Vail’s Pepi Gramshammer honored by hundreds
More than 350 people pack Vail Interfaith Chapel to honor Vail pioneer
VAIL — Pepi and Sheika Gramshammer have a lot of friends — more than even they realized.
More than 350 people crowded the Vail Interfaith Chapel on Monday for the “friends and family” funeral service for Pepi Gramshammer, one of Vail’s pioneers. Pepi died Aug. 17, surrounded by friends and family.
Even more friends attended his funeral. More still will honor his memory at a public event Sept. 20.
The funeral Monday was a celebration of life for Pepi Gramshammer, the first international ski racer to call Vail home. But it was also a Christian funeral service for one of God’s children.
Father Brooks Keith, of the Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration, was one of the officiants. Mother Emily Lukanich, from the Episcopal Church, was also an officiant, as were Pastor Carl Walker and Chaplain Denise Delany.
Keith said Sheika Gramshammer helped plan the service, which was a traditional Tyrolean funeral. There was a Tyrolean flag draped over Pepi Gramshammer’s casket. Music included a recording of the famed bells from a cathedral in Innsbruck, Austria.
People attending the service arrived in Vail over the course of a few days.
“We got calls that morning from people at airports,” Keith said.
And longtime locals turned out to remember a treasured friend.
“Every single surviving founding member of the community was there — every single one,” Keith said.
That traditional funeral included holy communion. Keith estimated that perhaps 90% of those in the chapel participated in the Christian ritual, some of whom hadn’t taken communion in decades. As they passed the casket, many touched, tapped or kissed it.
Vail police officers, in their dress blue uniforms, accompanied the hearse and family back to Gasthof Gramshammer, the hotel that Pepi and Sheika Gramshammer founded. Sheika Gramshammer walked behind the hearse, carrying the folded Tyrolean flag that had adorned the casket.
“It’s the closest thing to a state funeral this community will ever have,” Keith said.
But, Beth Slifer said, the service, including several eulogies from people including Pepi and Sheika’s daughters Kira and Sheika, and the speech from Sheika herself, as the service neared its end, was “uplifting.”
“It was such a warm, loving feeling,” Slifer said. “We’re all (in Vail) because we love it.”
Longtime Vail musician Helmut Fricker was among the many musicians who played, both at the chapel and the following celebration at the hotel.
Fricker said he played his alphorn outside the chapel for perhaps a half-hour before the service.
At the hotel, Fricker and the Oberlohr brothers played for hours — “until their fingers fell off,” Keith said.
Sheika Gramshammer and others were at Fricker’s table.
“We cried and laughed at the same time,” Fricker said.
Laughter was important in the lives of Pepi and Sheika Gramshammer. Longtime Vail Realtor and developer Ron Byrne recalled a photo taken just a couple of years ago. In it are Pepi, Sheika, Byrne and his wife, Cristina. All are laughing, at something — it doesn’t matter what.
In laughter and serious matters, Pepi “was so inspirational to all of us,” Byrne said.
And, noting the full house at both the chapel and Gasthof Gramshammer, Byrne said everyone “came to honor a man who did a tremendous amount for Vail.”
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While Kaemmer loved skiing, he also loved to work, and in Vail he found what he believed would be an idyllic setting to be both an entrepreneur and a skier.