Elizabeth Paepcke, revived Aspen

June 21, 1994|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,Sun Staff Writer

Elizabeth Nitze Paepcke, a former Baltimorean who collaborated with her industrialist husband in transforming the largely abandoned silver mining town of Aspen, Colo., into a major tourist and cultural center, died Wednesday at her home there of complications from a head injury suffered in a fall.

She was 91.

Mrs. Paepcke, then a Chicago interior decorator, first visited Aspen during a 1938 skiing trip and was captivated by the rugged beauty and charm of the town, whose population had fallen from 15,000 to 250.

In 1945, she returned to Aspen with her husband, Walter Paepcke, then chairman of the Container Corp. of America.

"It was a deserted town," she told The Sun in a 1980 interview. "On a walk through the village, the only people we saw were three drunks."

Mr. Paepcke bought one of the town's old Victorian houses, with a wood stove and outhouse, and gave it to his wife as a lark.

But the couple ended up restoring the house and the 1889 Hotel Jerome and opera house.

Mr. Paepcke then created the Aspen Co. and bought about half of the town, and the Paepckes set about transforming it.

In 1949, Mr. Paepcke brought the Budapest String Quartet to Aspen to celebrate his wife's birthday. That year, the Paepckes organized the Goethe Bicentennial Festival that featured Albert Schweitzer.

It was Dr. Schweitzer's only visit to the United States.

The Paepckes created and endowed the the International Design Conference, the Aspen Music Festival and the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies. The institute, which had its roots in the festival, conducts seminars for leaders from various fields.

The Wye Institute in Queenstown is affiliated with the Aspen Institute.

Mrs. Paepcke founded the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies.

Loren Jenkins, editor and publisher of the Aspen Times, a friend since 1955, said, "She's the sort of person you are likely to meet once in a lifetime. They came to create something and wound up leaving a legacy."

In recent years, Mrs. Paepcke had grown somewhat contemptuous of Aspen's reputation as a destination for wealthy celebrities and also bemoaned the fact that new residents who built enormous houses and enjoyed the glitzy life there contributed so little of their wealth to help support the local cultural institutions.

"There are too many takers and not enough givers these days," she told Mr. Jenkins.

The former Elizabeth Nitze was born and raised in Baltimore, a member of a prominent shipping and commercial family.

Her husband died in 1960.

She is survived by three daughters, Anina Hamilton of Sussex, England, Paula Zurcher of Woodside, Calif., and Antonia DuBrul of New York City; a brother, Paul H. Nitze of Washington, a retired U.S. arms negotiator; eight grandchildren; and two great-granddaughters.

Services will be private.

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