Lt. Col. Richard Merritt honored at Aspen Elks Lodge

Rick Carroll
The Aspen Times
Lt. Col. Dick Merritt
Courtesy Photo

A familiar face in Aspen was the guest of honor at a packed Aspen Elks Lodge earlier this month when more than 150 people attended a celebratory dinner at the Elks Lodge to honor Lt. Col. Dick Merritt (Ret) for his contributions to veterans affairs on the Wester Slope.

Merritt served in the Marine Corps for 22 years and the Navy for four years. He is known to many for the role he plays presiding over Aspen’s Veterans Day and Memorial Day services.

He is also a co-founder of the Western Slope Veterans Coalition. Based in Glenwood Springs, the organization serves veterans who need help readjusting to civilian life.

Huts for Vets, another initiative Merritt helped start, brings veterans who have experienced trauma on trips to 10th Mt. Division wilderness huts.

He also led the effort to create the Veterans Memorial next to the courthouse in Aspen.

Homes for Heroes and the Smiling Goat Ranch are two of the many other organizations that Merritt has served.

Diane Spicer, co-chair of the Aspen Elks Veterans Services Committee, said, “The Elks are committed to honoring and supporting veterans. It was a privilege to host Col. Merritt as our guest of honor on Thursday so that his many friends in the Elks could convey their appreciation, love and respect for all he has done to help veterans.”

Fred Venrick, a Vietnam veteran and long-time member of the Elks who has been instrumental in leading many of the initiatives the Elks do with Western Slope veterans, said, “Dick Merritt is a true American patriot. They just don’t make ‘em like that anymore!”

Growing up in Enumclaw, Wash., a small town at the base of Mount Rainier, Merritt was an outdoor enthusiast and Eagle Scout. He attended University of Washington on an ROTC scholarship, earning both bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

Commissioned a second lieutenant in the Marines in 1957, Merritt went on to serve in the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan and Japan.

It was on one of his leaves from Vietnam in 1967 that he first visited Aspen. He purchased his first property in Aspen that year, returning on leave to ski.

In 1979, when he retired from the military, he moved here permanently to raise his family. He’s been married for 47 years to his wife, Patricia. The couple’s children, Matt and Heather, went to the Aspen schools before heading to university.

Merritt worked as a ski instructor and on the ski patrol at Aspen Highlands and later became vice president for mountain safety from 1979-91. He continued working for the Aspen Skiing Co., teaching children skiing at Buttermilk for many years.

In 2017, Merritt was inducted into the Aspen Hall of Fame.

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