Ronald D. Hodge
Longtime Aspen resident Ronald D. Hodge, local waiter extraordinaire and man about town, aka “Hodgie,” “Ronnie,” “Snowman,” and “The Vanilla Gorilla,” passed away on June 29. He died peacefully at home in La Jolla, California, with his beloved wife Diane Castleton by his side.
Aspen’s own Hodgie came to town in the 1960s as part of the early “surfers’ invasion,” who came to ski and work at the Chart House, started by his buddies, Aspen counter-culture pioneers Joey Cabell, Buzzie Bent, and Herbie Balderson. Among other restaurants, he also worked at Galena Street East, Abetone, Poppies, and Boogie’s.
During summers in Aspen, Hodgie could be seen either riding his bike or driving his white Jeep with license plates ZGSURF. During winters he skied Aspen Mountain daily. Everyone recognized his towheaded hair and ear-to-ear grin, before helmets began covering up local personalities. He always had time to stop and talk with his friends and to share a story or a good piece of gossip.
As a stalwart local for over fifty years who never lived downvalley, he was a man of integrity who truly stuck with the evolving Aspen culture and adapted to the many changes he witnessed, without ever doubting his enduring love of town. For much of that time he lived in the iconic, pueblo-style Deane Billings’ apartments on the onetime-rural Ute Avenue, where quintessential locals lived affordably without leases or deposits, solely on the shake of a hand, in the manner of an authentic Aspen long gone in the rear view mirror.
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For several decades beginning in the mid-1970s on, while living at Billings’ “Pueblo,” he raised his son-from another marriage-Hess Hodge, who is a C.U. graduate and now a successful computer engineer in Seattle, Washington.
Hodgie was born on August 23, 1937, in Lexington, Tennessee, where his father Hess Hodge owned and operated a pool hall that sold moonshine under the counter. There he learned to count by racking up pool balls in the pool hall.
He was only a teenager when his father passed away. With that, his mother Dorothy took her son Ronnie, an only child, and moved to Southern California. Dorothy continued work there as a nurse. Hodgie attended high school in San Diego.
After high school he went to boot camp at Camp Pendleton and served in the United States Marine Corps.
Hodgie quickly took to being close to the water. He learned to surf and took numerous “surfin’ safaris” to secret spots in Mexico and notable Hawaiian swells well before any of those places were overrun. He recounted living simply in a lean-to on a beach in Hawaii, eating from the sea and picking fresh produce off the land. He eventually became a professional lifeguard for the city of San Diego. Along the way he picked up skiing in Heavenly Valley and did a stint as an instructor there before moving to Aspen.
He met his lifelong partner Diane on the famed “Windansea” beach in La Jolla, where he was a renowned surfer and early associate of the tough young Windansea surfers in the 1960s, immortalized in Tom Wolfe’s book “The Pump House Gang.”
One summer on a big-surf day at Windansea, Hodgie and his friend Don McKinnon of old Aspen and now of the Florida Keys, to the delight of the homeboys, became famous for riding tandem on a single board. “They talked about our ride all summer,” says Don.
Diane and Hodgie’s lives would intersect and drift apart for a number of years, but they would always find each other again. Great fortune put them together for the past twenty years until the time of his recent death.
Hodgie often told his son how lucky he felt being able to call two amazing places, Aspen and La Jolla, home. He is survived by his wife Diane, a handful of cousins, and his son Hess. A memorial in Aspen for Hodgie is being planned for a later Date.
Hodgie, we will miss your big infectious smile, your saucer-eyed looks of surprise, your humor, sincerity, and appreciation of Aspen living. But most of all we’ll miss your comforting presence that we counted on for so many years as part of our community, which we lapsed into taking for granted, until now. RIP, our Hodgie.
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