Guest column: The Pabst legacy continues

Katie Murch
Guest column

In 1946, Wisconsin natives Patricia “Patsy” and Harald “Shorty” Pabst relocated to the Rocky Mountains to pursue their passion in ranching as well as various civic engagements. The young couple went on to become hallmarks of this Aspen and Roaring Fork Valley community with ranches in both Old Snowmass and Carbondale. Shorty Pabst served as mayor of Aspen in the early 1960s and also served as a trustee of the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies (simply the Aspen Institute as of present). As a student of Aldo Leopold and an avid conservationist, Shorty was controversially opposed to unchecked development and was well-known as an early advocate for zoning and land-use regulation.

We recently learned that on Sept. 12, Patsy Pabst passed away at age 97 in Grand Junction, preceded by the death of Shorty Pabst in 2005. The news of her passing prompted us to reflect upon the immense generosity not only of the Pabst family but of the community as a whole.

Prolific Aspen figure Reed Harris, who was the superintendent of an iron mine at Ashcroft, had a son who was deaf. Determined to provide him with the same opportunities and experiences of his hearing peers, Harris, with the support of Tom Sardy and Lt. Gen. William Martin, opened the Aspen Summer Camp for the Deaf Inc. in 1967. Shortly thereafter, in the early ’70s, Shorty and Patsy Pabst leased to the camp part of the 171/2 acres of their former cattle and sheep ranch in Old Snowmass, where the camp exists today. It was not until a few years later that they donated the land to the camp and the camp changed its name to Aspen Camp of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, or simply Aspen Camp. In addition to their land contribution to Aspen Camp in Old Snowmass, the couple also donated the land of their Carbondale ranch to the Colorado Rocky Mountain School.

As we approach our 50th year in operation, the Aspen Camp of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing has served thousands of children from all over the United States as well as internationally. With the millennium, we were able to incorporate both winter and summer programming, making us one of only three organizations in the country to do so. Aspen Camp is now the only year-round facility providing life-changing experiences for deaf and hard-of-hearing children from around the world. The camp not only supplies an experience in terms of what most of us would think of as “summer camp” (backpacking and all), but also serves as a valuable resource to the deaf community. Aspen Camp allows deaf and hard-of-hearing children to interact with their peers to create a bond unique to their common experiences. We aim to promote a healthy sense of identity, community, self-worth, self-esteem and self-respect while encouraging exploration and leadership.

Nearly 70 percent of the children who attend the camp rely on scholarships. Despite the subsequent challenges presented in providing such significant financial aid, we are deeply proud to have never refused our services to a child because of their socioeconomic background.

We have provided such funding not only because of our commitment to those we serve but also because of our deeply entrenched roots in the sanctity of giving — roots that quite literally were planted by the Pabst family. It is no stretch of the imagination to say that without Patsy and Shorty’s initial act of extreme generosity and the continued philanthropic efforts on behalf of the community, Aspen Camp would not be in operation today. It is for this reason that we are celebrating the Pabst family and their legacy of generosity in the Roaring Fork Valley.

The Aspen Camp of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing will pay a short tribute to the Pabst family at our annual open house today from 6 to 9 p.m. The event is open to the public and all are welcome to visit our beautiful campus, enjoy hors d’oeuvres and live music and meet some of our staff and board members. This is a wonderful opportunity to come learn about the future of Aspen Camp while also celebrating the legacy of those who have made it possible. Please RSVP at today.

A sincere and continued thank-you to Shorty and Patsy Pabst and their family.

Founded in 1967, Aspen Camp of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing provides enriching and educational experiences for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals around the nation. Aspen Camp is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that hosts programs including winter camp, summer camp, vocational training, retreats, challenge courses, sign classes and more. More information about Aspen Camp and our services can be found at

Katie Murch serves as the interim executive director of Aspen Camp of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. She is the camp’s first deaf director and also is a former camper.