Junee Kirk, who was known for her community involvement, artistry and strong local political views, passed away on Saturday after a battle with cancer. She was 73.
Kirk was a regular presence in city council meetings, always arguing on behalf of actions she saw as being in favor of upholding local quality of life and small town character.
Mayor Steve Skadron said Monday that he could typically surmise what Kirk’s reaction would be on a given matter — it usually revolved around keeping down the mass and scale of new buildings — which would be helpful in crafting his policy position.
“I would think to myself, is the issue we are talking about going to pass the Junee test?” Skadron said during introductory comments at Monday’s council meeting. Earlier in the day, he said the news of Kirk’s passing caused him to reflect on how “we are losing a generation of people who fought to preserve Aspen.”
Speaking through tears at the meeting, Councilman Bert Myrin said he will miss Kirk’s voice and viewpoint. He also noted her role as the director of a small nonprofit that sponsored community dances at the former Aspen Youth Center building in the Rio Grande Plaza building.
Councilwoman Ann Mullins said that Kirk was a “passionate Aspenite” and a “wonderful artist.” While they generally shared sentiments on local issues, Mullins said they found themselves at odds lately, as Kirk argued against city direction on a new office building project and hotel projects that had been approved. Still, Mullins said, “I really valued her opinion and love of Aspen.
“We should honor her for her involvement in the city and her passion for the city. It is a great loss,” Mullins said.
Kirk grew up in Denver and was a competitive figure skater in high school. She moved to Aspen in 1967, according to her friend since middle school Diana Rumsey. The youngest of three sisters, Kirk was “extremely talented from the get go,” Rumsey said.
“She was very acutely smart and aware of everything,” Rumsey said. “As a result she was very curious and had an amazing mind to learn.”
Rumsey said she didn’t always agree with Kirk’s political activism but she noted that “if she believed in something, she didn’t care, she went after it.”
Kirk worked early in her Aspen tenure as a Spanish and French teacher at the middle school, retired from that and threw herself into other pursuits, including painting and traveling.
Friends noted her natural athleticism as a skier and dancer. For about 20 years, she ran the nonprofit Aspen Community Social Dance, which held an event every third Saturday of the month, preceded by a pre-dance lesson on whatever style was the evening’s focus. Kirk would often put any proceeds from the sale of her paintings into the nonprofit.
Rumsey said she is not sure who, if anyone, will take on the organization’s operations now that Kirk is gone.
Kirk was diagnosed with breast cancer about four years ago, Rumsey said. The disease was in remission for some time which allowed her more traveling, painting and skiing. But her health began to decline in November. She hosted a Thanksgiving dinner with friends, the last of countless gatherings in her home in the Pitkin Green neighborhood.
“She wanted to have people in and feel the joy of friendship and embrace them,” Rumsey said. “She loved to entertain and was very good at it.”
Kirk was admitted to Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs on Dec. 3 and passed away less than a week later.
“There is a lump in your throat, no doubt about it,” Rumsey said. “She lived an extraordinary life her way and I just want to honor that.”