Henrietta Hay Column October 24, 2008

Albert Schweitzer visit resonates 59 years later

Just 11 more days and it will be over. Well, no, it will just be beginning. Whatever the result, we will be living with it for the next four or eight years.

But for today I am going to forget the election and remember a wonderful day that I had nearly 60 years ago.

I was standing on the Paepcke lawn in Aspen, listening to Albert Schweitzer speak. I could see and hear and almost touch the great man.

Fifty-nine years ago an idea conceived in Chicago was born in Aspen, a sleepy little mining town with a couple of dirt streets and an aging hotel. It became for two weeks the cultural center of America.

Robert Maynard Hutchins, president of the University of Chicago and Walter Paepcke, a wealthy Chicago businessman, had a vision — a vision of a place where the body and the mind and the spirit could come together and soar — great ideas, great music and a superb natural setting. The Aspen Institute and the
Aspen Music Festival came into being that summer.

The theme that first year celebrated the 200th anniversary of the birth of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who “endowed the world with a conception of universal man which has extended profound influence in our civilized world.”

The opening speaker was Albert Schweitzer, physician, musician, philosopher, humanitarian.

There he stood — the great man himself — with his shaggy hair and his great drooping mustache. He wore an old-fashioned, long black frock coat and a high, stiff-winged collar with a bow tie. He looked tired and frail and every one of his 74 years.

But his two hands had built a hospital in the African jungle at Lambarene and could play Bach on the organ as perhaps only Bach himself had played before. His face was lighted from within by the serenity that one sometimes sees in those who find their life work in service to others. His was the model of universal man upon which future generations could base their standards of human conduct.

And I stood in front of him, holding a microphone, understanding not a word he said (he spoke in German), but trying to absorb what he meant to all of us.

After all, that was pretty heady stuff for the locals who were in Aspen that summer day nearly 60 years ago. Musician Melba Schmidt was there to hear the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra. Mildred Shaw was there for The Daily Sentinel, and I was covering the opening event for KFXJ radio (now KREX).

Now, all these years later, that vision is still drawing musicians and intellectuals from all over the world each summer to what is no longer a sleepy little mining town.

A few years ago, I was able again to take advantage of the Mr. Paekpe’s vision again. I sat in the Opera House in Aspen and heard my granddaughter sing in an opera presented by the Aspen Music School.

That sunny afternoon 59 years ago was truly one of the high points of my life. Every now and then I can remember and feel that day when body, mind and spirit could come together and soar, and Albert Schweitzer’s vision of humanity becoming human.


Henrietta can be reached by e-mail at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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