Guest column: Aspen Chapel always is in Pursuit of Peace
The original idea for the Aspen Chapel was envisioned by a Mennonite Bishop named E. M. Yost. The primary financial support for building the Aspen Chapel was from Yost’s nephew Lyle Yost, who founded the Hesston Manufacturing Company, a farm implement company in Hesston, Kansas.
The land on which the Chapel resides was donated by James Vandeveer and William Chambers, developers of the Meadowood Subdivision. There also was a parcel given to the Chapel site by Leonard M. Thomas. This property was once part of the Marolt Ranch.
Bishop Yost was inspired by renovated mills in France that were converted to wayside chapels for tourists. They were called “Mills of Peace.” Similarly, Jim Vandeveer also was inspired by the chapels in France when he was a young soldier in General Patton’s 50th Infantry.
The destruction and liberation of France changed Vandeveer forever. On his final tour in France, marching through village and hamlet to bring supplies and post-war assistance, Jim saw ruins of towns and people. But in every town, there was a church at the gateway. For strength, comfort and solace he frequently stopped at these stone wayside chapels, even though some were damaged. This indelible connection of his youth is part of his strong faith today. When Vandeveer became aware of Bishop Yost’s vision for a chapel in Aspen, he was equally motivated to donate the land at the gateway to Aspen and Meadowood.
William Chambers also was in World War II and a decorated combat veteran of six Asiatic Pacific Campaigns, serving from 1941 to 1946 in the U.S. Army Air Corps as a captain and a B-25 bombardier.
He bailed from three damaged aircraft out of 39 combat missions and was the only member of his original flight crew to survive the war. Chambers was compelled to contribute to establishing the Aspen Chapel of the Prince of Peace as well as other religious buildings. He retired as an active member of the Williamsburg Community Chapel in Virginia where his memorial service was held in 2012 and he is interred at Arlington National Cemetery.
Less is known of Leonard Thomas, but his gravestone marker at Red Butte Cemetery is marked 1911 to 1968. He and his wife, Yvonne, bought a house on Red Mountain in 1953 and, in 1957, The Aspen Times reported that he purchased part of the Marolt Ranch. It is assumed that Meadowood, Inc. purchased land from Leonard Thomas and he also donated a portion of land to the Aspen Chapel in 1967. Leonard Thomas was killed in an avalanche in 1968.
Many people have contributed generously to the building of the Aspen Chapel. Their reasons have been significant, from a pacifist Mennonite Minister to a Mennonite industrialist, almost an oxymoron, to two veterans of World War II finding faith and solace within small stone chapels as they searched for peace in war-torn France.
In keeping with the French connection of the Aspen Chapel, the stained glass windows depicting the Beatitudes were designed by a French artist named Jean Jacques Duval who currently lives in New York. The French “Dalle de verre” poured thick glass of the windows is faceted with a hammer and chisel revealing jewel-tone illuminated images.
One of the windows depict the lying together of a lion and a lamb entitled, “Blessed are the merciful; for they shall obtain mercy.” Another window featuring the dove of Ppace with an olive branch is entitled, “Blessed are the peacemakers; for they shall be called the children of God.”
It is no wonder that flying high over the tall steeple of this Chapel of Peace is the dove of peace. It was designed by the artist Mimi Sammis and placed there by the generosity of Michael and Rose Anne Leiner. On the day the dove was revealed and dedicated in 1998 and people were assembled in the garden to celebrate, we looked up to watch a hawk alighting on the wing of the dove, as if it were on cue fulfilling another natural symbol of peace.
The Aspen Chapel’s history at the intersection of many roads is rich with personal reasons, purposes and meaning. It is the chapel’s purpose that all roads lead to spiritual awakening, fulfillment and peace.
Aspen Chapel is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and is writing a monthly column on the first Sunday of the month in 2019. Rev. Gregg Anderson is the Chaplain Emeritus.