described as a true delight to be around.
“She was probably the sweetest, kindest woman I’ve ever known,” said Judy Zanin, a friend of Sardy’s for 45 years.
Alice Rachel – she always used both names – was part of a family that built a legacy in Aspen. The Sardy House, the classic brick structure across from Paepcke Park on Main Street, bears the family name. The Aspen-Pitkin County Airport is also known as Sardy Field in honor of her husband, Tom. He realized in the 1940s that Aspen needed an airport to develop into a world-class resort. He toiled as a Pitkin County commissioner to acquire the land and financing for the airport. He was soon hailed as a visionary.
Alice Rachel Peck was born on Sept. 6, 1908, in Centerville, Ohio, and her family moved to Colorado’s San Luis Valley when she was 2. She graduated from Western State College in Gunnison after studying education and accounting, then she taught high school in Ouray, Tom’s hometown.
They were married and soon after moved to Aspen because Tom had a chance to buy the town mortuary. His new business came with Aspen Supply, a furniture and hardware store in the Collins Block building at the corner of Mill and Hopkins. They lived in an upstairs apartment, where Sylvia was born in 1939 and her brother, T.J., was born two years later. The Sardys later added Aspen Lumber and Supply across the street to their business portfolio.
The family bought the Main Street house from Dr. Twining when she was in first grade, in 1945, Hellums said. They moved the mortuary there and expanded the hardware store.
Tom and Alice Rachel remained in the house for 40 years. The stately home was known for the orange and deep-red nasturtiums that Mrs. Sardy grew along the iron fence. Hellums said she has fond memories of her mom weeding the flower gardens as the sun was fading in the late afternoon, and her dad trailing along talking, drink in hand.
Mrs. Sardy used to give elementary school kids tours of the house and provide lemonade and cookies, Hellums recalled. Cherie Oates, who befriended the Sardy kids while growing up in Aspen, said Mrs. Sardy had “the kindest face” and sweetest smile.
“She just exuded peace,” Oates said, and she had the ability to bring peace to those around her.
Mrs. Sardy was a member of Aspen Community Church and a longtime member of a sorority known as PEO that promoted education for women.
While she was initially sad about moving to Aspen, she warmed up to the town as mud season gave way to summer, then fall in that first year. She really grew to love the place as she and Tom started a family. “It was a good town in which to bring up the children,” he recounted in the book, “Aspen: The Quiet Years.”
When Aspen took off after World War II, the Sardys sold an interest in their businesses to Walter Paepcke and The Aspen Co. Mrs. Sardy said in “The Quiet Years” that she and her husband were thrilled with the intellectual and cultural changes that the Paepckes helped usher in.
Tom retired in 1985, and they sold their house in town, which was redeveloped as The Sardy House hotel. The Sardys moved to a home across from the west end of the airport runway. It had great views of the airport operations that Tom made possible, and of all four ski areas. Tom died in 1990 at age 79.
Alice Rachel remained there another 10 years or so. Roughly eight years ago she moved to Heritage Park, where she enjoyed the staff and company, Hellums said. She celebrated her 100th birthday with two big bashes in 2007 – one at Heritage Park and the other at the old-timers’ party in Aspen.
“She got a real shot of adrenaline,” Hellums said. Her mom got to visit old friends, like Joe and Bernie Popish, Alberta Moore and Sepp Kessler, who all passed away shortly after the party.
Mrs. Sardy remained in relatively good health until a recent fall broke a hip. She was recovering well from the injury but it seemed to sap her energy, Hellums said. “You know, her body just wore out.”
Tom Moore noted that Mrs. Sardy was the last to pass among four close friends who knew each other from the early days of modern Aspen. His mother, Alberta, as well as Peggy Rowland and Louiva Stapleton, died before Sardy. It represents the real passing of a generation, he said.
When Hellums was asked what she will remember best about her mom, she said: “She gave everyone a chance. She treated everybody the same way, and she was very sweet.”
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