In nearly 53 years of marriage, Ken and Sylvia Hemann laughed a lot. That’s the first thing that comes to mind when Sylvia talks about her husband, Kenny. Hemann passed away Saturday, June 29 after a brief illness. He was 77.
Sylvia sits in the living room of the cozy, rustic home on an alley near Cornet Creek the two have lived in since the early 1980s. She’s surrounded by a veritable museum of collectibles — Victorian floor lamps, an antique barber chair — and outside, a snowy winter and a wet spring have left their yard rioting with color. “We planted everything,” Sylvia said.
She keeps going back to his sense of humor. The couple was a part of a group of motorcycle enthusiasts in their native Southern California that took weekend trips. On one trip, after a stop at a saloon to cut the trail dust, Ken and Sylvia mounted up and Ken took off, front tire up in a wheelie, dumping Sylvia in the parking lot. “It took him a minute to figure it out,” she remembered with a laugh.
Kenny, she said, knew how much she loved chocolate and on her birthday just two years into their marriage presented her with a gift she said, “looked like chocolate, it was packaged like chocolate … it was a candle!”
Longtime friend Jane Larsen also couldn’t talk about Hemann without recalling his sense of humor. He delighted in teasing her and she loved their “walks and talks.”
“Some of the most fun times I had were hanging out at the house,” Larsen said. Larsen said the house on the alley was called “The Campground” because it felt so remote and quiet for being within Telluride.
“He was always fun, never a downer,” Larsen said. “He never got mad at anything. He was like a dad. And very smart.”
Hemann was in the construction business until a back injury forced him into retirement at the age of 62. Though in pain much of the time, Sylvia said he was always happy.
He earned the reputation for being a hard worker and an honest man. Bill Gordon, with whom Hemann worked, greatly admired his work ethic.
“Kenny worked for me for a few years as a supervisor of construction projects,” Gordon said. “He always had a positive attitude even through the rough conditions of early Telluride construction conditions where you would be framing beams in a roof system in a blizzard.”
Gordon also spoke of the Hemann’s free-spirited nature.
“He and Sylvia were bohemians long before that transitioned into what is now called the hippie movement,” Gordon said. “Their free-flowing lifestyle was a breath of fresh air amidst our overly complicated, instantly informed, always environmentally, socially, and politically paranoid existence.”
When Ken and Sylvia first met, Sylvia said, they didn’t like each other. He was a couple years older — a senior in high school — and she was a studious pupil with strict parents. But when they reconnected five years later, “his face stood out in a crowd,” she said. They loved to dance, enjoyed all kinds of music and were, “star-crossed lovers, if you believe in that kind of thing,” Sylvia said. They married in 1966.
As soon as Hemann’s stint in the National Guard was up he grew out his hair and never looked back. The couple loved to travel and camp and were visiting friends in Moab who suggested they check out Telluride. They rolled into town at night and were stunned at the beauty that greeted them in the morning.
“It was the first week of September and the valley was gold,” Sylvia said. “Everyone was so nice here.”
Except for then-Town Marshal Everett Morrow. “We were hippies and he wasn’t happy with hippies,” said Sylvia.
They decided to live here to become better skiers. They took to the nascent ski area with gusto, skiing trees, the Plunge, “everything,” Sylvia said. “We got good and there were no lines.”
Friends of Hemann’s also fondly recalled his honesty. Both Sylvia and Larsen remembered when he won the O’Bannon’s Shake of the Day, in which patrons feeling lucky plunk down a dollar to take a chance at rolling five of a kind from the cup. Hemann did that one time. Just one problem. One of the die was stacked on top of the other. He refused to accept the winnings and chose, instead, to roll again. He lost and the pot grew larger.
Randy Sublett was an old friend of the family who expressed gratitude for the Hemann’s hospitality, especially to those in need.
“Kenny Hemann was one of the kindest and friendliest persons you ever met in Telluride,” Sublett wrote in a tribute to Hemann on social media and shared by the Hemann’s son, Judd. “Many of us from the 1970s and 80s were forever grateful to him, as Ken and Sylvia always had a place for you to stay in Hemannville if you needed it. I lived there myself a few times … Always the big heart. There are many, myself included, who owe our ability to remain in Telluride to Kenny and Sylvia.”
Following Hemann’s death, Judd, declared — and none would argue — that Telluride has lost one its best. “He was generous, kind, and just bitchin’. He was the best father and husband anyone could ever have.”
“Just bitchin’” Judd said, was one of his father’s favorite expressions. “Make sure that’s in his story.”
Sylvia will spend the winter in California with Judd, she said. There, she will be close to him, his wife and two step-children and reflect on her and Kenny’s life together. It was a fine life, she said.
“It was a life of love, laughter and hard work,” she said. “We were so happy.”
There is a celebration of Hemann’s life Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Telluride Elks Lodge. The family asks that those attending bring a potluck dish and their best stories. And yes, there will be Hornitos.