Their Generation: For Stapletons, Aspen, Snowmass a family affair
The Aspen Times
Editor’s note: “Their Generation” is an ongoing series profiling longtime locals of the Roaring Fork Valley. It runs every other week in The Aspen Times.
When someone says the Stapletons are in the Aspen Hall of Fame, that can be a little confusing because there have been five generations of Stapletons who raised families in the Aspen area.
It’s even confusing at times for David Stapleton, a fifth-generation member of the Stapleton clan, when he explains his family history. A little confusion is understandable when you’re trying to explain and map out the lives of your great-grandparents from more than 130 years ago.
For the record, there are two Stapleton couples in the Aspen Hall — Sam and Elizabeth Stapleton were inducted in 2007 and David and Sigrid Stapleton in 2008. Sam is David’s uncle, and Sam’s Knob at Snowmass is named after him, as is Sam’s Smokehouse restaurant. Sam Stapleton was a longtime volunteer firefighter and volunteered for the Aspen school board.
“Both Sigrid’s and my family grew up volunteering in Aspen,” David Stapleton said. “They both were very much involved in this community. They taught us by example, and helping our community in any way we could just seemed like the right thing to do.”
David and Sigrid Stapleton also won the 1997 Greg Mace Award and 1999 Sojourner Salutes Award for volunteerism. David was elected to the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club Hall of Fame in 2012.
When David’s great-grandfather came to this area to begin a new life of farming and raising his family in the late 1800s, he was one of the first European settlers to seek permanent residence in Aspen. Only a handful of families can lay claim to such longevity in the Aspen area as the Stapletons.
Deep Valley roots
In 1881, Timothy Stapleton (David’s great-grandfather) made the long and dangerous journey on horseback from a small town west of Denver to homestead in the Roaring Fork Valley, an area many miners described as “ideal” for farming.
He set up his potato farm on the land that is now covered by the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport and the Aspen Business Center and had eight children. As his family grew, Timothy Stapleton built a second house north of where the airport maintenance buildings now stand. That house still sits on airport property.
When William E. Stapleton (David’s grandfather) left home to start his own family, he built a home on the family property located at what is now West Buttermilk off of Owl Creek Road. The area he built on used to be called Badger’s Hollow, and William E. started his family there. It was at this home that William C. Stapleton, David’s father, was born in 1907.
William E. also needed a bigger home for his nine children and built a new place not far from the Badger’s Hollow residence in 1913. The new home also was located just off of Owl Creek Road, maybe a quarter mile west of the airport.
William C. Stapleton was married in 1933 to Louiva Wilcox. The couple moved into the town of Aspen on Francis Street, between Fourth and Fifth streets, where David was born in 1934. Three years after David was born, the Stapleton family moved to a larger house on Francis Street, where three more kids were born.
David Stapleton grew up in the Aspen that’s familiar only to those who actually experienced it long before it became a ski resort. He attended the Aspen School, for grades one through 12, in the same building that now houses the Red Brick Center for the Arts.
Stapleton spent much of his youth splitting time between school, helping on the remaining family ranch and skiing.
During his senior year of high school in 1951-52, Aspen High reintroduced football as a team sport to go with the basketball and ski teams.
“We had 11 kids in my 1952 graduating class,” Stapleton said. “We had 42 kids total in grades nine through 12, so we ended up playing six-man football.”
Stapleton said that because the school had no gymnasium, the football team had to run to the third floor of the Armory Building (now City Hall), put their uniforms on and then run over to Wagner Park for games and practices.
Wagner Park wasn’t a grass field back then but was instead covered in dark railroad cinders.
“East Cooper used to run right through the park,” Stapleton said. “We had to put barricades up on both ends of Cooper before we could play ball there.”
During the winter, Stapleton said most boys played basketball and skied.
“We’d play basketball games on Friday nights,” he said. “You would get home late and wake up early Saturday to go to a ski race.”
After graduating from high school, Stapleton enrolled at Colorado A&M (now Colorado State) but didn’t like college life and only lasted one semester before returning home and eventually enlisting in the Army in September 1954.
Stapleton was on a boat heading to Korea when he developed infectious mononucleosis, also known as “the kissing disease,” and was dropped off at a hospital in Anchorage, Alaska.
Sigrid Stapleton grew up in Chicago before her parents moved to Aspen in 1952 to get away from the big city and live in the mountains. They bought a bed and breakfast called the Holiday House on Hopkins Avenue. It wasn’t an easy move for Sigrid, who was 16 at the time and heading into her senior year of high school.
“It was terrible,” she said. “I cried all the way to Aspen. I had to leave my best friends behind. It was such a culture shock. The school I left in Chicago had 3,000 kids attending it, and my total graduating class in Aspen was 10 kids. The kids here thought I was a hood from Chicago, and I thought they were all hicks.”
It didn’t take long before Sigrid began to enjoy life in the Rocky Mountains. In Chicago, she was very involved with music, and she was surprised to find an active music scene in Aspen. She also became enamored with skiing and was torn between the two activities.
“I learned to love Aspen,” she said. “The music festival here was very inspiring, and once I got to know some of the people, I became a part of this community.”
At age 16, Sigrid began playing the organ at St. Mary Catholic Church on Main Street and, except for the four years she spent in college, continued to do so for the next 40 years.
After graduating from high school in 1953, Sigrid enrolled at Western State College in Gunnison and majored in music.
DAVID AND SIGRID
David Stapleton was one school class ahead of Sigrid in Aspen, but the two knew of each other.
“Back then, everybody knew each other in town,” Sigrid said. “I knew David was in the Army and thought it would be nice if I wrote him a few letters. Soon we were corresponding back and forth.”
For David, his new pen pal began to take on a more significant meaning than he first realized.
“I had never been away from home like I was in the Army,” David said. “I had become lonely and homesick. Those letters became very important.”
Around the same time David returned to Aspen in the fall of 1956, Sigrid also came back from college to student-teach. The couple began to date and were married in June 1957.
In April 1958, David and Sigrid had the first of five children. Just a few months later, David went to work for his father at William C. Stapleton Insurance. At that time, his father was the assistant clerk and recorder for Pitkin County.
“Dad would license people and sell them insurance if they wanted it,” David said.
Sigrid also taught piano at the Wheeler Opera House from a studio she paid $10 a month to rent. In those days, money was tight, and the barter system was in full swing.
“I might get paid in money,” Sigrid said. “Or eggs or cream. It just would depend on who had what at the time.”
During the barter days, almost all businesses had “charge accounts” that allowed Aspen residents to pay when they could.
“Those businesses never asked any of us for money,” David said. “They knew we would pay when we could, … and we did.”
By the mid-1970s, the last of the original Stapleton homestead property was sold, but David and Sigrid were already well-established in Aspen. Their five children — Kim, Davis, Dean, Stefanie and Dasha — were all in the Aspen school system while their parents continued to work and volunteer within the community.
Sigrid became co-owner of The Hedgehog Children’s Boutique from 1972 to 1988 with her sister Renate Weimann. David sold insurance and took several other part-time jobs, including driving the Aspen school bus. Both Sigrid and David put in hundreds of hours staying involved with their children’s activities as the kids progressed through school.
David also continued to ski and work on the mountain. He was part of Mountain Rescue for 17 years and was a ski official both locally and nationally for 35 years. He was women’s downhill chief of course at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics and women’s downhill chief of race for the pre-Olympic events at the 1988 Calgary Olympics. An avid climber, David also lays claim to topping all the local peaks around Aspen.
When his father died in 1977, David and his brother Don took over the insurance business. David retired from the family business in 1999.
The couple continue to stay active within the Aspen community. Sigrid was a volunteer at the Aspen hospital for 25 years, and now David is a volunteer there. The Stapletons lived in the house they built on Mountain View Drive for 37 years before moving to Snowmass Village seven years ago.
“We love Snowmass,” Sigrid said. “It’s incredibly peaceful. We love having family get-togethers here, but those are happening less often as our kids start their own traditions.”
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