Vagneur: Ties going back to childhood |

Vagneur: Ties going back to childhood

Tony Vagneur
Saddlle Sore
Tony Vagneur

“Six degrees of separation,” say the philosophical wags, and, surely, it must be true. Mountain people usually measure degrees in relation to steepness of mountainsides, particularly when it pertains to avalanche danger or ski ability.

Putting that aside, there is an intrinsic connection between people who shared Aspen in their past and who have made an indelible mark on each other’s lives.

If you recall, several weeks ago, I wrote a column about M.J. Elisha, a lifelong Aspenite who passed away this past spring. In it, mention was made of M.J.’s younger sister, Ingrid, who, in our early years, was a good friend. Her house and my grandmother’s were basically just across the alley from each other, and Ingrid and I spent a lot of time playing together. 

It’s probably the same for most people: The good feeling one gets of relinking with grade- or high-school friends and sharing memories. If we’re lucky, we’re still friends with some of those people.

After many decades of not communicating, Ingrid and I managed to reconnect on a positive basis and, through our conversations, have been able to go back in time to those days some time ago when we were growing up in the very special town of Aspen. Many of those kids, now adults, who grew up with us have local genetic lines going back several generations. In addition, the fun part is learning how much Ingrid’s family and mine have been connected over the years through mutual friends in common with our parents or grandparents. 

It would be impossible to mention everyone whose memory rides high in my memory, but it might be wise to mention a trio of guys who not only have been unforgettable, but whose lineage goes back a long time.

Two of them, Gary and Barney Bishop, called Ingrid after my column ran, telling her not to miss it. You should recognize that last name — Bishop. Their father, Al Bishop, was the face of Beck & Bishop grocery back then, located on the ground floor of the Wheeler Opera House. (Valley Fine Art is located in much of that space now.)

The small white house where they lived, just south across Paepcke Park, was once a bright spot in the middle of common, plain housing but, of course, has since been torn down and replaced. It was a great spot for a couple of young ’uns to keep their eyes on park happenings.

Their accomplice in many things was the popular Aspen Times columnist Tim Willoughby, whose family history goes back to the mining days and the building of Lift One. They were a trio, those three, talented athletes, forceful personalities, who, as young children, liked to play “mine exploration” behind Tim’s house.

At one point in high school, Tim and Barney had a band, The Katydids, a foursome consisting of Bishop, Willoughby, Ron Long (whose father owned Aspen Drug for the longest time), and Phil Hemann (whose dad had the only sand and gravel pit in the county for many years). They had a comedy routine that was one of the best around.

In the athletic mix we had available in those days, football, basketball, and track, all three were outstanding athletes. And, they played hard. This writer remembers Gary Bishop getting his forearm broken one night at football practice in Wagner Park.

With curiosity piqued, browsing through Silver Queen yearbooks became a nightly ritual, one of smiles and fond remembrances — but also of curiosity. Seeing the young, vibrant faces of many of the kids we went to school with, kids we’d pass in the halls or on the playground every day was a trip through time. The years bring different realities for each of us, and one wonders what the future held for each of them.

Naturally, we all went to the Red Brick school, now an art center. It’s hard to believe we all started first grade at the west end of the building and most ended up at our graduation from high school on the stage in the east-end gymnasium.

As Ingrid noted, we don’t know what happened to all of those kids, what they’ve done with their lives, but we can be certain that those still living hold Aspen dear in their hearts.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at