‘Honey, we can do this’
September 15, 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 http://www.bookwormofedwards.com, the Colorado Ski Museum, Pepi’s, Gorsuch, Annie’s, and the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens. There will be book signings at Vail’s 50th Reunion on Friday and Saturday.
remember when I first came to Vail. It was Christmas Eve, 1963. I was in Aspen and was driving to Vail to spend Christmas. When I left Aspen, the weather was nice, and I had the top off the Jeep. I made a wrong turn in Newcastle and got lost. I made it to Vail very late, around 10:30, and it was very, very cold. The temperature was around negative 20 degrees that night. What I remember is that everyone stayed up for me and greeted me with open arms. That’s what Vail is like. Open arms.
What attracted me first of all was Pepi. What attracted Pepi was the combination of my not wanting to go back to Austria and his having an opportunity to buy land in 1963. Then we could build something. With me being in fashion and Pepi in racing, the ideal thing was to build a shop. What we found out later was that you had to build within one year. They didn’t want people sitting on the land and not building because they wanted to build a town. We submitted plans to Vail Associates, and they said we couldn’t build a shop because Vail Blanche and Blanche Hauserman had the exclusive rights to retail for three years, so no other retail shop could come in. But we had to build something.
My father had hotels, so I thought we could build a little Gasthof, and then in three years we could build some shops. With no experience, we decided to open a hotel. We got married in May of 1964 and opened in December of 1964. I had no idea what it would be like in the business, and so I went to Barnes Business School in Denver for three months to learn about business. Every day was a new day. Then, it was more or less learning day by day.
Strong, honest people
Three years later, the opportunity came to open the shops. We immediately turned that into reality. We all needed to get our feet on the ground in town. Not just anybody could come in and open a restaurant. You had to prove the need of the neighborhood. It was very easy to learn because there wasn’t competition. We all had one goal, and that was to build a town. While we were building Gramshammer, we had no idea about this thing, so I became the manager of the Plaza Building for Dick Hauserman and learned how to delegate the rooms, how to make up the rooms. I learned how to deal with maids. Then I went to the Red Lion because the owners were my friends (Larry and Marge Burdick) and worked for them as a bartender. I modeled when I was in Aspen, and I was friends with the owner of the Red Onion and had worked as a cocktail waitress there. That’s how I learned to manage a hotel and how to tend a bar.
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Entering the business world of Vail, I had to learn fast. I loved people and had been into the social life in Vegas, Hollywood and New York. I loved socializing. As Vail was so boring in the beginning, I came up with some ideas, like the picnics. The town needed a hospital and fundraising for that. I learned step by step from my friends who were experienced. I wasn’t afraid to ask, “How do you do this?” and I wasn’t afraid to say, “I’m sorry, I did something wrong.” That’s just part of growing up. The wonderful thing was at that time there was no greed, no competition, only a dream to make something. People came to Vail from all over the country to establish themselves and raise a family. They all had a dream to make something good of it. That’s what it is still today because of the foundation; the way it was laid out was with strong, honest people.
I would not change anything in my life and certainly not the first five or 10 years in Vail. They were some of the most beautiful years. It started out with potlucks and dinners; no one wanted to eat alone, so we had potlucks, and we’d play games. We had no television. Because of that, we had an intimacy and friendship among all of us. Some I liked more, some I liked less – but you talked to everybody. What was unique about this resort was that you had the richest of the rich – we called them millionaires then, but they are the billionaires of now: The Hunts, the Taylors, and we were all invited to their homes. There were no social differences.
It was wonderful being a young mother to Kira. Everybody helped with babysitting. I was for three years in business, so I needed to bring someone from Europe to watch the kids. We brought over Omi Krauss when Kira was just six weeks old. Omi had been a nurse, and then she started babysitting.
There were always challenging times. There were times when I wondered if what we were doing was right, especially when the competition started coming in. There was always somebody more experienced than you were. But if you had hard times, there was always someone to go to. There was never a time that I said I wanted to leave town. It was never that hard. Yes, I wanted to leave when I missed my old friends and the social life in New York City, the fun, the parties, and the things that were going on. I missed that, but I was the buyer for Pepi Sports, so I went to New York several times a year, and that was good. I never had a moment when I said about moving to Vail, “Why did I do that?”
I always laugh when I think of the experiences with the volunteer fire department. From the beginning of Vail, there were six or seven of them. You know, they were the jacks-of-all-trades and masters of none. Pepi was also a firefighter, along with Larry Burdick, Donovan, Joe Langmaid, and Joe Staufer. They all had to do it, and watching them was so funny. We had one fire chief from Eagle who taught them. We had one police chief who was more professional, so he gave the orders. I remember the fire at the Covered Bridge store (Cissy and John Dobson’s place). Pepi had a cold, and it was late at night. The telephone rang, and when it rang, there was a recording saying what was happening because it was connected to all the phones. The recording said, “There’s a fire at the Covered Bridge.” Pepi was hard asleep, so he said, “Oh, don’t worry about it.” Then he jumped up and shouted, “The Covered Bridge! That’s just next-door. We share a wall with them.” He got dressed immediately and helped evacuate everyone, hanging on to their jewelry and their furs. It was quite a fire. Bobby Joe Britton climbed up the ladder, slipped and fell down and broke his leg. We had to take care of the fire, the broken leg and the guests.
Clobber a robber
When we opened in 1964, there was no Clock Tower Building. We lived in the room above the restaurant and hadn’t unpacked all the stuff we had for the big opening on Dec. 15. We had some guy sitting in the bar with the bartender and a cook, and he wanted something to eat. I went into the kitchen, made sandwiches, then came back out and served him. He came back for dinner, and I brought out spaghetti for him, but the guy was gone. I asked the bartender what happened to his friend, and he said he didn’t know, perhaps he went to the bathroom; for five or 10 minutes, he still didn’t know where he was, and I thought it was strange. Then Cheryl, who married Bobby Joe Britton, said she saw someone walking out with Pepi’s skis. She knew they were Pepi’s because he had Look bindings. We went out and looked for the guy and got him. He’d taken our suitcases out of the rooms and was robbing us while I was serving him dinner. The sheriff came, and I got in a fight with the man. I got so mad when I saw it was our stuff, I pummeled him. The sheriff said, “Stay away from Sheika, she’s violent!” I looked across and saw suitcases, and they were our suitcases. While I was looking after his dinner, he was robbing us. And then, of course, we dragged him back as quickly as we could, and I got so mad when I thought of my suitcases, I took a ski pole and clobbered this guy with it. Everyone said, “Stay away from Sheika; she knows how to fight.”
Picnics were fun because you never knew what was happening. Dinners were fun because something always went wrong. I took good care of the property – it was clean and beautiful. We had aspen trees in front of our deck, and they kept growing, and the roots were going underneath the porch and cracking the boards. I went to the town of Vail and told them I wanted to chop the trees down, because they were ruining the awnings and the roots were ruining the concrete floor. They told me I couldn’t do it. Then someone from the head of the Town Council said, “Why don’t you just tell them you’re going to trim the tree?” I called them up and told them I would just trim the tree, and they said I could.
The town was happy and thought that trimming was a good idea. So, at 5 a.m. one morning, I took out a chain saw and completely trimmed them. I left just the bottom branches. Well, it looked horrible. If I’d ever seen a lousy haircut, that was one. The whole Design Review Board was there by 11 a.m. I told them I had just given them a haircut. The trees looked so bad, they told me to go ahead and take them down.
Vail became what I never had before – a home. It’s my home, the only home I ever had. It opened its arms to all of us, embraced us with such a force, and such love, that you cannot help but being happy and in love with this town. I still believe that if you are willing to work really hard and have a goal, even now, you can do something yourself. We proved it here, that we could build a town. We worked hard, and we are still working hard today. You cannot sit back and let someone else do your job. If you work on it, you can be successful and reach your goals.
In the early days, the woman was more respected than the man. They had much more power because it was the woman who had the ideas. The men were the businessmen coming from different cities or Europe. It was the woman who really was the power behind the man in town. “Honey, we can do this, let’s do this, darling. Come on, Pepi, we can make this. We can make it.” There’s Christie Hill. When she and Dick Hauserman came here, she was a social girl from Boston. She didn’t want to be idle and saw opportunity and quality in this town. She was the one with the idea for Vail Blanche and started that store. The women at that time were the foundation of Vail. Behind those men and the businesses were the women. We had the time and energy to say, “OK, come on, we can do something.” And we did it. We proved it.
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.