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Recent deaths leave valley emptier

Of the many people who passed away in the Roaring Fork Valley during February, three Aspen residents, Dick Stutsman, Hunter S. Thompson and Bonnie Rayburn, struck a chord with me. In our weird world, because celebrities are coveted, almost worshipped, Hunter’s death grabbed the headlines, not only around here, but all over the planet. Back here at home, I think about these three people. I think about their legacies. I think about the kind of people they were. All three lived less than a dozen miles east of Aspen, where the Roaring Fork Valley opens up. Dick was part of a longtime local family that homesteaded at the eastern end of Snowmass Canyon where the upper Roaring Fork Valley opens up. Bonnie and her family lived down on the Roaring Fork River, and Hunter lived across the river, up Woody Creek Canyon. I knew Dick and Bonnie. I grew up with them in my life. Dick operated Stutsman-Gerbaz Earthmoving and was the quintessential dad, always at high school games cheering his kids on. Later, I’d see him and his wife, Dolores, out together, down in Basalt having some breakfast. He always had a smile, a reassuring pat. He was solid. He was kind. I’ve known Bonnie since I was 12. I took modern dance classes from her. We wore leotards and tights and ran around in bare feet. She invited me and my family to her family’s Thanksgiving celebration at her house. She took over Gretl’s Restaurant on Aspen Mountain. At Bonnie’s, she always wanted to know what I was up to and how the family was when I’d see her there. When I heard Bonnie and Dick had died, I thought about that eastern part of the valley, where Snowmass Canyon ends and those shelves of meadows begin, and it was almost as if a glow of energy flickered out with their passing. They’ve been part of Aspen, a part of my upbringing, as long as Aspen has been there for me. And with them gone, it was like a kindness, a familiarity, a solid, warm feeling that I’d get as I’d travel up and down the part of the valley where they lived, was now different, emptier. I didn’t feel that way about Hunter. The times I did see Hunter around Woody Creek, there was no connection, and why should there be? I didn’t know him; he didn’t know me. He had a truly imaginative, original way of working words around, but in his “real” life, whatever that is, an entourage usually accompanied him, and with it, an energy that drained everything around it and said, “Look at this.” It was uncomfortable to be around. It wasn’t part of my deal. I much preferred the company of a man who liked cheering on his kids at football games, or a woman who beat on a wooden drum top while I, as a little girl, danced across a wooden gym floor. Dick’s and Bonnie’s deaths didn’t get the attention Hunter’s did, but as I think about these people, what they’ve meant to me and what their lives contributed to my own, it’s clear. We may worship those who have become bigger than life – the stars, the celebrities of our times. But it’s not fame that survives a person’s life. It’s the little kindnesses, the one-on-one moments, the laughter and the friendship that reaches far into the soul. Carrie Click is the editor and general manager of The Citizen Telegram in Rifle, and the western Garfield County bureau editor of the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. Carrie can be reached at 625-3245 ext. 101, cclick@citizentelegram.com.


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