Former Aspen Mayor Helen Klanderud died Thursday following a massive stroke the day before.
Klanderud, 76, was airlifted to Swedish Medical Center on Wednesday after she had a stroke in a doctor’s office in the valley. She never regained consciousness and died on Thursday at 5 p.m., surrounded by her family and friends; her sons Kurt and Erik Klanderud; her daughter Kaela Moontree; her sister Louise Donovan and her brother-in-law, Frank Donovan, as well as Petrina DiSalvo and Christina Manfredonia.
Speaking on behalf of the family, Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo said Klanderud went peacefully and without pain.
“It’s an incredible shock,” he said Thursday evening. “Everybody in this community has lost a friend.”
DiSalvo read a statement from the family: “Helen will be remembered for her 43 years of dedication to the community, not only in public office but with the many nonprofit organizations that she served.”
Klanderud moved to Aspen with her four children in 1971, to work as a social worker with Touchstone Mental Health Clinic. She was the first woman elected to the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners, and was the only woman to run against five men for the seat. She served two terms as a county commissioner, from 1981 through ’87.
She served as Aspen’s mayor for three terms, from 2001 through 2007, when she left office due to term limits.
She was known to have great love for Aspen and a commitment to community involvement. In addition to the Aspen Chamber Resort Association board, she has served on a number of other nonprofit boards, including Aspen Homeless Shelter, Aspen Writers’ Foundation, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, and as a community member on the Jazz Aspen Snowmass board.
Debbie Braun, president and CEO of ACRA, speaking from Abetone, Italy, said she saw Klanderud last week before her trip. Klanderud had popped into the office and told her she was eager to hear about her travels in what could become Aspen’s next sister city. The two were planning on catching up upon Braun’s return this week.
Braun said Klanderud had a special style in her service on ACRA’s board and public affairs committee.
“She took on public affairs with such passion,” Braun said. “Helen had a way of understanding how to get it done. ... She was such a powerful force on the board yet understated and eloquent.”
Given all of the roles Klanderud jumped into, she was a respected a role model for many in the community.
“Helen as a woman opened so many doors for other women in this community,” Braun said, adding that Klanderud would routinely pop into her office to catch up.
“She was such a pleasure to talk to,” Braun said. “By talking to her, it often helped me figure out what to do.”
Known for exclusively wearing black — beginning when she ran for state Senate in 1986 — Klanderud’s style and personality was much brighter than the clothes she wore. On her 70th birthday in 2007, she shocked those who knew her as the woman in black by wearing all white at her party held at the Aspen Meadows.
Serious at times, Klanderud also had a sense of humor and a thick skin. She drove her Jeep Cherokee around town with a bumper sticker that read, “Relax, it’s Aspen.”
She quit smoking several years ago and was considered to be in good health; she regularly worked out at a local gym, where she had been with her son Erik the day before her stroke.
In her exit interview after leaving the mayor’s seat, Klanderud told the Aspen Daily News that the community — from government to business to the nonprofits — came together to restore Aspen to greatness during her tenure.
“I feel I was part of a process that brought all of us together to move forward and to really enhance what we are here,” she said in 2007. “Maybe the stars all aligned at the right time or maybe there are cycles that you go through, but it has been an exciting and challenging time to have been in office. To work with these organizations and the community at large has been very rewarding.”
Details of the memorial service will be forthcoming.