Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from “Women of Vail,” by Elaine Kelton and Carolyn Pope. The Vail Daily is serializing the book as Vail celebrates its 50th anniversary. Books are available for purchase at www.bookwormofedwards.com, the Colorado Ski Museum, Pepi’s, Gorsuch, Annie’s and the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens.
I met Charlie my first week in Denver (September 1962), and we started dating. I had a job teaching English in Cherry Creek Middle School. He had heard of a new ski area and we took a day trip with Tom Burnham, Charlie’s roommate, to check it out. Charlie decided to join Tom, who needed a hand running Vail’s taxi service: a horse-drawn sleigh.
We arrived in Vail on New Year’s Eve 1963. After the holidays, no one in town needed a taxi so Charlie got a job at the Red Lion, and I continued to teach in Cherry Creek and drive up each weekend. We lived in “Sin City,” the trailer park in Potato Patch, and shared a three-bedroom trailer with Larry Benway and Tom Burnham. This was before the Eisenhower Tunnel and new Vail Pass construction; the trip took four to five hours depending on weather. I shared the ride with another “commuter,” and we’d leave right after work on Friday nights arriving just as things were starting to hop at the VVI. We’d leave about 3 a.m. Monday morning to get back to our jobs because it felt safer driving Loveland Pass in the mornings. We were snowed in a couple of times, and I’m not sure my principal at the CCMS believed my excuses on those occasions. We began to talk about staying in Vail to see how the summer construction business might work out. I got a job at Minturn Middle/High School at Maloit Park, scheduled for completion in the fall.
We married in February 1964, and I don’t think we ever had another discussion about leaving Vail for the real world. On weekends I worked at Bill Whiteford’s snow bar at Mid-Vail. He built a snow surround and served hamburgers and malts to ski-up traffic. It was a terrific job — for my two-hour shift I got $7 per hour, a lift ticket, all I could eat, and the boss was never around to mess things up. During the summer, I worked at The Lodge at Vail for Joe Staufer.
I taught English one year at Minturn Middle School. It was a very frustrating experience as the county seat and the population base were in Eagle. The school district officials had very little concern for the mostly Hispanic student population. The school was still held in Red Cliff, and we endured hair-raising trips during snowstorms. The school in Minturn was completed in January of 1965 — the water fountains started falling off the walls in February. Memorable students included Robert and Gerald Gallegos and Jessie Edeen.
In 1965 a position opened up as “head teacher” at Vail Country Day School, and it was my job to supplement the curriculum. I soon realized that a more cohesive and challenging program was needed. As luck would have it, I rode up the chairlift one day with the Colorado superintendent of schools who became my advisor and opened up the resources of the Colorado Department of Education. Mine might have been one of the best ski-bum jobs in town because the school’s PE program consisted of skiing every afternoon.
Some of the other teachers were JoElla Gormley, Jean Saubert, Anneliese Freeman’s sister Hanni Megel, Judy Gagne, and Judy (Marshall) Nelson.
I was given the opportunity to open a shop in a small space being built to keep snow from sliding off the roof onto passersby. Byron Brown Real Estate was in the front half, and my business, the Gaslight Candle Shop, came into existence in the back. John Amato gave me the space rent-free — just one of the many generous things he did in the Vail community. I moved the store to the Wall Street Arcade a couple of years later. I operated the candle shop for about five years, taking Nona Wilke in as a partner until we sold the shop.
I don’t remember any discussion about leaving. We were having fun, working hard, and, as many pioneers have found, learning a lot. We had opportunities unlike those in the real world. I remember John Donovan demonstrating why he’d never go back to Chicago (one night rather late in Donovan’s) and watching him do a very good imitation of a commuter on a train holding onto a hand strap and struggling to keep his balance. Maybe the balance part was because of the lateness of the hour, but that said it all about the grind of the real world that we all were trying to avoid. We adopted our daughter Katie (Kayti), and three years later our son, Matt, was born.
The Liquor Store provided employee housing. We got to know many locals because a bell was located at the entrance so that they could get their “roadie.” I won’t name those who were frequent users of this system because they have mostly gone on to respectable jobs in the area. The bars were the source of an evening’s entertainment. Donovan’s, La Cave, Red Lion, The Slope and Vail Village Inn, where on our first night in Vail I encountered Diane Lazier waiting tables. She had been my sorority sister at the U of Minnesota. It was such a small town that we were all friends and partied together. Closer friends were Mike and Barbara Loken, Tom and Nancy Burnham, Hemmie and Irene Westbye, Gaynor and Nancy Miller, Jim Austin, Barbie Bowes, Lynne Langmaid, Bonnie and Steve Hyland, and Evi Nott.
We swam at the VVI pool, hiked and explored our surroundings, and I remember trips to Piney Lake that felt like we were on an expedition — it was so far away and difficult to reach. We can’t forget the Il Cornuti Bar. Miss Bo Peep and Dave Garton climbed the antler chandeliers in the Casino, but not together. It wasn’t a festive weekend unless someone dropped their pants in one of the bars ... we were easily entertained. The Irish Rovers sang at the Casino until the wee hours, and the sounds of the Gibson Jazz Festival were more soothing — remember, we lived right across the street. Jebbie Brown taught almost every kid in town to swim and ski. Ginny Holmes was a second mother to the same kids.
We really had no expectations in the beginning but quickly realized that the founders of the town had some unique visions that we wanted to be part of. Our hopes to stay were solidified when Charlie got a full-time job with the Liquor Store at Vail in 1966. We became partners in that operation and later opened two additional liquor stores. We spend winters in Denver now, but while we were in Vail we lived in 14 different homes, never leaving the town of Vail.
“Women of Vail” was produced by a team that includes Elaine Kelton and Carolyn Pope, publishers; Joanne Morgan, designer and production; and Rosalie Hill Isom, writer-editor.