True Aspenite:Pete Luhn dies
Pete Luhn, one of Aspen’s more irascible characters with a flair for writing scathing and controversial letters to local newspapers, died at approximately 4 a.m. Aug. 31 after a prolonged battle with prostate cancer. He was 75.Born in New York City in 1932, he grew up in various communities starting with Armonk, N.Y. (where his father worked for IBM), and including Estes Park, Colo., and San Diego, Calif., according to his family.Although he attended classes at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire and Stanford University in California, he did not graduate from either but signed up to serve in the U.S. Army. He was on his way to Korea when hostilities ended and the armistice was signed.He visited Aspen while on leave in the Army and, in 1958, moved here.Working odd jobs – from driving a taxicab to trimming trees, cutting firewood and doing masonry on area construction projects – Luhn also was and avid skier and a leader on the crews packing the ski slopes before opening day every season.In the 1960s he bought a five-acre property complete with a cabin in the lower Difficult Creek drainage, where he lived until a few years ago. “He was a man of the land,” said his son Andy, “pretty much a jack-of-all-trades. He was an early environmentalist. … He never wasted anything.”Pete and a group of fellow ski enthusiasts were pioneers in ski-safety techniques, Andy said, explaining that “they were some of the first guys to carry shovels and wear fluorescent ribbons” that would enable them to dig themselves out or help rescuers to find them in an avalanche.During the late ’50s he met and married Mary Thurneyssen, of French descent, and in 1962 the couple had two sons – Andy, now 45, and Matt, 44 – who were born at either end of the year, 11 months apart. The couple divorced within a few years, and Mary took Andy and Matt to Ketchum, Idaho, where she and Matt still live.Andy now lives in Seattle and he said the two brothers came to Aspen frequently to visit their father. He described his dad as an accomplished tennis player who, with doubles partner Earl Schennum, dominated the local tennis tournaments in the 1960s.Schennum also helped Luhn build cabins on his land and cut huge loads of firewood to sell to homeowners in town.Luhn “has always written [letters to the editor], all the time,” Schennum recalled, and would “go back and forth with Freddie Fisher [another legendary writer of letters to the editor] in the early years.”But more recently, Luhn established himself as one of Aspen’s more prolific letter writers, criticizing the rampant growth the town was experiencing, commenting on political controversies and lamenting what he perceived as a lack of spine or smarts on the part of local personalities. His letters often would spark angry responses from those he lampooned, and the letters columns of the local papers frequently played host to lively exchanges between Luhn and some other letter writer.Luhn was diagnosed with prostate cancer 14 years ago, according to friends and family, and had undergone numerous treatment alternatives. A somewhat reclusive character, he kept his condition mostly to himself.In recent years, though, he gained considerable notoriety over his resistance to an eviction effort by a development company that had bought his home of 41 years.Luhn and his two sons sold his five and a half acres to Black Diamond LLC in 2002, for a reported price of $2.5 million, with the provision that Luhn would be provided with housing for the remainder of his life, which Luhn assumed meant he could live on the property.In 2004, at the developers’ insistence, he agreed to move out of his original cabin to another on the property to make way for construction of a luxury home. But when ordered to move again, he refused. His refusal sparked a confrontation that prompted extensive coverage in local media and ended with a heated standoff between Luhn and a friend, Bayless Williams, on one side, and a contingent of security guards Black Diamond and its law firm, Garfield & Hecht PC, hired.A local judge formally ordered Luhn off the property but also required Black Diamond to find him a place to live for the remainder of his life. Luhn lived for a short time in the Woody Creek area, where during forays to the Woody Creek Tavern, he befriended Aspen Times columnist Michael Cleverly, who is as reclusive as Luhn was.”For a guy who wrote those great letters, he sure did try to stay out of the limelight,” Cleverly remarked. “He marched to the beat of his own drummer and didn’t give much of a shit about what anybody else thought of him. I liked him quite a bit.”According to Andy Luhn, he and Matt have been traveling to Aspen “off and on for the past two months,” as Pete’s health deteriorated.”It’s been overwhelming, how many people have come up to us,” Andy said, “how many people … thought he was a great guy.”A memorial service is planned for the end of September.John Colson’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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