In 1855, the great poet and journalist Walt Whitman wrote in the preface for his Leaves of Grass:
"This is what you shall do: love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning god, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown, or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school, or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem ..."
That outlook defined, in many ways, the life of a woman born nearly a century later. Some friends knew Arelys Zeppenfeldt by her baptismal name, Miriam, but to all of us at the Indy, she was Z. Strong-willed, with a strident sense of justice and a soft spot for babies and Johnny Depp.
Z, the Indy's longtime business manager, died last week after a prolonged and hard-fought battle with cancer. Born in Puerto Rico, she graduated high school at 14, received her bachelor's in business administration and moved to the mainland, first to Philadelphia, then to Colorado Springs. She continued her education at Pikes Peak Community College, the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and Pikes Peak Mental Health Center. She worked for a number of companies in the Springs, and lost a job at the Urban League in the late 1980s after she blew the whistle on her boss for committing fraud.
"You know our good old boy system here in the Springs; she was blackballed from a lot of jobs for a while," says Elise Bergsten, who hired Z in 2000 after she had been out of the workforce for a decade, raising her only child, Myra Lee Gray.
Everyone has a favorite story about Z. Her, proudly showing off photos of her beautiful daughter on a road trip. Showing off photos of herself at 19, a pin-up girl with long, shimmering curls, a sculpted jawbone, those fabulous eyebrows.
Describing a thrilling ride of years ago, through Mexico on the back of an old boyfriend's motorcycle. Jamming in her office to the Ramones, or to Tommy Bolin, stopping long enough to offer you a handful of chocolate-covered malted milk balls. Cocking her head when you were looking particularly guilty and asking in that conspiratorial tone, "What are you up to ...?"
"When Z started chemo, I made her copies of a slew of booty-shaking CDs The Gossip, Har Mar Superstar, any funk or soul and we'd dance away in her office, oxygen tank be damned," says Kara Luger, a former assistant editor at the paper. "That's what I'll remember most Z kicking everyone's ass, but dancing in the end."
Z was larger than life. She despised stereotypes. She did not tolerate discrimination or injustice of any kind. She abhorred dishonesty and the disingenuous. She espoused her beliefs freely and fiercely. Her laughter was a tonic. Her life was rich and complex, filled with love and a kaleidoscope of family, friends and admirers, who gathered to celebrate her life last Saturday, Aug. 19, at All Souls Unitarian Church downtown.
Throughout the hourlong service, thunder from a great storm outside rumbled through the church, reminding us that Z has left us far too soon but that she'll never be very far away.
She is survived by her daughter, Myra, her mother, three brothers, two sisters and a legion of friends. Contributions are being accepted to offset Myra's college education, and can be sent to the "Z Fund," c/o the Colorado Springs Independent, 235 S. Nevada Ave., Colorado Springs, CO 80903.
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