Gaylord Guenin — the longtime voice of Woody Creek and the co-author of a definitive book on pre-Paepcke Aspen history — died Sunday afternoon, according to multiple friends.
Guenin was a longtime writer and editor who happily retreated to Woody Creek and Lenado after he lost his comfort zone in Aspen.
Guenin was an instrumental character in the Mountain Gazette magazine in the 1970s and later wrote the “Letter From Woody Creek” column for The Aspen Times, writing from the perspective of “Woody Creatures.”
He also was a bartender and manager of the Woody Creek Tavern when it was the frequent haunt of Hunter S. Thompson.
“There was really nobody like him,” said longtime friend Frank Peters. “He was utterly irascible and quintessentially sweet.”
Guenin forever etched a place in Aspen history by co-authoring “Aspen: The Quiet Years” with Kathleen Daily. The 1994 book chronicled the rich heritage of Aspen life after the silver boom was long gone but before the post-World War II rebirth as a ski resort. Guenin and Daily interviewed scores of Aspen residents, most of them seniors, with family ties back to the mining era.
“That was a timeless piece of work,” said Guenin’s longtime friend, George Stranahan, who founded the Mountain Gazette in Aspen with Guenin at the helm in the 1970s. “He was a really good writer-editor.”
Friends helped Guenin move to the Woody Creek trailer park from Lenado two years ago while he was dealing with various ailments. Stranahan said Guenin passed peacefully. “It was just old age,” he said. Guenin was in his 80s.
Guenin was regularly encountered outside his cabin by anyone who passed through Lenado during the warm-weather months. Peters said Guenin trained his dogs to chase motorcycles that went by. Guenin smoke Pall Mall cigarettes though he once stopped because he feared his dogs would suffer from secondhand smoke.
He was a keen observer of life in Woody Creek-Lenado and frequently wrote in his column about developments that affected the area as well as Aspen politics.
“Over the years I have made a concerted effort to disassociate myself from Aspen, which is less than seven miles from my beloved Woody Creek,” he wrote in an April 2009 column. “That was the problem — I slowly discovered I enjoyed Woody Creek and its easy, rural character more than the endless energy of Aspen.”
Guenin was a key figure in helping Stranahan and others establish the Woody Creek Tavern in 1980. In a 2005 article in The Aspen Times, he recalled that people were reluctant to visit the watering hole in the early days.
“When this place first started, people were afraid to come in. It had a rough reputation,” Guenin said in the 2005 article. “We still had the working cattle ranches around here, so we had the cowboys (coming to the tavern). It was dark and it was out of the way. The people in town and families weren’t comfortable.”
He worked there in various capacities for 10 years, then took a leave of absence to write the book. He wrote in a column that he found he couldn’t return to the tavern, at least not as a worker.
Former Aspen Times editor and publisher Loren Jenkins recruited Guenin to write a column for the paper.
“He represented the old Aspen that doesn’t exist anymore,” Jenkins said.
Guenin told it like he saw it and didn’t care about ruffling the establishment’s feathers — be it Aspen Skiing Co., the county commissioners or neighbors in Woody Creek. His columns had a decidedly liberal bent. One from 2004 was titled, “Global warming: A hoax that is happening.”
Guenin was always game for conversation, quick with a smile and, as Stranahan said, “a gentle person.”
Former Aspen Times editor Andy Stone said he didn’t know Guenin as well as a lot of people but has a definitive memory of him.
“He had a legendary status,” he said.