Longtime resident of the Vail Valley Jackie Pyka passed away July 6. Jackie was born in Muskegon, Michigan, and was a graduate of University of Michigan with a degree in biology. In the early ’60s, while Jackie was in junior high, her parents, Clem and Edna Gilbert, took up skiing. Almost every weekend in the winter, the Gilbert family would head to Caberfae ski area in northern Michigan. Jackie, along with her younger sister, Sharie, and brother, Bruce, all loved the sport, not to mention her parents.
In January of 1974, Jackie and her then-husband Bill moved to Vail. Bill worked for the town of Vail, and Jackie did some substitute teaching in the Eagle County school system. With impetus from the early Vail Symposiums, with such speakers such as landscape architect Ian MacHaurgh, environmental activist Edward Abbey, environmental activist-actor Robert Redford and others, Jackie became intrigued with the notion that it was everyone’s responsibility to be stewards of the land on which we live.
Jackie, Susan Hansen and Eve Nott requested that the town of Vail set aside part of the Antholtz property to be used as a nature preserve and that the old farmhouse be used as an interpretive center. Together they developed trails, hosted programs and had campfire evenings for visiting groups. Jackie’s expertise on the environment was not merely learned from books but from firsthand knowledge gained by hiking and backpacking all around the central mountains of Colorado. Her work at the Nature Center eventually led to her to develop and implement the first environmental education programs in the Eagle County Schools. The first program started at Minturn Middle School in Maloit Park, a beautiful setting in which to study the natural surroundings.
During the winter, Jackie taught skiing. She was certified by the Professional Ski Instructors of America and taught many adults and hundreds of children.
Jaime, Jackie’s only child, a daughter, was born Jan. 3, 1978. Although Jackie would still put in time at the nature center and would ski instruct during peak season, she was mostly a full-time mom. She imparted much of her love of the outdoors to her daughter. As Jaime grew, Jackie would take her to school, gymnastic classes and to Ann Powell’s Dance Academy. As a family, they continued camping, hiking and skiing together. Jaime graduated from the Vail Mountain School an all “A” student. Jackie was extraordinarily proud of her daughter.
Clem and Edna, Jackie’s parents, skied into their late 70s. Jackie felt incredibly privileged that she could, in a small way, repay them for the wonderful childhood of growing up in the Gilbert household, by having them come out to ski Vail. They also had the added bonus of spending time with their granddaughter. These many years of skiing together as a family were one of the remarkable things that made living in Vail very special for Jackie and her family.
When Jaime was in high school, Jackie became a real estate broker. She spent the bulk of the years with Slifer Smith & Frampton, loved her work and became close friends with many of her colleagues.
Jackie is survived by her daughter, Jaime, and grandson, Robert Jaycee, of Malacatos, Ecuador; her mother, Edna Gilbert, of Muskegon, Michigan; her brother, Bruce Gilbert, of Muskegon, Michigan; and her sister, Sharie Lee, of Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
There will be a celebration honoring the life of Jackie Pyka at the Donovan Pavilion at 3 p.m. Sept. 3. All are welcome to join us in remembering this wonderful woman and outstanding mother.