Theatre Aspen’s Heroes Program shines spotlight on valley’s frontline workers, community supporters
aspen heroes honorees
A list of the inaugural Theatre Aspen’s Heroes Program. They will be recognized at shows during the “All for One” summer season:
Travis Benson and Joey Woltemath, Aspen High School graduation organizers: Honored for organizing the graduation ceremony for Aspen High School students in the Buttermilk parking lot.
Samuel Bernal, community activist and news presenter, and Iliana Renteria, community volunteer: The duo helped keep the Hispanic community up to date during the pandemic and informing the community of the resources available.
Susan Cross, community activist: Helped with community fundraising and grant allocations, a Basalt food bank, delivering meals, the Totes for Hope program, and a chairlift sale fundraiser.
Claudia Flores Cruz, advocate for the Family Resource Center on behalf of the organization: Helping families with rent, food, and SNAP benefits.
Jenelle Figgins, community activist: Organized peaceful protests for Black Lives Matter and a variety of other community-based initiatives.
Yolanda Gonzalez, staffer at Family Services Team: Ensured families received housing, food, internet, and other essential resources.
Diane Heald, Infusion Nurse at Valley View Hospital: She gave advice and great empathy for cancer patients throughout the pandemic.
JeanMarie Hegarty, first responder at Valley View Hospital: Nominated for flexibility and selflessness as a nurse, who was ready to fulfill all requests.
Ashley Himmel, medical assistant: Nominated on on behalf of the testing team at Aspen Valley Hospital COVID testing team for providing support and care to residents.
Ruth Hostetler, administrative assistant at Pitkin County’s Senior Services Dept.: Nominated for organizing and ensuring meals were available to seniors when the Senior Center was closed.
Bob and Soledad Hurst, philanthropists: Helpled co-found the Aspen Institute’s Hurst Community Initiative, supporting those most affected by the virus, and for launching Aspen to Parachute, a multi-million dollar recovery fund to support the community.
Linda Killian, fitness instructor at Aspen Recreation Center: Nominated for continuing fitness classes for seniors via Zoom and outdoors after the rec center closed.
Frank Lu, executive chef at Jing Restaurant: Nominated for continuing to prepare food for takeout during the pandemic and often delivering the food.
Santos Marquez, Downtown Services Supervisor at Parks Dept.: Put in endless hours to lead the organization’s efforts to keep the downtown core and mall clean throughout the spring.
Miranda Pingree, school lunch provider at the Roaring Fork School District: She worked to provide meals to the children in the district when schools were closed.
Dawn Ryan, teacher/child care provider at Aspen Mountain Tots: Nominated for reopening her child care program specifically for those families in the emergency response field.
Julie Salcedo, teacher at Honeytree Preschool: Honored for helping the children of essential workers at Honey Tree, the only nursery open to essential workers.
Katherine Sand, director of Aspen Family Connections: She organizing the program’s efforts to provide food and support to hundreds of families in need.
Alex Sanchez, community organizer: Nominated for helping the Latino community and reaching out to several non-profits and regional task forces.
David Wallach, worker at Clark’s Market: Nominated for working at Clark’s, greeting everyone, and missing no days of work, except when recovering from the coronavirus.
In an effort to recognize some of the local frontline workers and community activists who helped the Roaring Fork Valley get through the pandemic, Theatre Aspen announced its inaugural Aspen Heroes honorees who will be featured at performances this summer.
The company will honor 20 valley locals during this year’s “All for One” summer season, which is taking a new approach just like nearly everything else because of the pandemic. Theatre Aspen producing director Jed Bernstein said Thursday that the inaugural honor is meant to shine the spotlight from the stage to some of the valley’s workers who made it “safe and comfortable.”
“We were really impressed, walking around town, hearing stories about people who persevered and through their efforts made it possible for everybody else to be safe and comfortable,” Bernstein said. “We wanted to come up with a way to turn the spotlight on those folks.”
The honorees stretch up and down the valley and include people like David Wallach, who works at Clark’s grocery store in Aspen and caught the virus but returned to work after three weeks of being ill.
Wallach, who worked at the store for three summers in his teen years, returned in June 2016 and has been there since.
Wallach, 39, said Friday after he got off work that he was sick at the end of March and when he got back on April 13, things had changed. But it wasn’t too hard to learn the new rules. The toughest part of the ordeal was being away from the market for that long.
“Knowing I couldn’t go there and knowing they needed me and I couldn’t do anything about it, that was really hard,” Wallach said. “When I got back they greeted me with open arms, and it was easy once they told me the new rules.”
David’s mother, Betty Wallach, said all her son could think about while he was sick was getting back to the store. He was finally cleared to return after three weeks at home.
“He lost 11 pounds and was in bed for two weeks and as weak as a kitten,” Betty said. “His lungs are permanently damaged. All he cared about when he had the virus was getting back to work. ‘I must go to work. I must go to work.’”
With the help of his Mountain Valley Developmental Center job coach, Wallach was hired and works at the front of the store greeting shoppers. His manager and job coach talk often to make sure things are going well.
“He tells my coach that I’m reliable,” Wallach said, “and he loves having me at work. And when it’s four years he’s gonna have to put up with me for another four years.”
Bernstein said Theatre Aspen received more than 50 nominations, and a committee went through to narrow the field. Each honoree and a guest will be celebrated with a VIP evening during the season at the theatre and an on-stage salute. (The Aspen Times is a media sponsor of the program and had a representative on the selection committee.)
Among those being honored are Miranda Pingree, who works in the Roaring Fork School District’s transportation department and helped deliver school lunches to students when in-person learning was shut down, and Santos Marquez, who works in the city of Aspen’s parks department and kept the core and mall aesthecially pleasing.
Buttermilk mountain manager Travis Benson and Aspen Skiing Co. events manager Joey Woltemath are being recognized as two of the people who helped organize the memorable Aspen High School graduation in the Buttermilk parking lot and ride up the lift to the mountaintop for the diploma ceremony.
The list of this year’s winners will be on a plaque that will hang in the lobby of the tent. Bernstein said they hope to make it an annual event and show ways to pay it forward.
“I would see no reason why this can’t be repeated every summer,” he said. “And make it a hallmark of the theater, because you don’t need a pandemic to recognize people who are important to our community.”