Women of Vail: Opportunity knocks in Vail
Ryan Summerlin October 13, 2012
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 was born in Boston and educated in Boston and Philadelphia; my chosen career as a young woman was education. My first teaching assignment was on Long Island, where I met Sally (Cox) Johnston; I taught first grade, and Sally was the music teacher. We eventually moved to Boston, where we would be closer to the New England ski areas and where we roomed together through graduate school. We discovered Sugarloaf, Maine, where I eventually met Bill Hanlon. Bill had a tiny car and a buddy named Billy, and they used to pick up Sally and me after school almost every Friday, and drive us to Sugarloaf to ski.
After we got married, our mutual love of skiing, together with adventurous spirits, brought us to Crested Butte, Colo. It was there that we became close friends with Paul Johnston and David and Renie (Cox) Gorsuch. I had met Renie, who was Sally’s sister, many times before moving to Colorado, and our families grew closer as we shared in the Colorado adventure. After a couple of years, we realized the growing opportunities in Vail, and we struck out on a new chapter.
Paul learned that the Black Bear Bar in Vail had suddenly closed and was available. Paul, Bill and I opened a nightclub and named it the Nu Gnu. We were located in the Clock Tower building, underneath the Gorsuch store. Our families thought we were crazy as we finished our jobs in Crested Butte and worked frantically through the weekends in Vail to build out the club and to hire a chef and staff. Though we had envisioned owning a sophisticated, elegant supper club, we soon realized that we were in fact the owners of a popular and raucous rock-n-roll club. The club was busier than we’d have dared to imagine, going to standing room only almost immediately. It was a party spot, with live music and lots of characters. I will never get over the memory of seeing one of our regular customers with a stocky kitten on a leash, and realizing, as it brushed against me, that it was a very young lion.
Building a community
When we were expecting our first child, Bill and I sold our interest in the Nu Gnu to Paul, and opened The Emporium, which is known today as Wild Bill’s Emporium. I worked at the shop and tended to the kids, and when he wasn’t at the store, Bill also worked at the Clock Tower Inn with our friend John Kaemmer. We all still remember the amazing desserts that Julie Kaemmer, John’s wife, would bake and deliver to the restaurant.
Our shop sold flowers, candy, and antiques, along with a few gifts. I sold a lot of antiques, but mostly flowers and candy. The European families liked flowers; people came in all the time. We often went to get the flowers in our Volkswagen van (a long trip since the interstate hadn’t yet been built), or sometimes they came on the public bus delivered in front of our door, as Vail Village was not pedestrian yet. If we didn’t sell the flowers, I got to take them all home; some weeks, my house looked like a funeral parlor. Our freshest flowers came from the garden of Ella Knox, who used to bring them in often. Once someone bought a bouquet to be delivered with the message, “May I please come home?” Another standout was a rose with the message, “Tonight?”
As the mother of two small children, my interest in education was rekindled. There was a kindergarten under the Interfaith Chapel, and local teacher Allen Brown’s mother lived with us every winter. I served on the committee that worked to build Red Sandstone Elementary School, and when the decision to open it was delayed, we became involved with Vail Mountain School, working to open its elementary school. At that time, the school was located in several trailers in Dowd Junction, and I think that there were 38 students the first year we were involved. Being a teacher at heart, I stayed heavily invested in education, and I am delighted that through the hard work and dedication of many parents, the school eventually grew to success. It seems somehow fitting that Sally Johnston (my first teaching friend and later the wife of our first business partner in Vail) and I would share duties on the board of directors of Vail Mountain School for a number of years.
It was fabulous raising children here. We’re an outdoor family. Small-town life for kids – you could let children go outside, you could let them ski on their own, and you could let them ride the buses. We didn’t have the organized activities that they have today. It was wonderful; the kids made snowmen and snow forts, and ran through the creeks and beaver ponds in summer. No TV. Guys went to watch football with Father Stone because for a time, he had the only local TV. We moved to Forest Road and then bought an apartment at the Vorlaufer. We eventually bought another, combined the two, and are still there.
We went on to open Vail Village Travel Agency, then Vail Boot and Shoe and finally Bridge Street Antiques, which later became a souvenir shop called Graffiti. Together with Bill, I have remained active in the Vail community. I am happy to have started a family tradition that is being continued by our son Joe and daughter Meg, who live and work in Vail today with young children of their own.
“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.