Selected Highlights from the History of Vail Club 50 – by Fred Rupp
Vail Club 50 has been an active, viable organization in this valley for more than 25 years. Over that period, there has been tremendous growth in the Club membership and in the number of social and sporting activities organized for the enjoyment of its members. The ages of members range from a little under 50 (a spouse or significant-other must be at least 50 years old) to well into their 90s. Along with this history, there are more than several amusing and factual tales that are still remembered from the early days of the Club. This recounting is based on discussions conducted at the home of Carol Campbell, a former Club president, among some of the current officers and a number of our past presidents. Most of this narrative will dwell on the first 10 years or so of the Club.
The Vail Club 50 is incorporated as a not-for-profit social organization dedicated to providing its members and their guests with opportunities to participate in (a) social gatherings, such as formal and casual dinners, dances, picnics, potlucks and wine tastings, trips and outings, and bridge and other indoor game activities, and (b) sporting activities, including hiking, biking, downhill and cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, tennis, and golf. It is an all-volunteer group coordinated by its members for the enjoyment of all its members, and has no other goal than to do just that. The current Board of Directors and a large cadre of Activity Chairpersons keep the Club running smoothly, and new volunteers always seem to be able to be recruited when prior members on the team decide to retire.
Since the club was formed, the following members have served as President.
In 1987, Louise Walker attended a group meeting called the “Over the Hill Gang,” and decided to join the organization. In 1988, she attended the group’s annual meeting at Montauks Restaurant, then owned by Sally and Alan Aarons, and upon returning from the restroom found that she had been elected president. During that year, she was contacted by Earl Clark and was asked to change the name of the group since he had held the franchise for a nationwide Over the Hill Gang. At a special meeting, a vote was taken to adopt the name “Vail Club 50,” a name suggested by Alan Aarons, who then also designed the logo for the Club. At the time, the membership of the newly-formed Vail Club 50 was 44 people, most of whom were solely skiers and hikers. Pearl Taylor, one of the original members, recalls an unnamed female member of the Club who was very upset at the name change, because she did not wish to have anyone else know that she was over 50.
Louise owned and operated a computer – way back in 1988 – and used it to produce a survey asking about the skiing ability of members and what days they wanted to ski. As a result, skiing was scheduled for Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and divided groups into skiing abilities. This format, although the days of the week have varied, remains to this day. The original ski group was small, and those wishing to ski would meet and head off to the slopes. It was usually the same people each time. As groups became too large for one person to manage, Louise and Bob Walker, Dick Kapp, and Beech Hunter held training sessions for prospective ski leaders. Skiing was done both at Vail and at Beaver Creek.
Louise also initiated monthly dinners, après-ski parties, and summer hikes – leading hikes on various trails once a week. She also began après golf parties. Members often provided the entertainment at some of the dinners. At one notable dinner, a group of the women, including Louise, sang and danced to a spoof of the song “Together,” dressed in tutus. In an encore, there was a sudden appearance by Bob O’Malley, who joined the gals and was also dressed in a tutu. We hear that the laughter from that event has not subsided to this day.
Homer Williams was responsible for incorporating the Vail Club 50 in 1991 as a non-profit entity, as it now remains. Also in 1991, Homer began the publication of the Vail Club 50 newsletter. His wife, Adel, was an avid hiker who chaired the hiking program after Louise “retired” from that job. Adel also began the fledgling snowshoeing program. She came up with the idea of holding a sandwich tailgate party at the conclusion of each snowshoe outing, which has now evolved into “having lunch” for practically all of the snowshoes. All of a sudden, people were coming out of the woodwork to join the snowshoe treks. Thus began an informal Vail Club 50 adage: “If you feed them, they will come!”
By 1993-1994, the Club membership had grown to over 400 members. Chuck Taylor was the president. At one point, the Vail Daily called Chuck and rather rudely criticized the Club, as a non-profit agency, for not doing any volunteer work in the valley. Chuck patiently explained that the Vail Club 50 was organized as a social club designed to plan and run enjoyable social and sporting events for its members, and intended to retain that goal (which it still does to this day). He added that he was willing to share the names in the Club’s roster with the Vail Daily and have them check out the memberships’ individual involvement in the community. The Daily did just that and found that VC50 members, individually and as a group, volunteered a huge amount of time and talent. Vail Club 50 members volunteered more time than any other group in the Valley (as they still do today). That marked the end of the Vail Daily’s critical view of the Vail Club 50.
Lou Syracusa recalls that during her presidency in the mid 1990’s, no one wanted to pay any more than $13.50 for a dinner event. With the huge growth in the Valley at that time, every time a new restaurant opened the Club’s event planners would ask for a good deal, and usually succeeded in getting it. We seemed to lose that ability in the prosperous mid-2000’s before the financial systems’ failures, but have regained it in recent years, though “good deals” are more in the $80 (pre-subsidized) range than they are in the $13.50 range.
When Jeri Campisi was president and Barbara Hibben the Social Chairman, the events became more upscale and expensive. This is when club began subsidizing the cost of the events. Social Chairman, Dick Scott, sophisticated the subsidy cost trades with his custom designed self-calculating spread sheets.
Mac McDivitt had always been highly involved in the Skiing program (“We ski our cliffs”) and also started the tennis program. He and wife Karen recall how they had moved to the Vail area in 1994 from Washington D.C., and found themselves in a blizzard on the night of the annual meeting of the Club. Sure that the meeting would have been cancelled, they decided to brave the roads anyway, and were shocked to arrive to a fully-packed house at the ballroom; despite the weather, everyone had a great time. It was just one of hundreds of instances that proved that Vail Club 50 members just do not give up.
Jim and Barbara Spiker started the Club’s tradition of a Summer Solstice party in the late 90’s, with the first party at the Philinda Gallery at their old location by the Post Office. They also began the traditions of the potluck dinners which have endured to this day, as well as the Wolcott Yacht Club breakfasts – the first of these was a “Greek Party.”
When Ann Neal was president, the use of emails was started as a means of communicating upcoming events. Barbara Hibben was the email chief. Membership declined slightly in the late 1990s, but had re-grown to about 900 in 2001. During Barbara Hibben’s term as president she decided that the internet would improve the ability to get information to the larger membership. She designed and launched the first club website.
The membership again grew to over 900 in Doris Dewton’s term in office Membership has remained in the 900’s since then. During the terms of Barbara and Doris, the Newsletter and Roster were published using improved computer data management and word processing technology. With the large membership, planning for the year’s events evolved from making phone calls to 30 or so active participants to arranging for venues and signing up for events even more than 6 months in advance.
The hiking program has generally held only day hikes, but there have been large numbers of “hotel-ing it” outings, such as hikes between Crested Butte and Aspen, Edwards and Aspen, and trips to the San Juan Mountains around Ouray and Durango. Homer Williams related how on some of these trips, the folks “socialized” a little too long during the night before hikes, and wanted to move the 7 AM start time to a few hours later in the morning. This was never done because of safety concerns, but another informal motto of the Club still remains: “It is never too late for Happy Hour!” Jeri Campisi started organizing regular trips using the Hut system as a great way for people new to the Valley to meet others with similar interests, have fun, and get involved. Jeri also started the Club’s biking program which continues to this day, and is organized in a manner very similar to that of the hiking program.
The skiing program, a carry-over from the original Over the Hill Gang, grew rapidly after we became the Vail Club 50. One early group was the “Ripsaw Gang”, a bunch that began the black run traditions of the Club. Another ski story relates to George Mangun, a member of a splinter group called the “Magnificent 7.” It seems that George was somewhat sight impaired, so he kept running into people, making him the “watch out for” guy of the Club. Remembered by very many of the old timers is a story, recalled by Jeri Campisi, when she received a call at about 9 PM one night stating that two Vail Club 50 members participating on a Hut trip were missing. She and others immediately started calling the membership, many already comfortably ensconced in their beds, all through the night asking for volunteers to help find the missing two. When Mountain Rescue arrived at 5:30 in the morning, they found more than 50 of the Club members were already there waiting to help. Directions had been given to all and the search was about to begin when a phone call came in that said that “They’ve been found.” Mountain Rescue was very impressed with the organization, preparedness, responsibility, and eagerness of the VC50 group.
While stories, anecdotes, and contributions of and about the Vail Club 50 members can make a good-sized book, these highlights serve to indicate the resourcefulness, dedication, and responsibility of the membership in the first decade of the Club, as well as the fun-loving and extremely active – mentally and physically – base on which the Club is built.