Lou Meskimen, 1942-2017, remembered for spirit of giving in Vail
CELEBRATION OF LIFE
Lou Meskimen’s family said there will be a celebration of life held for him somewhere in Eagle County in 2017, but where and when has not yet been decided. The Vail Daily will update this story and make an announcement when the details are confirmed.
VAIL — Lewis “Lou” Meskimen didn’t need a science journal to tell him that giving makes you happy — he knew from experience.
The longtime East Vail resident died July 2 due to complications from a staph infection he had been fighting for months. He was 75.
Meskimen went peacefully with his family by his side — his sister Dawn McGrew and his nephew Mike McGrew were with him at St. Luke’s Medical Center in Denver, where Meskimen spent that last week of his life in intensive care.
Meskimen was unmarried with no children, something he talked about with the Vail Daily in 2004 when he was running for town council.
“It’s just one of those deals,” he told reporter Stephen Lloyd Wood.
As such, he was married to his work, where his affinity for giving was sometimes at odds with the fact that he was in business. Often, his generosity would make his bookkeeper shake her head.
“He was giving to a fault,” said Shelle Walker, who worked with Meskimen for 17 years. “He would bail people out of jail, he would loan people money, he would give you the shirt right off his back.”
KNOWN FOR 2ND CHANCES
Showing up at the jail, Meskimen may not have looked so different from the inmates.
“He had a tough exterior,” Mike McGrew said. “But he had a gentle soul. He would give out these zingers of love that would just knock your socks off.”
McGrew said above all else, Meskimen was known for giving people a second chance.
“He took in the underdogs,” McGrew said.
Mickey Werner worked with Meskimen over the past few years and said Meskimen was working hard right to the end. While fighting staphr infection this past winter, “he would still come out to job sites, and he would still get up at 4 a.m. and plow every morning in December and January,” Werner said.
Snow plowing was one part of a three-business operation run by Meskimen. His company, Thank You Masked Man Services, was a full-service janitorial and landscaping company that was recognizable around the county for its Christmas decorating operations.
“He had an artistic eye for decorating and tree lighting that was hard to match,” Werner said.
That business will likely be sold, Walker said, as its long list of clients will be valuable long after Meskimer’s celebration of life, which will take place locally but has yet to be announced.
In the meantime, business rolls on.
“We’re still busy, every day,” Werner said.
‘HE WAS SANTA’
Meskimen was known to many local families as, simply, Santa.
The Christmas spirit of giving was a part of his being during all months, but Meskimen found his true calling while wearing the Santa suit.
Some of my earliest memories as a child were sitting on Meskimen’s lap in the early ’80s, him dressed as Santa, with his own beard adding an element of realism to the costume.
He would continue to make appearances as Santa for another 30 years, and the last time I saw him, he offered to stop by again and be Santa for my daughter, who was 1 1/2 at the time. For many families, Meskimen was a second-generation Santa like he would have been for my daughter.
In visiting his shop and seeing the pictures of himself as Santa, you could tell that was an important part of his identity. But being part of the community as Santa was part of Meskimen’s larger effort to, simply, be a part of the community.
He volunteered at the Eagle County Fair & Rodeo livestock auction, where he would often purchase a prize-winning animal. He was a regular at the annual Fourth of July parade in Vail, where his love of history could be seen in his costumes. He was also a staple at the Vail and Minturn markets. After learning of his death, Vail Farmers’ Market director Angela Mueller sent out the following statement to market vendors.
“An iconic presence at our market has passed, Lou Meskimen. He owned Thank You Masked Man and has been a part of our community since all of us can remember. He was someone that checked on all of you and wanted to make sure we all had a banner Sunday. He was Santa, and that belief of helping the community and being there was steadfast in him.”
Many people like me knew Meskimen from his time here in Eagle County, but few know his story from before Vail. Wood’s 2004 piece about Meskimen captured his backstory well. Below are some excerpts from that piece.
MASKED MAN ORIGIN STORY
With his gruff voice, no-nonsense manner, ever-present knit hat and bushy, salt-and-pepper mustache, Lewis “Lou” Meskimen can seem like one of those guys right out of a Hemingway novel, or perhaps an old movie.
The 61-year-old business owner started Thank You Masked Man Services, “a full-service janitorial and landscaping company based in Minturn that’s perhaps more well-known for its Christmas decorating operations” nearly three decades ago.
Meskimen was born and raised in Iowa, Illinois and Michigan before moving to Southern California as a young man. He soon was drafted into the U.S. Army and sent to Germany as a medic, and after his discharge, he stayed in Germany for five years.
“That’s where I learned how to ski and that I loved the mountains,” he said.
Meskimen ultimately returned to the United States to earn a teaching credential at the University of California, Santa Barbara, before moving to Vail 31 years ago to take a job managing the then-new Montaneros condominium in Lionshead.
Meskimen watched Vail grow from a fledgling resort with nothing but possibilities to a world-renowned destination with severe growing pains.
“It was a different atmosphere in the early days,” Meskimen said. “Everybody in the community lived in town; nobody had anything; and people chipped in. They still do. Time changes things, and it’s not always bad. A lot of us have turned down good-paying jobs over the years to be here. We did various odd jobs and found our niche.”
Meskimen served on Vail Recreation District’s board of directors, and the town’s Design Review Board and committees that oversee liquor and business licenses. He’s also served the broader community as a member of the Eagle County Planning Commission. Meskimen also is proud to say he’s been on the board of directors for the homeowners association at the Pitkin Creek Condominiums in East Vail, where he’s lived for 24 years.
“I’ve always been very civic-minded. And those experiences taught me there’s more than my own particular point of view,” he said. “You’ve got to listen to people in meetings and on the street and do a lot of your own research.
“In the past, sometimes we didn’t look far into the future,” Meskimen said. “It was more about getting the community started. Now, it’s a lot bigger and wealthier than we could have imagined, and we have to start thinking how things will go 20, 50 or even 100 years down the road. The most important thing is being financially responsible with all these projects.
Known for his busy schedule and hard-working ways, Meskimen said the past few years he’s felt “all banged up,” having undergone various operations on his knees and elsewhere.
“But now I feel whole again,” he said, “and I’m revamping my business so I can give more time to the town.”
For such a unique character, Meskimen doesn’t blink when asked if he has an idol. And his answer may go a long way toward pinning down his political philosophy and goals as a Vail town councilman.
“Harry Truman, coming through in a tough situation, making decisions and not passing the buck,” Meskimen said. “He had to make some rough decisions, but he got the country on good economic footing for the next guy.”