Jace Lou Michael December 29, 1964 – October 10, 2019
On the strength of his shoulders, many were carried and on October 10th, the extended Aspen family lost their son Jace Lou Michael. Jace touched the lives of everyone he knew as a brother, an uncle, a godfather, a teacher, a husband, a student, a friend, and a guide — he was also a master in the art of deception and tragically in the darkest of moments took his own life.
To his community of friends and family, Jace Michael was a name brand, known just like Sears and Roebuck or Ace Hardware. JACE traded by his iconic first name, it had an authenticity that was known to all and was personified by the twinkle in his eye, a broad smile, his self-effacing laugh, and energetic spirit. His ramrod-straight posture and firmest of handshakes evoked the Corn Belt where he was raised and to the martial arts arena where he kept his stature so fit.
Born in Monroe, Wisconsin, he grew up in the neighboring village of Stockton, Illinois, where he was active in the Boy Scouts and sports of all kinds. He was co-captain of the football team and an All-Conference fullback/running back; he ran track and competed in the state finals and was a drum major for the marching band (hence his stylish moves on the dance floor).
He taught himself to ski on the small hills of Illinois, and after graduating from high school in 1984 moved to Los Angeles, California, where he worked in the hotel and foods-service industry. In hindsight, he would have fit in just perfectly as a Hollywood stunt-man if he had hung around L.A. longer.
It was Colorado that called him and in November 1990 Jace moved to Aspen, where he dug in and with his trademarked modesty set about building the personal brand that he was so well known for. He worked in guest services at Cresta House, food service at the Rainbow Grill in Basalt and followed the time-honored ski-bum ethic of juggling his time by driving the Mountain Ambulance in the winter and guiding Timberline Bike Tours in the summer.
Instinctively, or maybe because there wasn’t enough dark humor in the front seat of an ambulance, he soon found Mountain Rescue Aspen where his mentors and fellow team leaders recall Jace as one of the more highly skilled and technically proficient members, who had the ability to learn and comprehend, almost immediately, new cutting edge techniques while being modest and unassuming about his physical strengths. Fellow team members recall that he was a rescuer they could absolutely count on to show up, to have a great attitude, to be fast, and to lead from the front.
And it was from the same leading position that those that skied with him shook their head in amazement as they watched him carve the silkiest of lines down all terrain, especially tight trees where he had a knack of turning his 42-inch torso sideways to slip through a yard-wide opening. In disbelief, those that then tried to follow in his tracks would be breathless at the bottom of the run and somehow there would be Jace up above, doing the sweep and bringing in the stragglers. Again, it was that midwestern thing — you bring the cows in and don’t leave any behind.
In 2004 he married MarySue Bonetti and their shared interests in travel, music, food, photography, disc-golf and even more sports followed. They both played in the summer softball leagues and with mountain biking now mainstreamed, there was Jace styling his way over the trails, and not to miss a beat he was a master of telemarking and snowboarding. More recently, he practiced Cuong Nhu Martial Arts where he made it to the rank of Brown Belt with One Black Stripe, just shy of attaining the Black Belt, and characteristically he pitched in teaching others as he brought a light and energy to the local dojo.
Jace was clearly a man who loved to make people smile and laugh. Who can forget the many iterations of his California Highway Patrol persona as Officer Baker at the Highlands closing day parties? Or the legendary parties that he and MarySue hosted over the years in the apartment steps from the Ajax gondola.
Jace’s career over the past 30 years was a combination of construction and property management where he excelled with his peers, supervisors and mentors describing him as a strong, methodical and conscientious employee. But they added that to call him only an employee would be degrading. If there was clean-up that needed to be done, yep there was Jace. If the job was gritty he was the first to jump in. And with that little bit of free time at the end of the day, he filled it at Pomeroy Sports where he worked with his fellow band of after-hours ski tuners.
MarySue and the family ask that in honor of Jace please consider contributing to Aspen’s A Way Out to help others in need find a new way of life, or to Mountain Rescue Aspen for the Jace Michael Mental Health Memorial Fund.
Bruce Springsteen spoke to this world of pain this month when he said: “The older you get the heavier that baggage becomes that you haven’t sorted through … we all have our broken pieces, nobody gets away unhurt … life’s mysteries remain and deepen, it’s answers unresolved, so you walk on through the dark because that’s where the next morning is.”
He is survived by his wife, MarySue Bonetti, their dog Lily; father Lee Michael and friend LaVonne Schrader of Stockton; mother Jean Korte & stepfather Tom Korte of Freeport, Il.; brothers, Wayne (Connie) Michael, of Freeport, Il.; Mark (Janese) Michael of Forreston, Il.; Craig (MaryKay) Michael of Valrico, Fla.; Nephews Aric, Ben, Grant, Kody, Kasey and Kaleb; niece Brooke Michael; great-nephews Dawson Michael and Brody Michael. Special cousin/ “little sister” Shawna Drager of Mt. Horeb, Wisc.; Aunt Linda Drane of Freeport, Il., and numerous aunts, uncles and cousins.