Helen Kalin Klanderud (June 9, 1937 – October 3, 2013) was an American politician, clinical social worker and attorney. In 1980, Klanderud was elected to the Pitkin County, Colorado, Board of County Commissioners, becoming the first woman to serve as a county commissioner. She later served as the Mayor of Aspen, Colorado, for three-consecutive terms from 2001 to 2007.
Early life and careerEdit
Klanderud was born on June 9, 1937, in Kansas City, Missouri, in a home and shelter for single mothers. She was adopted by a family, who raised her in Lincoln, Nebraska. Her adopted father was a beer wholesaler, who often gave advice and counseling to his clients. Klanderud cited her parents as the reason she pursued a career as a clinical social worker and worked in community service. An admirer of President John F. Kennedy, she became involved with the Democratic Party during her 20s. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Saint Mary's College in Notre Dame, Indiana.
In 1971, she left her job with the Fort Logan Mental Health Center, and moved from Denver to Aspen, Colorado, with her four children shortly after a divorce from her husband. She lived to a home east of Aspen and raised her four children, Kurt, Erik, Kaela and Soren. She took a job with the Touchstone Mental Health Clinic, which had opened in 1969, and worked with the large number of hippies with drug and alcohol problems who were relocating to the Aspen area at the time. She later co-founded the Aspen Homeless Shelter and started Right Door, which provided substance abuse counseling.
She successfully campaigned on behalf of the Healthy Community Fund, a county-wide property tax to fund nonprofit and social service programs. Pitkin County voters approved the Healthy Community Fund in 2002 and renewed it in 2006 and 2011.
In 1976, Klanderud helped to create the Aspen Writers’ Foundation (AWF) and served on its board of directors.
Helen Klanderud began her political career in during the summer of 1980. Klanderud was attending a Sunday concert at the Aspen Music Festival when she was approached by the then Aspen Mayor Herman Edel, who asked her to run for a new, open seat in the Board of County Commissioners of Pitkin County in the fall. The Board of County Commissioners was expanding from three seats to five members that year. Klanderud entered the race. She was won election to the board, defeating her opponent, Tom Isaac, by only 40 votes out of 5,126 total ballots cast in the race. In doing so, Klanderud became the first woman to be elected as a Pikin County commissioner once she took office in 1981. She was re-elected to a second term in 1984 and served until 1987. As a county commissioner, Klanderud, a smoker, opposed a city-wide no-smoking ordinance enacted by Aspen Mayor Bill Stirling during the 1980s. However, Klanderud and Mayor Stirling did collaborate on other issues affecting Aspen, such as the construction of a hydroelectric facility on Ruedi Reservoir.
In 1986, Klanderud ran for the Colorado State Senate, but lost the close election by approximately 500 votes. Klanderud completed the remainder of her term on the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners. She then returned to Nebraska, where she obtained a law degree from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln and cared for her mother. She moved back to Aspen after law school, where she opened the Alpine Legal Service, a nonprofit organization which provided legal advice to the poor.
Klanderud remained out of elected politics until 1999, when she challenged incumbent Aspen Mayor Rachel Richards in the mayoral election. Richards won the election over Klanderud by only 14 votes to win re-election.
Two years later, Mayor Rachel Richards sought re-election for another term in 2001. She was once again challenged by Klanderud in a rematch of the 1999 election. This time, Klanderud defeated Mayor Richards in Aspen's first ever mayoral runoff election held on June 5, 2001. Klanderud received 927 votes, while Richards received 878 votes. Though Richards and Klanderud were political rivals in two elections, the two became friends after meeting for wine at Syzygy Restaurant after one of their campaigns.
Klanderud would be easily re-elected to a second term in 2003 and a third term in 2005 in landslide on both occasions.
As mayor, Klanderud championed the growth of human services in the city. She became the city's first mayor to attend monthly meetings held by the social services and nonprofit sectors. She supported policies which advocated infill to combat urban sprawl within the Aspen. Under these policies, Klanderud allowed for higher building densities and height limits within downtown and central Aspen, for which she received some opposition. Kaluderud automatically became a member of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association board of directors as mayor. She continued to serve on the Aspen Chamber Resort Association as an elected professional after leaving office, and was later appointed to its executive committee.
She served as mayor from 2001 to 2007 for three, two-year consecutive terms. She did not seek re-election in 2007 due to term limits and was succeeded by Mick Ireland, who had been an opponent of some of Aspen's infill policies.
Klanderud suffered a stroke in a doctor's office in Aspen on the morning of October 2, 2013. She was airlifted to Swedish Medical Center in Denver, Colorado, where she died at 5 p.m. on October 3, 2013. She was survived by three of her four children - Kurt Klanderud, Erik Klanderud and Kaela Moontree.