The life and happenings, so far, of Missouri Heights’ Hap Webb
Appearances can be deceiving.
At first sight, Hap Webb appears to be a sweet, soft-spoken, white-haired grandmother. But underneath the porcelain skin, the mellifluous voice and the gracious manner beats the heart of a tiger.
Webb has lived in the Aspen area since the early 1970s and owned a home on Missouri Heights since the 1980s. At the age of 53 her life took a sharp left turn and she reinvented herself.
Webb literally answered the call of the wild. She left her grown children and a failed marriage and drove to Alaska, where she worked for British Petroleum at Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic Sea.
But let’s begin at the beginning.
Webb is a born and raised California girl. But as a child growing up in the 1930s and ’40s, her California was a very different place from today. She remembers orange groves in her hometown of Culver City.
“We had a lima bean field at the end of our road,” she said.
She met her first husband, Duane Fengel, in high school and married him when she was 22 and he 23. They moved to Simi Valley and bought a home. Duane wasn’t bringing home much money, but they got by. Then the children started to come, first Kirk, then Leslie and Lee and Craig.
She went to work for her brother, Lauren Hungerford, in his one-man advertising studio.
“Things were so different then. There were no digital files. When we wanted to do Outer Space we took a piece of black paper and blew white powder on it for stars,” she laughed.
They sometimes ate lunch at the Brown Derby, where the movie stars hung out.
“It was fun,” Webb said.
The kids grew and went to school, Duane and Hap continued their jobs, and they lived their lives. In the early 1970s, Duane and Hap decided to take a trip across the country. They loaded the four kids into a pickup camper. Along the way they stopped at Snowmass where a friend of Duane’s lived. They fell in love with the mountains and decided it was a better place to raise kids than L.A.
Duane was offered a job helping establish Aspen’s first bus system. Although the job didn’t happen right away, the family settled in. That was in 1972.
A few years later, without warning, Duane announced he wasn’t in love with her any more and decided to move out.
It was a blow to Hap.
“I didn’t know anybody, I couldn’t drive on ice, I had no job and I had to make a house and a car payment,” she said. “And I had three kids at home. The first year was a real hard time. I had never been on my own before.”
But she managed to scrape a living together doing needlework for a woman who created patterns and wall hangings.
“Eighteen cents an inch,” she said.
One day she walked into the job service center in Aspen and asked for a job and the woman she spoke to, who was also a friend, offered her a secretarial job in the service center.
Although Webb protested she didn’t know the first thing about being a secretary, the woman was willing to give her a chance and some training.
At the same time she also joined a therapy group. It was there she met her second husband. The marriage didn’t last long.
“What I learned was you don’t marry anybody you meet in group therapy,” she said.
John Webb was 18 years older, rich, a land developer, and had been married several times before.
“He was way out of my scope,” she said, but she married him anyway, despite a pre-nuptial agreement that protected his wealth and kept her from having any of it.
They bought a house together in Missouri Heights. He soon brought her in as a partner in some of his land development deals. After 18 months of marriage, Hap had had enough.
“I thought, I’ve got to learn to make a living,” she said. “When John left I was so terrified to be alone I didn’t know how to survive.”
But she also thought to herself, “When you have a fear, you face it. I thought, where is the scariest place I know? New York. So I moved there for the summer.”
There she enrolled in the Art Students League, a school for artists. She studied portraiture, and after the summer was over she set up a studio in her home and did commissioned portraits.
While she did make money it still wasn’t enough to make ends meet. She moved out of the house on Missouri Heights, got a little apartment in Glenwood Springs and went to work at the Hot Springs Pool as a bookkeeper.
By that time she was 50 years old, the kids were grown and on their own, and she realized she had a world and a life to find.
All her life she’d wanted to go to Alaska, but family and marriage conspired against that dream.
When she broached the idea at work her friends scoffed.
“They said, `You can’t get in your car and go to Alaska,'” she said.
But one of her co-workers had worked for British Petroleum in Denver and suggested Webb get on with the company there. Then she could put in for a transfer to Alaska.
She did just that, and moved to Littleton.
“I had no money and no furniture. I look back on this time, but I’m so Pollyanna I didn’t feel put upon,” she said.
About a year later, in 1984, BP closed its Denver office and Webb was out of a job.
But not out of moxie.
The company gave her a $1,800 severance payment and said they’d help find her another job.
“So I got in my car” and soon found herself getting on the ferry in Seattle.
There she met three men who were also on their way north. They decided they would drive in caravan. Once she and her companions spent the night over a bar. On the ground floor the bar was swinging all night with rollicking Eskimos, she said.
“I got into Anchorage and went to BP. I got all dressed up in my navy suit and high heels. But they wouldn’t hire me,” she said.
However, Webb was persistent. A few times a week she would go into the office and say she had something to add to her resume, “so it would go back to the top” of the pile.
Finally her persistence paid off and she was hired to work in the Anchorage office.
Then she heard about the money to be made on Alaska’s North Slope, in Prudhoe Bay, where conditions were primitive and workers only spent one or two weeks at a time on the oil rigs or in the office.
She worked 12-hour shifts for two weeks and had two weeks off. At Prudhoe Bay she slept in staff quarters that were like a luxury hotel. The food was gourmet and free. The recreation opportunities were limited to TV and movies and exercise, but she didn’t mind.
She’d heard a co-worker in Anchorage describe Prudhoe as having “a woman behind every tree. Well, there’s no trees in Prudhoe. It’s totally flat and most of it’s frozen water. The buildings look totally sterile” because of strict environmental measures.
She joined the fire team and was trained to fight petroleum fires and hazardous spills. She also earned a bachelor’s degree in management.
“My life began again,” she said.
Perhaps it came a bit late, she added ruefully. “I’m a late bloomer, but I was living life.
“I didn’t spend any money there. I started to put money away. I paid off my condo in Anchorage and the house here,” she said.
Webb also bought a condo in Washington state for Duane’s mother.
“I did it for 15 years, until I was 65. I think I was the oldest person up there,” she laughed.
Two years ago she moved back to Missouri Heights. But she still has itchy feet. Webb is now at work remodeling her house, making it ready to sell. She now wants to move to Washington state.
“It’s too hot for me here, since I lived in Alaska,” she added.
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