Straight Up Snowmass: The church lady |

Straight Up Snowmass: The church lady

Jill Beathard
Snowmass Sun
John and Joan Bemis celebrate after a fishing trip. While John was an avid fisherman who taught his wife, when they would go out together, "I always caught the first fish," Joan said.
Bob Loubier/Courtesy photo |

Editor’s note: Straight Up Snowmass is a series spotlighting people who live and/or work in Snowmass Village.

Joan Bemis could tell you her own story better than just about anybody. She’s got a finesse for taking a tale from her own life and connecting it back to you, to what you asked her about or something you have in common with her.

The daughter of an East Texas oil man, Joan radiates hospitality and warmth. She grew up during the wildcatting era and attended Texas Women’s University, all the while dating John, a boy from Michigan whom she would marry after his return from the Korean War.

They moved to Kalamazoo, Mich., and they started taking their family skiing in Colorado, first in Vail and then in a new resort called Snowmass that some of their friends liked. For years, they stayed with those friends while visiting.

“After a few years, I said ‘this is tacky, we need to get a place of our own,’” Joan says with a laugh.

They rented for a few years, always houses on Faraway Road — “that was the place in Snowmass that we liked,” Joan said. John negotiated with the owner of one of those houses to get first right of refusal if they decided to sell, and that’s how they bought the house that Joan lives in now.

The Bemises have spent their days here skiing and trout fishing in the summer.

“We always liked Snowmass,” Joan said. “We’re in it because of the people. Most of the people we met in the beginning were Midwestern, solid, friendly people.”

Even while they were still renting, both Joan and John got heavily involved at the Snowmass Chapel. Joan has been on the board for 25 years now and the cemetery committee since that was created.

At some point, somebody called Joan “the church lady,” and the nickname has stuck.

“I consider that a real honor,” she said.

John also was heavily involved in Snowmass Rotary, and helped start the Thanksgiving community potluck. When it grew too big for the chapel, he made sure it survived by moving it up to the Silvertree Hotel.

“He said, ‘we can’t not do that,’” Joan said. “’And there will be no paper plates or paper cups.’ And that’s what he put together.”

And when John collapsed in 2009, he was determined that he would have his Thanksgiving dinner there. He went by ambulance. Joan said the Snowmass community was like a family to them during that time.

“Someone needs something, the word goes out,” Joan said. “Even people who aren’t close friends. It’s just that willingness to help.”

John’s ashes are now buried in the Hidden Valley Cemetery. While their children live in different parts of the country, they consider wherever their parents are to be “home.”

“We’ve been very fortunate,” Joan said. “I don’t know that we could have asked for any more.”