Ruth Perry, daughter of Aspen pioneer, dies at age 96
The Roaring Fork Valley lost a woman who lived life fully until the end and was probably the last direct connection to a founding father of Aspen when Ruth Brown Perry passed away peacefully at her Carbondale home March 24.
Perry, 96, known as “Ditty” to most her family and friends, will be remembered for her “enthusiasm, incomparable hospitality, faith and warmth,” said one of her daughters, Roz Turnbull.
Ruth and her late husband, Bob, started the Mt. Sopris Hereford Ranch just south of Carbondale in 1941 and operated it into this century. They raised their seven children there and oversaw a hub of activity that embraced ranch hands, fellow ranchers, exchange students and hordes of their kids’ friends. There was an open door policy at the ranch and Perry loved to entertain — not in a fancy style but in a warming, inviting way, Turnbull said.
“I remember when I was little, if we set the table for six people, we thought nobody was home,” she said.
Perry was a people person if ever the cliché applied. She had broad interests ranging from Bible study to a Scrabble club. She started riding a recumbent bicycle last year at age 95 and rode just about every day last summer, Turnbull said.
She was never afraid to try new things, said daughter Marj Perry. Ruth embraced technology a couple of years ago by acquiring an iPad and staying better connected to her 26 grandchildren and 46 great grandchildren, Perry said.
“Right up to her last breath she was connected with friends,” Turnbull said. “She had friends from 97 (years of age) to newborn.”
Father was Aspen pioneer
Perry’s father was David R.C. Brown, who came to Aspen in spring 1880 as a young clerk working for storekeeper H.P. Cowenhoven. They made an arduous journey over the Continental Divide with two wagonloads of goods and a larger supply of hope that the silver camp would flourish as a town.
Brown ended up making a fortune, first through good luck, then through shrewd investments. A prospector settled a debt to Brown of $250 by trading his one-third interest in the Aspen mining claim. It became one of the town’s biggest producing silver mines. By 1892, Brown was hauling in $66,000 per month from his investment in that mine, according to “Aspen: The History of a Silver Mining Town 1879-1893,” by Malcolm Rohrbough.
Brown made investments that helped Aspen thrive. He helped build a tram up Aspen Mountain. He invested in the Colorado Midland Railroad. He helped build the municipal waterworks and helped bring electricity to the town.
He stayed connected to Aspen after the silver crash in 1893.
Ruth was born on Nov. 28, 1918, after Brown started his second family. His first wife, Kate Cowenhoven, died in 1898 and he remarried Ruth McNutt Brown after meeting her in 1907.
Ditty was raised in Denver but came to Aspen each summer once school was out. She was extremely fond of living in the town during what’s known as The Quiet Years, after the silver crash and before the rebirth with skiing and culture, according to Turnbull. One of Ruth’s best friends as a child in Aspen was Peggy (Cooper) Rowland. They rode their horses around the partially abandoned town.
Ditty also visited during winter. She was among the people featured in “Aspen: The Quiet Years,” the book that is bible about the tough times and the people who lived them between the booms.
Perry made a reference in the book to skiing before there was a boat tow. “When we were climbing up Aspen Mountain to ski down, we would think, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to have a tow?’” she said.
The Brown family lived in a house overlooking Hallam Lake. Walter and Elizabeth Paepcke later purchased the house. The house was torn down for redevelopment after the Paepcke estate sold it.
As a kid, Ruth picked up her nickname when her older brother Gordon couldn’t properly pronounce her name. It came out as “Ditty.” The nickname stuck throughout her life.
The couple finds their calling
Brown’s dad died in 1930 when she was 11 years old. Her mother died in 1936 when Brown was 17, according to her interview in “The Quiet Years.”
One of her brothers, the late D.R.C. Brown, went on to become a longtime president of the Aspen Skiing Corp., the predecessor of the existing Aspen Skiing Co.
Ruth Brown married Bob Perry in 1940. They were lifelong friends and neighbors in Denver who knew each other probably before they could even walk, Turnbull said. They spent a short time in Steamboat Springs and moved to her family’s ranch on the outskirts of Carbondale in 1941. Although both their families owned ranches, they didn’t come from ranching families per se, said Marj Perry. But they embraced the lifestyle and built a legacy at their ranch over the next 65 years.
Putting up the hay crop was a huge undertaking that was done in their early years with horses and a large crew of workers, Marj Perry said, recalling stories from her parents. Throughout the time the kids were growing up, the ranch was a hive of activity — “chaotic, pandemonium, day-to-day living,” she said.
The Perry daughters recalled with relish the times the family would mount up on horseback and drive cattle from their Carbondale ranch up Highway 82 to Old Snowmass, where another ranch provided summer grazing. The traffic was light enough that they could drive a few hundred head of cattle right up the road, they said.
Bob Perry died in 2006 at age 88. Ditty spent her last years in a house in Carbondale that she loved because it overlooked the Crystal River where she could soak in views of Mount Sopris.
Love of family, God and country
Turnbull said her mother’s faith in God and country was very important to her, as was family. “She was a very patriotic person,” she said.
That was reflected in a letter to the editor Perry wrote to The Aspen Times in November 2013. She wrote that schools should teach religion, American history, love of country and patriotism to get the United States back on track.
Perry wrote two books in 2005 and 2006 that outlined her life and philosophy. They were titled “The Abundant Life” I and II.
Jillene Rector, a family friend who also helped care for Ruth and Bob in their older age, said they were both a joy to be around. “Everyone was always welcome at their home and table,” she said.
Rector recalled that Ditty took great joy last summer watching a hummingbird nest under the eaves of her house outside her front door.
“Ditty enjoyed watching the entire process of the nest being built, the 21 days until the eggs hatched and the feeding of the babies,” Rector wrote in an email. “Before the summer was over the ‘hummer’ was gone. It just flitted away. This is how Ditty left us that morning. She flitted away. We will miss her. She gave us so much joy, hope and inspiration for 96 years.”
Turnbull said her mom passed away while engaged in a favorite pursuit. She was working on a Jumble word game.
A memorial service will be held Monday at 11 a.m. at The Orchard Gathering Center in Carbondale.
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