Arlene Stark Quenon: Making a difference in Eagle County
Special to the Daily
Arlene Stark Quenon of Eagle was an independent woman with a wide smile, adventurous spirit, and a thorough grasp of the complexities of land use planning. She raised seven kids, then returned to college and at the age of 51 earned a law degree. A competent fisherwoman, she was adept at catching trout and sometimes exaggerated fish stories just a bit.
Quenon died March 21 after several years of battling arthritis and dementia.
This vibrant woman made a difference in Eagle County, working to protect the things she valued, including local waterways, open space, and the Brush Creek valley. She often stepped gracefully and effectively into leadership positions.
Arlene was as comfortable conducting an Eagle County Planning Commission hearing as she was mowing the fields surrounding her beloved Brush Creek home. Outgoing and gregarious, she genuinely liked most people and livened up any room she stepped into.
Born in 1934 and raised in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Arlene was a proud “U.P.er” (pronounced “Yooper”) — Michigan slang for people from the U.P. who never forgot her roots. Her lumberjack father, accepting the fact that he had three daughters and no sons, taught her play baseball, fish, shoot a rifle and to love the outdoors.
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Arlene met fellow Michigan State University student Max Quenon in 1953 on a Greyhound bus ride from Chicago to East Lansing, Michigan. There were plenty of available seats on the bus. Max chose the one next to the pretty girl. They talked for the entirety of the eight-hour road trip.
Friendship evolved into romance when she invited him up to the U.P. to go fishing. Arlene caught the first fish and held it up proudly. It flopped out of her hands and into the mucky water of the mud flats. Arlene dived in, grabbed the fish, and captured Max’s heart. They married in 1954 in Albuquerque, New Mexico,where Max was stationed with the Army.
After the military, Max began a homebuilding career that took them to El Paso, Texas. The family grew to include seven kids.
“I don’t know how she did it,” says eldest daughter Kay McCarty of Eagle. The Quenon offspring refer to themselves as “free-range kids.” Arlene packed lunches and sent the crew off to school. They walked through cottonfields, across drainage ditches, and over railroad tracks. Free days involved chores and exploring farm life, as long as they were back home at dinner time. Meals involved vast quantities of hamburger hash (pizza on Fridays). There was always enough food to accommodate extra friends. The Quenon home included dogs, cats, chickens, ducks, rabbits, a goat, horses, and happiness.
Arlene could summon her entire brood in a single breath, calling out “Max Kay Jan Chuck Sam Pat Dan.”
“When we heard that, we knew we were in trouble. We would come running,” says McCarty.
Her family was always top priority, but not her only interest. She taught high school for several years, sold real estate, started her own publication company, and worked with Max in the home-building business. Always interested in politics and community, she served as president of the El Paso League of Women Voters and on the board of the El Paso Mental Health Association. In 1976, she was elected as a delegate to the National Democratic Convention in San Antonio (Max was left wrangling the seven kids in a nearby hotel).
Arlene saw a need for more women in public office. In 1975 she became the first woman elected to the El Paso City Council, defeating a well-known El Paso sports figure in a run-off. On the council, her progressive leadership benefited libraries, the zoo, youth services, and parks and recreation for youth and senior citizens.
Her life path eventually led to the law degree in 1985. With the kids grown, Max and Arlene relocated to Colorado. Arlene applied for a position as the in-house attorney for the National Association of Homebuilders of Metropolitan Denver. She interviewed well, but the man doing the hiring had concerns. How, he asked Arlene, would she handle a male client who expressed doubt about a woman’s ability to handle weighty matters?
Arlene cocked an eyebrow and responded with a pointed, “I beg your pardon?” Assuming that she misunderstood, the interviewer repeated the question. Again, the raised eyebrow and “I beg your pardon?” By the third repeat, the interviewer realized she was demonstrating exactly how she would handle such job pressure. She got the job.
Home on Brush Creek
Max’s purchase of a lumberyard brought the Quenons to Eagle in 1989. Max arrived first, batching it in an apartment while searching for a place to build a home. He located a rural acreage on Brush Creek and brought Arlene over to check it out. She never even looked at the buildings on the property. The rushing creek and the green meadows with the potential for fish and wildlife caught her eye. “Buy it,” she said.
The Quenons built their dream home which became a gathering place for family and friends. Arlene opened up a private law practice in Eagle, and immediately became immersed in the community. She chaired the Eagle County Planning Commission during the hearings of the controversial Adam’s Rib ski area development proposal on Brush Creek (it never happened, and the property is now Sylvan Lake State Park).
“She was so excited to be on the Planning Commission. She thought she could have some helpful input into how the community developed over time,” notes former county attorney Kevin Lindahl, who later joined Arlene in a private law practice. “She was a very good listener. She weighed everybody’s thoughts equally and gave them consideration. She was always very fair,” he adds.
Arlene often ended up in leadership positions with the nonprofit organizations including the Eagle River Watershed Council and the Eagle Valley Land Trust. She volunteered at Sylvan Lake State Park Visitor Center, was elected president of the Eagle Chamber of Commerce, and was named Eagle’s “Citizen of the Year” in 2002.
“She didn’t do it for her ego. She did it to serve. She just really wanted to help,” says Lindahl.
Retirement brought adventure. The Quenons learned to scuba dive, a hobby that took them around the world to Galapagos, Bora Bora, and Easter Island. As they became seasoned world travelers, their trips focused more on prehistoric antiquities including the lost city of Machu Pichu in the Peruvian mountains and the abandoned city of Petra on the “Silk Road” to the Orient. They experienced the grandeur of the Himalayas in Nepal. Arlene and Max travelled to 32 countries including two trips to Africa, as evidenced by the vast collection of traditional indigenous people’s face masks Arlene acquired as souvenirs. Those masks and Arlene’s travel tales inspired her children and grandchildren to also become world travelers.
Closer to home, the Quenons’ retirement adventures involved the purchase of a large recreational vehicle and a memorable first-trip to Yellowstone National Park, where they learned that some roads are narrow and the side mirrors on an RV are always wide. They figured it out and drove that RV cost-to-coast and border-to-border, including Alaska.
Every adventure yielded a tale for Arlene’s endless cache of stories. She shared her adventures with her friends, family, and especially the grandkids.
She knew how to create happiness, even as her health declined. “She was a joyful person to be with,” says Max.
Memorial set for June 11
Arlene Stark Quenon is survived by her husband, Max, and seven children: sons Max (Jane), Chuck (Janice), Sam, Pat (Michelle), and Dan (Kim) Quenon; daughters Jan (Paul) Holt and Kay McCarty); 13 adoring grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. A celebration of Arlene Quenon’s life will be held Saturday, June 11 from 2-4 p.m. at the Quenon home, 3021 Brush Creek Road in Eagle. All of Arlene’s friends are welcome.
The family suggests that memorial donations in Arlene’s memory be made to the Land & Rivers Fund c/o the Eagle River Watershed Council, P.O. Box 1477, Gypsum, CO. 81637, (online at landandrivers.org) to be used for projects near and dear to Arlene’s heart or assigns as designated by the family.