• All-black baseball team that overcame discrimination to win city championship earns spot in Colorado Springs Sports Hall of Fame

    Wed, April 23, 2014 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Sylvester Smith, 86, pictured Tuesday, April 22, 2014, is one of the five surviving Brown Bombers who were elected to the Colorado Springs Sports Hall of Fame. He played with the negro baseball team in the late 1940s.   (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

    Sylvester Smith, 86, pictured Tuesday, April 22, 2014, is one of the five surviving Brown Bombers who were elected to the Colorado Springs Sports Hall of Fame. He played with the negro baseball team in the late 1940s. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

    Sylvester Smith seemed stunned and asked me to repeat what I said.

    So I told him again: the Brown Bombers, an all-black team he played on 65 years ago that won back-to-back City Baseball League championships in 1949-50, stunning their all-white opponents, had been elected to the Colorado Springs Sports Hall of Fame.

    Brown Bombers B“I’ll be damned,” the 84-year-old Smith exclaimed Monday. “So we finally got in. That is something.”

    There was a long pause.

    “I got a little tear in my eye,” Smith said as his voice betrayed his emotions. “This is one of the greatest things that ever happened to me. We’ve gone through so much over the years. I guess I got a little sobby. It’s a big deal.”

    Smith played left field and is one of just five surviving Bombers, who fought for racial equality on the baseball diamond, proving they were the match to white athletes and deserving of respect at a time Colorado Springs was largely segregated and blacks were relegated to menial jobs and treated as second-class citizens.

    Rev. Jesse Vaughn was a member of the Brown Bombers baseball team. The Brown Bombers won the city championship in 1949 and 1950. They helped to open many doors for African Americans in Colorado Springs. They look out over Spurgeon Field at Memorial Park where they used to play baseball on Thursday, October 10, 2013. (The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett)

    Rev. Jesse Vaughn was a member of the Brown Bombers baseball team. The Brown Bombers won the city championship in 1949 and 1950. They helped to open many doors for African Americans in Colorado Springs. They look out over Spurgeon Field at Memorial Park where they used to play baseball on Thursday, October 10, 2013. (The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett)

    The Rev. Jesse Vaughan, the catcher on those championship teams, was equally overcome by the news.

    “It’s a shock to me,” said Vaughan, 90. “I can’t express. I’m just as happy as I can be to be recognized by the community as a group who did something positive for our race, ourselves and the whole community. I’m really proud. I’m happy I was a part of it.”

    Sam Dunlap was a member of the Brown Bombers baseball team. The Brown Bombers won the city championship in 1949 and 1950. They helped to open many doors for African Americans in Colorado Springs. They look out over Spurgeon Field at Memorial Park where they used to play baseball on Thursday, October 10, 2013. (The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett)

    Sam Dunlap was a member of the Brown Bombers baseball team. The Brown Bombers won the city championship in 1949 and 1950. They helped to open many doors for African Americans in Colorado Springs. They look out over Spurgeon Field at Memorial Park where they used to play baseball on Thursday, October 10, 2013. (The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett)

    For Sam Dunlap, 80, the news was equally powerful.

    “It’s a miracle,” said Dunlap, who played third base and outfield. “Here I am, 80 years old, and I’ve got tears in my eyes. It makes me feel wonderful. It’s such a miracle.”

    Miracle or not, it is true: the Brown Bombers will be among the honorees when the Colorado Springs Sports Hall of Fame inducts its Class of 2014 at enshrinement ceremonies scheduled for 7 p.m., Oct. 28 at the The Broadmoor World Arena.

    “The Colorado Springs Brown Bombers baseball team of the 1940s and 1950s in the city remain one of the most cherished parts of the city’s sports legends and history,” the Hall of Fame said in a news release announcing the new inductees. “The team is celebrated still today for its historic role in the struggle for racial equality in Colorado Springs.”

    Lucy Bell holds a portrait of her late husband, Oliver Bell, on Wednesday, Apil 17, 2013. Lucy, a retired Colorado Springs School District 11 teacher and writer, is compiling stories of growing up black in segregated Colorado Springs in the early 20th century, as experienced by Oliver. She hopes to compile the stories into a book. Several of Oliver's stories will be included in the book. He grew up in the Hillside neighborhood and was a star athlete at the University of Northern Colorado before returning to a career teaching physical education in District 11.

    Lucy Bell holds a portrait of her late husband, Oliver Bell, on Wednesday, April 17, 2013.

    I first met the Brown Bombers last fall when Lucy Bell, a retired teacher, assembled them for a class she was teaching on the history of the city’s black community. Lucy is drawn to the subject because of the stories her late husband, Oliver Bell, told of growing up black in Colorado Springs.

    At the end of my Oct. 13, 2013, column, I asked a simple question: Why aren’t the Brown Bombers enshrined in our Sports Hall of Fame?

    Tom Osborne, chief executive officer, Colorado Springs Sports Corp.

    Tom Osborne, chief executive officer, Colorado Springs Sports Corp.

    I was surprised as anyone when, the next day, Tom Osborne, chief executive officer of the Colorado Springs Sports Corp., which sponsors the hall of fame, wrote me to say that my column would be used as a nomination for the Bombers.

    I was flattered and hopeful the team would finally win enshrinement. So I was thrilled when Osborne wrote me again Monday to tell me the good news.

    It was overwhelming for the surviving Bombers because of all they overcame to become champions.

    As blacks in the 1940s, they grew up with few of the opportunities whites enjoyed.

    The black players had organized themselves and largely taught themselves baseball, playing in neighborhood pickup games on gravel lots with makeshift balls, gloves and uniforms, barred from playing in youth leagues or on high school teams.

    Meanwhile, their white opponents enjoyed years of high-level coaching, training and top-quality equipment playing in youth leagues.

    The Brown Bombers team that won the Colorado Springs City League Baseball Championships in 1949. Back row, from left: A.B. Turner (coach and manager), Clarence Banks, James Smith, Joe Morgan, John Morgan, Larry Moss, and John Moss. Front row, left: James Wheeler, James Bell, Ellis Clements, Justus Morgan, C.W. Brown, Cecil Bass, and Marvin Brooks. Photo courtesy the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum from its Starsmore Center for Local History’s general photograph collection.

    The Brown Bombers team that won the Colorado Springs City League Baseball Championships in 1949. Back row, from left: A.B. Turner (coach and manager), Clarence Banks, James Smith, Joe Morgan, John Morgan, Larry Moss, and John Moss. Front row, left: James Wheeler, James Bell, Ellis Clements, Justus Morgan, C.W. Brown, Cecil Bass, and Marvin Brooks. Photo courtesy the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum from its Starsmore Center for Local History’s general photograph collection.

    “I was born here,” Smith said. “In the city, it was biased and prejudiced. You got to high school and you couldn’t play any sports except run track.

    “We could only swim at the city pool one afternoon a week . . . the day they cleaned the pool. We’ve gone through so much over the years.”

    Again emotion crept into his voice.

    “We didn’t have anything to do but play baseball,” Smith said. “We played on rock and gravel lots. We didn’t have a field. We didn’t have equipment. If we had a broken bat, we taped that bat. We’d take a baseball and wrap it with black tape and use them.”

    Members of the Colorado Springs semipro all-black baseball team called the Brown Bombers, circa 1948, before leaving for a game in Trinidad. Players, from left: John Morgan, George Calvin, James Duncan, Joe Morgan, Justus Morgan, and James Wheeler. Photo courtesy the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum from its Starsmore Center for Local History’s general photograph collection.

    Members of the Colorado Springs semipro all-black baseball team called the Brown Bombers, circa 1948, before leaving for a game in Trinidad. Players, from left: John Morgan, George Calvin, James Duncan, Joe Morgan, Justus Morgan, and James Wheeler. Photo courtesy the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum from its Starsmore Center for Local History’s general photograph collection.

    As they got older and started traveling as the Brown Bombers, they had to make roundtrips to away games in Trinidad and Western Slope communities because there were no motels that would accept blacks.

    “It was a treat to play at the state penitentiary,” Smith said of trips to Canon City.

    “They’d feed us and give us four or five balls and bats. Then we’d save them for our next games.”

    The other four Brown Bombers shared similar memories with me last fall when I first wrote about them.

    They recalled in vivid detail the indignities they suffered as blacks.

    They were denied service at the soda fountain in Woolworths and shunted to the back of the balcony at the movie theaters. They were harassed and endured racial slurs and shocking treatment that was commonplace a half-century ago in America.

    So they relished any chance to prove themselves the equals of whites and sports were a great opportunity.

    Rev. Justus Morgan was a member of the Brown Bombers baseball team. The Brown Bombers won the city championship in 1949 and 1950. They helped to open many doors for African Americans in Colorado Springs. They look out over Spurgeon Field at Memorial Park where they used to play baseball on Thursday, October 10, 2013. (The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett)

    Rev. Justus Morgan was a member of the Brown Bombers baseball team. The Brown Bombers won the city championship in 1949 and 1950. They helped to open many doors for African Americans in Colorado Springs. They look out over Spurgeon Field at Memorial Park where they used to play baseball on Thursday, October 10, 2013. (The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett)

    Brothers Joe Morgan, 87, who played first base, and the Rev. Justus Morgan, 86, a pitcher, said the team’s enshrinement has great meaning.

    “It’s quite a surprise to me,” Justus Morgan said. “I really never gave any thought to going in to the Hall of Fame. I didn’t think it would happen. It’s quite an honor to be chosen and thought of in such a good way. A great honor. I never dreamed it. It is incredible, considering all of the things that happened in our lifetimes.”

    Joe Morgan was a member of the Brown Bombers baseball team. The Brown Bombers won the city championship in 1949 and 1950. They helped to open many doors for African Americans in Colorado Springs. They look out over Spurgeon Field at Memorial Park where they used to play baseball on Thursday, October 10, 2013. (The Gazette / Jerilee Bennett)

    Joe Morgan was a member of the Brown Bombers baseball team. The Brown Bombers won the city championship in 1949 and 1950. They helped to open many doors for African Americans in Colorado Springs. They look out over Spurgeon Field at Memorial Park where they used to play baseball on Thursday, October 10, 2013. (The Gazette / Jerilee Bennett)

    Joe Morgan, who was the first black umpire invited to officiate a state high school championship game in 1970 and was enshrined in the hall in 2004, the news was proof of how much things have changed.

    “It’s a good thing,” he said. “It means quite a bit. I don’t know what to say. It means we’re making progress in the right direction. I definitely never would have dreamed it in a million years.”

    When I met the Bombers last fall, I was impressed at their humility and at how much each man went on to accomplish. They had overcome the indignities to become respect community leaders, pastors, coaches, mentors, husbands and fathers.

    Smith is a good example, famous as a youth mentor and well-known as a former 26-year employee of the Fine Arts Center.

    While thrilled at the news, Smith also was a bit melancholy, thinking of all his fellow players who didn’t live to enjoy the moment.

    “I’m blessed,” he said. “Most of us have passed away.”

    But he laughed at the memory of those championships — the first victory in 1949 resulted in two white players being ejected and police called to “quell an incipient riot” as reported in The Gazette’s story of the game.

    “I think it did shake up the community,” Smith said. “The black community, I think they were proud of us. We were keeping up our prestige.”

    And the Bombers are still prestigious, said Osborne of the Sports Corp.

    “It’s an honor,” Osborne said, “to have them in our hall.”

    Jesse Vaughn, Justus Morgan, Joe Morgan and Sam Dunlap (left to right) were all members of the Brown Bombers baseball team. The Brown Bombers won the city championship in 1949 and 1950. They helped to open many doors for African Americans in Colorado Springs. On of the places they used to play in Colorado Springs was at Spurgeon Field at Memorial Park. Thursday, October 10, 2013. (The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett)

    Jesse Vaughn, Justus Morgan, Joe Morgan and Sam Dunlap (left to right) were all members of the Brown Bombers baseball team. The Brown Bombers won the city championship in 1949 and 1950. They helped to open many doors for African Americans in Colorado Springs. On of the places they used to play in Colorado Springs was at Spurgeon Field at Memorial Park. Thursday, October 10, 2013. (The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett)

  • Discovery HOA works with city, utilities, school to improve neighborhood

    Sun, April 20, 2014 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    The entrance to Discovery Park off Pebble Way in Rockrimmon was a non-descript mess of bushes, trees and sidewalks in this Sept. 25, 2013, photo. Courtesy Jack Lundberg.

    The entrance to Discovery Park off Pebble Way in Rockrimmon was a non-descript mess of bushes, trees and sidewalks in this Sept. 25, 2013, photo. Courtesy Jack Lundberg.

    Last week, I told you about a woman who was unable to get permission to landscape her neighborhood entrance.

    Today I’ll tell you a much happier story about a neighborhood that persuaded private businesses and city agencies to collaborate and give a landscaping facelift to a city park entrance!

    For years, the entrance to Discovery Park off Pebble Way in Rockrimmon was just an overgrown bush between two sidewalks.

    It’s a busy entrance, especially on school days when it’s used by dozens of kids and their parents going to and from Rockrimmon Elementary School.

    And it’s busy after school, used by sports teams using the baseball diamond and soccer fields.

    And by people using the picnic tables or getting exercise for themselves and their dogs.
    And by parents and kids using the playgrounds.

    Discovery Park in Rockrimmon neighborhood features a baseball diamond, soccer field, playgrounds and picnic tables. Courtesy FlashEarth.com

    Discovery Park in Rockrimmon neighborhood features a baseball diamond, soccer field, playgrounds and picnic tables. Courtesy FlashEarth.com

    Despite all the traffic, the entrance is nondescript. Ugly, actually, with the overgrown bush and a long under-curb sewer draining into Dry Creek, which runs along the western edge of the park.

    I’ve driven past it twice a day for years and always wondered why it was never landscaped or the bush hacked back to open up views into the park.

    Worse, the bush created a dangerous situation. Kids on bikes or skates sometimes came buzzing down the sidewalks and around blind curves created by the huge bush and came face-to-face with strollers or folks walking dogs.

    The bush also offered a hiding place for wild animals that hunt the area, especially along the creek. Coyote, fox, bobcat and even mountain lion are commonly seen in the neighborhood.

    A few months ago, the park entrance was mentioned by neighbors to the Discovery Homeowners Association, which took a look at it.

    “That thing is really ugly,” said Jack Lundberg, HOA president. “Nobody liked the bush and we decided it was an eyesore in the neighborhood.”

    What happened next was an example for the entire community.

    Discovery HOA enlisted the help of city agencies, school children, area businesses and its own residents to coordinate a makeover for the park entrance that evolved into a public/private partnership.

    Plans for the entrance to Discovery Park off Pebble Way in Rockrimmon include walking paths, shrubs and plants grown by students at Rockrimmon Elementary School. Courtesy Jack Lundberg.

    Plans for the entrance to Discovery Park off Pebble Way in Rockrimmon include walking paths, shrubs and plants grown by students at Rockrimmon Elementary School. Courtesy Jack Lundberg.

    Construction will start in a few weeks to transform the park entrance into a professionally designed entryway complete with a xeriscaped garden, footpaths and other landscaping.

    It’s an ambitious project to which Discovery HOA committed $4,000 along with a promise to provide long-term maintenance of the garden entrance.

    Still short of funds, the HOA then went in search of help from the Colorado Springs Parks Department, Colorado Springs Utilities and others.

    “Like any remodeling project, we found we couldn’t afford it,” Lundberg said.

    The HOA learned water was available for irrigation from a city sprinkler system and the parks department had $1,000 available to help. Springs Utilities offered to donate pipe and valves and things if the neighborhood installed a xeriscape garden.

    Still short of cash, the HOA approached a neighbor who works as a landscape architect to design the entrance for half the normal rate. Then the HOA approached a nursery and landscape materials supplier for donated materials.

    The entrance to Discovery Park off Pebble Way in Rockrimmon was a non-descript mess of bushes, trees and sidewalks in this Sept. 25, 2013, photo. Courtesy Jack Lundberg.

    The entrance to Discovery Park off Pebble Way in Rockrimmon was a non-descript mess of bushes, trees and sidewalks in this Sept. 25, 2013, photo. Courtesy Jack Lundberg.

    “This project is a model of citizen/agency/business cooperation,” Lundberg said, noting the project would cost at least double what they are actually spending without all the help.

    The HOA even got the school involved.

    “We thought it was important to involve the school,” he said. “We got student input in the design. And the school has an environmental ecology program and greenhouse. The students will cultivate annual and perennial plants from their garden for use in the new garden.”

    It sounds like a great collaboration and I can’t wait to see the results when construction is finished in May.

    Lundberg is excited, as well.

    “It’s a neighborhood success story,” he said. “I’m real proud of it.”

    He should be. And it has me thinking. My front yard is a wreck. It’s 1970s version of xeriscaping: an ugly mix of bleached out river rock and lava rock.

    Maybe, if I can persuade the folks in parks and utilities and a landscape architect . . . hmmmm.

    The entrance to Discovery Park off Pebble Way in Rockrimmon is seen, left, from FlashEarth.com. On the right is the landscape architect drawing of the xeriscape garden to be built.

    The entrance to Discovery Park off Pebble Way in Rockrimmon is seen, left, from FlashEarth.com. On the right is the landscape architect drawing of the xeriscape garden to be built.

  • Landscaping among nagging problems at troubled Claremont Ranch

    Fri, April 18, 2014 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Danielle Keenan has volunteered to landscape this barren, weed-choked parkway near the entrance to her unincorporated Claremont Ranch neighborhood on the east edge of Colorado Springs. As seen April 10, 2014, photo. Courtesy Danielle Keenan.

    Danielle Keenan has volunteered to landscape this barren, weed-choked parkway near the entrance to her unincorporated Claremont Ranch neighborhood on the east edge of Colorado Springs. As seen April 10, 2014, photo. Courtesy Danielle Keenan.

    Danielle Keenan takes pride in her home in Claremont Ranch, an unincorporated subdivision of more than 1,000 homes just northeast of the Colorado Springs Airport on the city’s eastern edge.

    And so it has bugged her that the entrance to the neighborhood looks so bad. Ever since she and her husband bought their home in 2006, the stretch along Marksheffel Road between Constitution Avenue and U.S. 24 has been a mess.

    Danielle Keenan

    Danielle Keenan

    “It never got landscaped,” Keenan said. “We’ve got dirt and weeds growing there. It’s ugly.”

    For years, Keenan was understanding because there was construction everywhere and Marksheffel was being widened to four lanes to accommodate growth in the area.

    In addition, the drought was choking lawns throughout the region, making landscaping projects a waste of time.

    But after sidewalks were poured in 2011, she was disappointed no landscaping ever was done.

    “Tons of people drive by there every day and see it,” she said. “Not just our neighborhood would benefit. Everybody who drives by would benefit and get a little color on their drive.”

    So she asked if El Paso County would plant some grass along the half-mile stretch of Marksheffel adjacent to the neighborhood.

    But county transportation staff said there was no money for landscaping the area.
    “So I told them I was willing to take on the cost and work myself,” Keenan said. “I offered to do a 50-foot stretch at first. I’d do a little bit at a time as I have the time, energy and money to improve the neighborhood.”

    But again she was disappointed. A county staffer told her there were liability issues that would prevent her from being permitted to tackle the landscaping along the public sidewalk.

    “I just wanted to adopt the stretch,” she said.

    So she called me and, frankly, I was puzzled. I called County Commissioner Sallie Clark, who immediately put me in touch with Jim Reid, the county’s executive director of public services.

    Turns out, Keenan was asking for help from the wrong folks.

    “That patch of land along Marksheffel is not county property,” Reid said. “I checked the plat. It’s owned by the Central Marksheffel Metro District.”

    That prompted my next question: What the heck is the Central Marksheffel Metro District?

    Terry Schooler answered my question. He’s the manager of the district.

    It’s a taxing district created by developers 12 years ago to serve as a quasi-municipal corporation covering about 423 acres and authorized to levy property taxes of 40 mills on property within the district.

    The Marksheffel district is within the sprawling Cherokee Metro District, also a nonprofit, quasi-municipal government corporation created in 1957 to provide water and services to about 18,000 people in 8,000 homes in Cimarron Hills and other unincorporated communities east of Colorado Springs.

    Cherokee has been plagued for years by soaring water rates after it was ordered by a water court judge to abandon four wells that provided 20 percent of its water supply.

    The Marksheffel district was designed primarily to pay off a $31.5 million bond issued to finance the widening of Marksheffel Road, a north-south thoroughfare that bisects the district. The idea was that any tax levy revenue left after the bond payment would go to such things as parks and landscaping.

    But, Schooler said, the tax levy didn’t provide much more for extras. As has happened in other metro districts in the region, tax revenue hasn’t flowed in as projected as homebuilding collapsed with the economy, meaning improvements such as landscaping have been put on hold.

    Claremont Ranch is a neighborhood of more than 1,000 homes in an unincorporated area just east of Colorado Springs. Courtesy FlashEarth.com

    Claremont Ranch is a neighborhood of more than 1,000 homes in an unincorporated area just east of Colorado Springs. Courtesy FlashEarth.com

    Just now, in fact, the district is getting around to putting playground equipment into a small pocket park at Colorado Tech Drive and Velliquette Lane.

    “We’ve had very limited funds to maintain our common areas,” Schooler said. “We’ve chosen this year to spend some money . . . to give the kids something to play on.”
    Landscaping the parkway is out of the question, he said.

    “When that was graded out, we vegetated with native grasses,” Schooler said. “But given the drought, I guess it didn’t take. It became pretty barren.

    “To plant any material and maintain it on common areas is an expensive proposition. Landscaping needs to be watered on a regular basis. Irrigation on a strip like that would run $4,000 to $6,000 a month.”

    Given the severe watering restriction in the Cherokee Water District and the high cost of water, the Marksheffel district board opted not to invest in landscaping, Schooler said.

    Keenan acknowledged that the water crisis in the Cherokee district has contributed to the death of trees throughout the neighborhood and burned-up lawns.

    Indeed, times have been tough in Claremont Ranch, which suffered the county’s highest foreclosure rate in 2013 with a rate of 1.8 percent and has been among the area’s highest foreclosure rates each of the last several years.

    It hasn’t helped that the neighborhood has many homeowners burdened by combined property taxes upwards of 100 mills. That’s a tax of $100 on every $1,000 of assessed value of a property!

    And while she’s glad the park is getting a playground, Keenan was disappointed to learn the parkway will remain barren.

    “We paid $650 in property taxes last year to the district,” she said. “We’re not getting much of anything for our money.”

    Given the bleak prospects of any help from her taxing districts, Keenan said she’d be willing to take on responsibility for a 50-foot section at the entrance to the neighborhood.

    “I’m willing to take on the cost and work myself,” she said.

    “It’s about neighborhood pride. That’s a public area. I think it would be nice to give it a face-lift.”

    She said she’d do a little bit at a time and perhaps some neighbors would be inspired to join her.

    “I understand money is tight and I understand wanting to conserve water but the lack of anything, dirt and weeds, is not acceptable,” Keenan said.

    Schooler invited Keenan to call him so they could talk about her idea for adopting the barren parkway.

    “We try to cut down the weeds regularly,” he said. “But that’s the extent of the improvements we’d make on that particular strip.

    “If neighbors want, I’d be glad for them to do that. We’re more than willing to cooperate on that.”

    Danielle Keenan and the stretch of parkway she'd like landscaped at the entrance to the Claremont Ranch subdivision east of Colorado Springs. Courtesy photo.

    Danielle Keenan and the stretch of parkway she’d like landscaped at the entrance to the Claremont Ranch subdivision east of Colorado Springs. Courtesy photo.

  • Philipps, Gazette living in land of giants with Pulitzer Prize

    Tue, April 15, 2014 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Dave Philipps

    Dave Philipps

    Something very special happened Monday in Colorado Springs.

    Absolutely amazing, frankly.

    A Pulitzer Prize for national reporting, the highest and most prestigious honor in all of journalism, was bestowed on Dave Philipps and The Gazette.

    It was recognition of his three-day series “Other than Honorable” that examined how wounded combat veterans are mistreated by the Army and stripped of benefits for minor offenses.

    Gazette Managing Editor Joanna Bean, left, claps as Dave Philipps pops the cork on a bottle of champagne to celebrate his Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting awarded for his series Other than Honorable. The photojournalist on the project, Michael Ciaglo, reacts in this April 14, 2014, photo. Mark Reis / The Gazette

    Gazette Managing Editor Joanna Bean, left, claps as Dave Philipps pops the cork on a bottle of champagne to celebrate his Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting awarded for his series Other than Honorable. The photojournalist on the project, Michael Ciaglo, reacts in this April 14, 2014, photo. Mark Reis / The Gazette

    It was a powerful series built on fearless reporting by Dave. He spent months relentlessly digging to obtain more than 700 pages of documents through the Freedom of Information Act, plus upwards of 2,000 pages of disciplinary records of soldiers.

    Dave used those documents to show a pattern that the Army was indeed kicking out soldiers, many of whom who have served in battle. And he developed sources willing to go on the record to reveal deeply personalstories.

    The entire package was bolstered by incredible photos and video by photojournalist Michael Ciaglo and an online presentation that blended video, photos, data and poignant storytelling shaped by dozens of hands of our copy desk and online team.

    Michael Ciaglo

    Michael Ciaglo

    It was important work that revealed more than 13,000 soldiers have been discharged since 2009 under a provision called Chapter 10 — resignation in lieu of prosecution — an other-than-honorable discharge that bars them from medical benefits.

    Dave’s investigation resulted in changes in the law and drastic improvements in the lives of a number of combat veterans. The rate of soldiers kicked out with other-than-honorable discharges immediately started to drop after his reporting.

    Also important, the series sparked a national dialogue and much larger news organizations followed The Gazette’s lead, from The New York Times to Fox News. The attention has helped the public understand that modern warfare scars soldiers in ways that require new types of treatments.

    I was not surprised Dave won journalism’s Super Bowl. He deserved one in 2010 when he was a finalist for his “Casualties of War” series that uncovered the tragic reality of post-traumatic stress syndrome and traumatic brain injuries among our troops.

    Photojournalist Michael Ciaglo, online editor Chris Hickerson, managing editor Joanna Bean, and reporter Dave Philipps celebrate Monday, April 14, 2014, after their project, Casualties of War, was award the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting.

    Photojournalist Michael Ciaglo, online editor Chris Hickerson, managing editor Joanna Bean, and reporter Dave Philipps celebrate Monday, April 14, 2014, after their project, Casualties of War, was award the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting.

    After his near victory, I figured Dave eventually would win his prize. He is curious and driven and a passionate champion for people being abused by powerful institutions.
    But I feared his champagne-popping celebration would occur at a much larger paper, as has happened recently for other former Gazette reporters.

    For example, former Gazette business and sports writer John Branch basked in the Pulitzer spotlight last year for, as the judges said, “his evocative narrative about skiers killed in an avalanche and the science that explains such disasters.” John celebrated his feature writing prize within the halls of his employer . . . The New York Times.

    And in 2010, the prize for local reporting went to former Gazette reporter Raquel Rutledge. The Pulitzer judges praised her “penetrating reports on the fraud and abuse in a child-care program for low-wage working parents that fleeced taxpayers and imperiled children, resulting in a state and federal crackdown on providers.” Rqquel did her celebrating . . . at The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

    That same year, Casualties of War was a runner-up and judges praised Dave for his “painstaking stories on the spike in violence within a battered combat brigade returning to Fort Carson after bloody deployments to Iraq, leading to increased mental health care for soldiers.”

    Similarly, former Gazette reporters were among the staff members who contributed to the Denver Post’s Pulitzer Prize winning coverage for breaking news in 2013 for the Aurora theater shooting massacre. That same year, the Post was finalist for its coverage of the Waldo Canyon fire in Colorado Springs.

    See the trend? Talented reporters have left Colorado Springs to do world-class work at much larger news organizations.

    Not Philipps. He did leave us after 2010 for a journalism sabbatical at the University of Colorado in Boulder. And he turned his series into a book: “Lethal Warriors – When the New Band of Brothers Came Home.” But he came back.

    Dave loves Colorado Springs. He’s a hometown boy, having grown up here. He runs the Manitou Incline regularly, hikes and bikes our trails. And he is raising a family here.

    Ask Gen. Palmer

    Ask Gen. Palmer

    I especially like the fact he’s a huge fan of our history who writes one of my favorite features each Sunday “Ask Gen. Palmer” in which he channels Springs founder Gen. William Jackson Palmer to give insight into life here 150 years ago.

    We are lucky to have lured him back, especially after 10 hard years in which The Gazette spiraled in an economic freefall, laid off dozens of talented journalists, endured bankruptcy and two sales. It was hard for me to imagine we’d ever commit to the kind of sophisticated journalism required to win a national reporting Pulitzer.

    These are not easy stories to report or write. They required months of investigation. Hundreds of hours of interviews. Endless meetings with editors and attorneys.

    Typically, teams of reporters at major metropolitan daily papers win this award. The two finalists in this category this year were from the Wall Street Journal.

    Papers the size of The Gazette, with a daily circulation of about 56,600 and 72,800 on Sunday, just don’t sneak in and win national reporting awards. This category is the land of the giants populated by the likes of the Journal, the Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times and others on the short list of Great American Newspapers.

    In fact, The Gazette is the smallest paper to win any Pulitzer this year.

    Investigative reporters are a luxury these days as newsrooms have been slashed. The reporters who tackle these kinds of stories often live them. So do their editors.

    Joanna Bean

    Joanna Bean

    Dave’s immediate editor, Joanna Bean, had the immense burden of vetting Dave’s work. She is the person who collaborated with Dave, questioned everything, suggested new angles, debated and argued with Dave, massaged his writing and eventually signed off on every damning fact, standing behind every explosive allegation.

    She recalled taking calls from Dave while travelling through the Western Slope with her kids just before the series was published.

    Then consider the timing of their bombshell package. It came just after Clarity Media purchased The Gazette.

    Imagine being Joe Hight, our editor, who was only months on board as part of the new leadership team, when Dave and Joanna informed him they had a story that would take a long, hard and painful look at the Army, not just the largest employer in Colorado Springs but one of the largest in all of Colorado.

    Joe Hight

    Joe Hight

    Welcome to The Gazette, Joe!

    But it was all worth it.

    Thanks to “Other than Honorable,” our soldiers — residents of our community — are getting treated more fairly. Their injuries, physical and emotional, are better appreciated and understood. Powerful lawmakers are coming to their defense.

    And, on a personal level, it reaffirms what even a small paper can do when it thinks big, commits to being the best paper it can be, invests in talent and stands behind them when they uncover injustice and dare to tell the world.

    It’s an amazing thing that happened and I was proud just to be in the room when it did.

  • We all need tee shirts saying: “I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain”

    Sun, April 13, 2014 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Millions watched on television nationwide June 26, 2012, as Mountain Shadows was incinerated by the inferno known as the Waldo Canyon fire.

    Millions watched on television nationwide June 26, 2012, as Mountain Shadows was incinerated by the inferno known as the Waldo Canyon fire.

    Disasters are a very real part of life in Colorado Springs.  Things here burn. And flood. And they slide down mountainsides. And once in a while things shake. We even get the occasional twister.  Today’s special pull-out section of The Gazette shows how locals can prepare for the disasters that can strike in the Pikes Peak region. Please, read it carefully.

    Take heed to the warnings. There’s plenty of history that teaches us bad things do happen. And with some regularity. 

    To know this, you don’t have to be a history expert. I have learned this lesson pretty well after 20 years living in the foothills in the Rockrimmon neighborhood.

     Like thousands of you, I found myself running for my life on June 26, 2012, when the Waldo Canyon fire collided with a thunderstorm creating a massive, swirling column of hellfire that roared down the foothills into Mountain Shadows, threatening to incinerate much of northern Colorado Springs.

    Two people died that night and 347 homes were destroyed. It was shocking. People are still rebuilding from what was declared the worst fire in Colorado history.

    Houses in Mountain Shadows burn on June 26, 2012. By Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette

    Houses in Mountain Shadows burn on June 26, 2012. Gazette file photo

    And most of you know, the fire surrendered that title a year later when the unincorporated community of Black Forest ignited last June, killing two more people, destroying 488 homes and burning 14,280 acres beyond the north border of Colorado Springs.

    Of course, these catastrophes were compounded by flash floods that swept tons of rock and debris from the charred mountainsides down U.S. 24, carrying away motorists in raging torrents of black floodwaters, wrecking businesses and homes in Manitou Springs and in communities up and down Ute Pass. The rains also caused flooding in Black Forest and across the region, leaving at least four dead.

    With this mayhem, death and destruction all around us, I’m amazed at the poor attendance I’ve seen at community meetings held to educate folks about preparing for the worst. I’ve sat in auditoriums where the emergency services experts outnumbered the members of the public in the audience.

    Thankfully, more folks have turned out at recent meetings. That’s good because people need to stay informed because it will be years before we can relax.

    These disasters were not fluke occurrences. We’ve had conflagrations going back to 1854 when a wildfire reportedly started on Cheyenne Mountain, burned about 50 miles west through Divide and Lake George to Wilkerson Pass in Park County and started burning back again before winter snow finally put it out.

    Fire destroyed much of downtown Colorado Springs when a trash fire in the rail yards ignited a railcar full of explosive powder Oct. 2, 1898.

    John Schnake walks past a sandbag wall at a neighbors house that is just above his home on the east side of Highway 24 in Cascade. The sandbags were placed there by volunteers working with the Coalition for the Upper South Platte (CUSP) and in places the sandbags are twelve high and seven sandbags wide. Schnake said he's hopeful that the sandbags will divert 98 percent of the water that might flow down from the burn scar above the homes. "Think of it as a funnel and I live at the bottom of the funnel," he said. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

    John Schnake walks past a sandbag wall at a neighbors house that is just above his home on the east side of Highway 24 in Cascade. The sandbags were placed there by volunteers working with the Coalition for the Upper South Platte (CUSP) and in places the sandbags are twelve high and seven sandbags wide. Schnake said he’s hopeful that the sandbags will divert 98 percent of the water that might flow down from the burn scar above the homes. “Think of it as a funnel and I live at the bottom of the funnel,” he said.
    Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

    And on Jan. 17, 1950, a blaze erupted on Cheyenne Mountain and burned east through Camp Carson, killing eight soldiers and a 14-year-old boy who skipped classes at West Junior High to join the fight. The fire consumed 50 square miles of Cheyenne Mountain and Camp Carson, seriously injured more than 30 soldiers and destroyed 92 buildings.

    I heard, firsthand, some of the horror stories from that fire, which started after midnight, reportedly when wind gusts estimated at 100 mph ignited smoldering brush piles left by crews clearing the land for new golf courses at The Broadmoor hotel.

    In 2002 I interviewed survivor Charles “Bud” Burrill, then 71, who was a private at Camp Carson when the fire erupted. He told me he still had flashbacks whenever he heard news of someone burned in a fire. He was reminded of agonizing months he spent in a hospital with third-degree burns to his face, hand and legs. He was burned driving another soldier to the hospital in thick smoke and their Jeep drove into a ravine where a bridge had burned away.

    “My face went right into the fire,” Burrill told me in 2002. “I remember seeing these red ashes. It about burnt my face off. My right hand was real deep in the ashes. I pulled my hand out and all the skin fell off.”

    An estimated 5,000 firefighters, soldiers and volunteers fought the blaze, which burned hot for almost 24 hours and smoldered for weeks until a heavy snowfall extinguished lingering hot spots.

    Besides historic fires, the region has endured rains and flooding of biblical proportions, including the Memorial Day flood of 1935 that killed upwards of 18 people according to various reports, destroyed every bridge over Monument and Fountain creeks but the one at Bijou Street and did $1.7 million in damage.

    A mailbox and chimney were the only things left of Ted Robertson's home after the Black Forest fire roared through his property. Courtesy Ted Robertson.

    A mailbox and chimney were the only things left of Ted Robertson’s home after the Black Forest fire roared through his property. Courtesy Ted Robertson.

    A second major flood in 1965 killed two children, washed out roads and bridges, and caused millions of dollars in damage.

    Those heavy rains in July 1965 also sent boulders and debris cascading down on the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, destroying the ape house and damaging the hippo house. Boulders also blocked the entrances of NORAD, the military space complex burrowed inside Cheyenne Mountain during the Cold War to watch for missile and air attacks on North America. Landslides also gashed Interstate 25 south of the city at the time.

    But there’s far more to worry about than fire and rain. There have been blizzards that buried the region including a March 11, 1909, storm that pounded Colorado Springs with 26.5 inches of snow. Locusts infested the region in the 1930s during the Dust Bowl era.

    In December 1995, a late-night earthquake measuring 3.6 on the Richter scale shook the Broadmoor neighborhood. The quake was pinpointed on the southern end of the Oil Creek Fault, one of two Cheyenne Mountain earthquake faults.

    And in the 1980s and ’90s, slowly sliding hillside land damaged homes across the city. In 2000, a warning by state geologists prompted a multimillion-dollar federal buyout and the demolition of 13 homes in an active 200-acre landslide in the Broadmoor area.

    As for tornadoes, two rated EF3 or higher, with winds in excess of 135 mph, have hit El Paso County in recent years. The first was in 1977 while the second, in 1979, dropped into Manitou Springs causing one injury and significant damage.

    A lone firefighter tries to stop the spread of the Black Forest fire. Photo by Jerilee Bennett / The Gazette

    A lone firefighter tries to stop the spread of the Black Forest fire. Photo by Jerilee Bennett / The Gazette

    Have I gotten your attention yet? The point is not to scare everyone into moving away. Instead, I urge everyone to pay attention. When experts say to avoid expansive soils, or to landscape to protect against water and debris flows, or to thin trees to protect against wildfire, please listen and act.

    Take seriously the experts’ urging to plan for evacuation. Pack a bag and keep it ready for escape. Talk to your kids about how to react, who to call, where to run in the event of disaster.

    Get a weather radio that can alert you, day and night, to imminent threats of flood or dangerous weather.

    Compile important documents and keepsakes in a fire safe or container so you can quickly grab it, stuff it in your car and run.

    I remember wishing I’d done that when the ash and embers of the Waldo Canyon fire were choking the air and floating down on our Rockrimmon neighborhood.

    Our evacuation would have been a tad less pulse-pounding if I didn’t have to take the time to videotape the contents of the house we were leaving behind. I remember wishing I’d been better prepared and cursing the things I’d forgotten when I finally reached our safe haven.

    Don’t repeat my mistakes. Be prepared.

    I’ve covered plenty of disasters. I’ve seen the heartbreak of the victims. I’ve even packed everything I could in my Jeep and run for my life. Haven’t we all learned our lessons?

    The Black Forest fire was an estimated 2,500 degrees when it reached Judy von Ahlefeldt's home. She said her home exploded from the heat. Michael Ciaglo/The Gazette

    The Black Forest fire was an estimated 2,500 degrees when it reached Judy von Ahlefeldt’s home. She said her home exploded from the heat. Michael Ciaglo/The Gazette

    -

  • Babe Ruth visit part of Colorado Springs’ baseball history

    Fri, April 11, 2014 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Mick McLaughlin poses with his vintage Sky Sox jersey. McLaughlin is the son of former Gazette Telegraph sports editor Tom McLaughlin. He said tagging along with his dad to cover sporting events inspired him to spend his life coaching baseball. Courtesy photo.

    Mick McLaughlin poses with his vintage Sky Sox jersey. McLaughlin is the son of former Gazette Telegraph sports editor Tom McLaughlin. He said tagging along with his dad to cover sporting events inspired him to spend his life coaching baseball. Courtesy photo.

    As the Sky Sox prepare for their home opener Friday evening at Security Service Field, it’s a good time to go into extra innings talking baseball in Colorado Springs.

    My recent column about Melvin Barhite winning a Gazette Telegraph-sponsored contest in 1949 to name the new minor league franchise brought back lots of memories among Side Streets readers.

    Dee Niehans said Melvin and his wife, Florence, contributed much more to Colorado Springs than simply naming the team.

    Dee said they played a major role in creation of the Little Britches Rodeo program in the Pikes Peak region.

    “Mel and Florence put a lot of effort into the local program that gave young people a chance to experience the sport of rodeo and learn some important lessons in life,” Dee said in an email.

    A surprising email came from reader Mick McLaughlin, son of the late Tom McLaughlin, a former GT sports editor I quoted in my column.

    “The article was a trip down memory lane as I grew up at Memorial Field with the original Sky Sox,” Mick wrote. “My childhood was spent going to all Colorado Springs sporting events with my dad and his typewriter.”

    Tagging along with his dad instilled a love of sports that influenced him to pursue a career in baseball.

    “I am still coaching high school baseball after 47 years largely due to my love of the game and fond memories of growing up with the Colorado Springs Sky Sox,” Mick said, attaching a photo of an original Sky Sox uniform he has framed.

    041114 Side Streets 4Then I hit the jackpot of historic baseball photos when I took a call from Roger Hadix, author of “Baseball in Colorado Springs — Images of Baseball” which was published in 2013.

    Hadix is a native of Colorado Springs who grew up listening to St. Louis Cardinals games on the radio.

    He played sandlot baseball with his friends growing up and softball in high school and college before discovering, about 20 years ago, the Colorado Vintage Base Ball Association

    in which players don historic uniforms and play according to rules in effect in 1864.

    “I thought: ‘How can I get involved in this?’ ” said Hadix, a teller at First Commercial Bank of Colorado.

    Roger Hadix, author of “Baseball in Colorado Springs _ Images of Baseball” in his vintage baseball uniform. Courtesy photo

    Roger Hadix, author of “Baseball in Colorado Springs _ Images of Baseball” in his vintage baseball uniform. Courtesy photo

    He began playing with a Denver team, wearing a replica uniform of the “Millionaires” — the city’s first professional team formed by the Colorado Springs Base Ball Club that played in 1901-05.

    And he started researching Colorado Springs’ baseball history so he could better represent his hometown in the vintage games.

    From a May 31, 1873, story in The Gazette, he learned of the first organized baseball team, the Denver & Rio Grande Reds, named for the railroad owned by Colorado Springs founder Gen. William Jackson Palmer.

    (The team also was known as the Colorado Springs Reds. By the way, the Reds will play games July 19 in Victor and Sept. 1 at Rock Ledge Ranch.)

    A great excerpt from that Gazette story: “Colorado Springs is to have a Base Ball club. And why not? We find it hard enough to string together a page of local items for the Gazette and anything which will produce a few more ‘accidents’ will be a perfect Godsend to us.”

    And just as the newspaper helped name the Sky Sox in 1949, the Gazette of 1901 gave the Millionaires its nickname. Another excerpt read: “The Millionaires are coming soon . . . everybody in Colorado Springs is a millionaire and why shouldn’t the ball players be?”

    From then on, the club carried the name.

    Boulevard Park, opened in April 1902, was built by Winfield Scott Stratton for the city's first professional baseball team, dubbed the Millionaires by The Gazette. It stood near the intersection of South Tejon Street and Cheyenne Boulevard. It held 3,500 to 5,000 fans. Photo courtesy the Pikes Peak Library District.

    Boulevard Park, opened in April 1902, was built by Winfield Scott Stratton for the city’s first professional baseball team, dubbed the Millionaires by The Gazette. It stood near the intersection of South Tejon Street and Cheyenne Boulevard. It held 3,500 to 5,000 fans. Photo courtesy the Pikes Peak Library District.

    Hadix also tells in his book of gold mining legend and philanthropist Winfield Scott Stratton’s connection to the Millionaires and of stadiums like Boulevard Park, Merchant Park and Zoo Park, among others.

    And he has photos describing legendary figures in the local baseball scene like the Burns brothers who owned the Millionaires,

    Sky Sox catcher Sam Hairston proudly holds the Most Valuable Player Award trophy after Western League President Sen. Ed Johnson made the presentation Monday night before the ball game on Sept. 8, 1953. Seen in a Gazette Telegraph. Courtesy Pikes Peak Library District.

    Sky Sox catcher Sam Hairston proudly holds the Most Valuable Player Award trophy after Western League President Sen. Ed Johnson made the presentation Monday night before the ball game on Sept. 8, 1953. Seen in a Gazette Telegraph. Courtesy Pikes Peak Library District.

    Sky Sox great Sam Hairston who led the club to Western League championships in the 1950s, and, of course, Rich “Goose” Gossage, the Wasson High School grad who went on to a 22-year career in the major leagues. He was a pioneering relief pitcher who helped the New York Yankees win the World Series in 1978 and earned enshrinement in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008.

    There also are chapters on college baseball played here, semi-pro teams and city leagues. And there’s the 1988 return of minor league baseball and the new Sky Sox.

    All the history is on display in photos in his 127-page book.

    I was intrigued by a story that didn’t quite make the book.

    A copy of a 2005 edition of The Gazette that recounts a July 1940 visit to Colorado Springs by legendary New York Yankees slugger Babe Ruth.

    A copy of a 2005 edition of The Gazette that recounts a July 1940 visit to Colorado Springs by legendary New York Yankees slugger Babe Ruth.

    Hadix mentioned a visit to Colorado Springs in July 1940 by Babe Ruth, the legendary New York Yankees slugger who was five years into his retirement and came with his wife and daughter on a tour of the country that included staying at The Broadmoor hotel, playing golf, putting on a hitting display during a doubleheader between two semi-pro teams and, of course, visiting orphans and disadvantaged children at the Myron Stratton Home.

    This story in the Colorado Springs Gazette on July 5, 1940, told of George Herman "Babe" Ruth's visit to the city and his hitting display during a semi-pro game featuring the Colorado Springs Orioles.

    This story in the Colorado Springs Gazette on July 5, 1940, told of George Herman “Babe” Ruth’s visit to the city and his hitting display during a semi-pro game featuring the Colorado Springs Orioles.

    Hadix was unable to find photos of the visit and said he was forced to only mention Ruth’s visit here.

    I had a little more luck, digging up details from Gazette Telegraph accounts of the visit and even a poor quality photo of Ruth with two Stratton children.

    The stories described a warm reception from a standing room-only crowd attending a July 4 doubleheader between semi-pro teams from Colorado Springs and Pueblo at Sportsman Field on Nevada Avenue north of Fillmore Street.

    During a ceremony, Mayor George G. Birdsall gave Ruth the keys to the city. Then Ruth took some swings against pitchers for the home team Orioles, including Jimmie Thompson, a Springs native who played shortstop in the 1940s for teams in the Cardinals’ minor league system.

    Gazette stories say Ruth and his family visited Garden of the Gods, Cheyenne Canyon, High Drive and the summit of Cheyenne Mountain. Ruth was honored at a picnic at Seven Falls where he reportedly smacked a baseball an estimated 266 feet to the top of the falls.

    There was also an autograph session at a sporting goods store downtown, a visit to 90 children at the Myron Stratton Home and a trip to Pueblo for another hitting demonstration at Runyon Field. Ruth and his family left on the train July 8 for Cheyenne, Wyo., to continue his barnstorming tour.

    And with that, it’s once again time to play ball.

    These photos appeared in the Colorado Springs Gazette on July 5, 1940.

    These photos appeared in the Colorado Springs Gazette on July 5, 1940.

  • Wagon Man’s treatment evidence of Aspenization of Manitou Springs

    Wed, April 9, 2014 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Lou Smith hugs her pet, Homer the duck, in a July 15, 2002 Gazette file photo.

    The late Lou Smith hugs her pet, Homer the duck, in a July 15, 2002 Gazette file photo. Smith and Homer lived in Manitou Springs. Smith was charged by the city with keeping a noisy duck. After she won at trial, Smith and Homer became local celebrities and even had a festival named in the duck’s honor.

    In December, I asked if Manitou — the mountainside tourist hamlet that embraced Homer the Duck, Emma Crawford and her runaway coffin, bizarre fruitcake-tossing contests and other quirky festivals and individuals — had grown too corporate, too Aspenized, for a man and his wagons.

    Specifically, Phillip Cargile, 56, his three wagons and stuffed cartoon dolls.
    Otherwise known as the Wagon Man.

    Phillip Cargile, Wagon Man, on Feb. 18, 2014. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Phillip Cargile, Wagon Man, on Feb. 18, 2014. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    For the past two years or so, Cargile pulled his wagon train in a random daily trek around the region spreading a message of “BE POSITIVE” that was printed on a sign that hung around his neck. A sign on his back declared: “Where there is no vision, the people will perish.”

    Sunshine, rain or snow . . . it didn’t matter. Wagon Man was on the job in his trademark patchwork overalls and cowboy hat with his left hand on his wagon handle and his right hand stretched to the heavens, symbolically lifting up all who saw him.

    Many days he was accompanied on his wife, Cheryl, or the Wagon Lady, who typically wore her own sign: “A Happy Heart Is Like Medicine” and straw hat.

    Often I saw him trudging down West Colorado Avenue or on U.S. Highway 24, a large U.S. flag flapping behind him. Passing motorists honked, waved and yelled “Wagon Man” as he went by.

    He seemed harmless enough, spending his days fulfilling his calling.

    Phillip Cargile, 56, is known as the Wagon Man because he walks the roads and highways of the Pikes Peak region "lifting people up." He's seen on Feb. 18, 2014, outside Manitou Springs City Hall where he was on trial for four tickets for being a pedestrian illegally in the street. He faced fines exceeding $400 if convicted. But Judge J. Martin Thrasher said the law did not require pedestrians to use sidewalks and found Cargile not guilty. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Phillip Cargile, 56, is known as the Wagon Man because he walks the roads and highways of the Pikes Peak region “lifting people up.” He’s seen on Feb. 18, 2014, outside Manitou Springs City Hall where he was on trial for four tickets for being a pedestrian illegally in the street. He faced fines exceeding $400 if convicted. But Judge J. Martin Thrasher said the law did not require pedestrians to use sidewalks and found Cargile not guilty. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    I stopped and talked to him last May. I found him friendly, quirky and interesting.

    I asked where he was going and why he was pulling three wagons, one holding a portable radio, the second filled with shirts printed with his photo, which he sells, and the third holding a large, homemade cartoon doll and a flag.

    He responded with questions.

    “Are you a Christian?” he said, pointing to a large tree and explaining how religious denominations are like the branches all tracing back to a single root: God.

    “Why do I walk?” Wagon Man said. “I walk for you.”

    I learned he and Cheryl were from Panama City Beach, Fla. He said he walked to Aurora after the theater massacre then walked to Colorado Springs following the Waldo Canyon fire in 2012. He and the Wagon Lady fell in love with the area and decided to stay.

    Cheryl, who works as a substitute school teacher, soon found work as a caretaker for an elderly woman whose daughter owns a salon on Colorado Springs’ west side. Wagon Man did odd jobs for the woman.

    They rented a cabin in Manitou Springs and seemed to settle in.

    Phillip Cargile, the Wagon Man, stands along West Colorado Avenue on May 28, 2013.

    Phillip Cargile, the Wagon Man, stands along West Colorado Avenue on May 28, 2013.

    Until winter rolled around and Wagon Man was seen pulling his wagons down the middle of Manitou Avenue in a snowstorm.

    Manitou Springs Police Chief Joe Ribeiro didn’t like seeing Wagon Man in traffic and feared he might cause a wreck. He ordered him to pull his wagons on the sidewalks.

    After several warnings, Ribeiro started writing Cargile tickets for being a pedestrian illegally in the street, first on Dec. 8, again on Dec. 9 and a third on Dec. 24.

    There would be a fourth ticket before the case reached court Feb. 18. Each ticket cited him for being a pedestrian illegally in the roadway and carried a possible $100 fine.

    After a strange 90-minute trial in which an emotional Cargile argued he was vehicle because his shoes had small wheels in the heels, Manitou Springs Municipal Court Judge J. Martin Thrasher ruled the law pertaining to pedestrians in the street was too vague and he could not convict Cargile.

    But he warned him to stay on the sidewalks. And after the trial Ribeiro told Cargile the City Council had enacted a new ordinance — I call it the Wagon Man Law — to require pedestrians to use sidewalks where they exist. (That doesn’t sound very funky to me! Maybe Manitou has gone corporate after all.)

    I spoke to Wagon Man after the trial and he was both defiant and confused. He vowed he’d continue to walk in the streets even as his wife pleaded with him to use the sidewalks until she could arrange for them to return to Florida.

    I watched as he gathered his wagons and pulled them away from the Manitou Springs City Hall, where trial was held. He stopped by Fountain Creek and stared into the water. I wondered if I’d ever see him again.

    Now, I doubt it, unless I ever visit the panhandle of Florida.

    Cheryl "the Wagon Lady" Cargile is seen in an undated photo in Manitou Springs with her red wagon as well as the three wagons pulled each day by her husband, Phillip Cargile, the Wagon Man.

    Cheryl “the Wagon Lady” Cargile is seen in an undated photo in Manitou Springs with her red wagon as well as the three wagons pulled each day by her husband, Phillip Cargile, the Wagon Man.

    On March 10, just three weeks after the trial, Phillip and Cheryl rented a car and drove back to Panama City Beach. We are Facebook friends and I’d seen a post announcing their return and the celebration of their friends in that tourist town.

    “It’s gorgeous here,” Cheryl said Monday when I reached her by phone. “Wagon Man is out walking in a storm. But it’s a rainstorm instead of a snowstorm. It’s 70 degrees here.”
    While Wagon Man is busy walking his wagons, Cheryl said she plans to return to substitute teaching to support the couple.

    Wagon Man Phillip Cargile leaves the Manitou Springs City Hall in February 2014 after charges of being an illegal pedestrian in the street were dismissed. Despite winning his case, he recently left Manitou to return to Panama City Beach, Fla. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Wagon Man Phillip Cargile leaves the Manitou Springs City Hall in February 2014 after charges of being an illegal pedestrian in the street were dismissed. Despite winning his case, he recently left Manitou to return to Panama City Beach, Fla. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    And she downplayed my suggestion they’d been run out of the Pikes Peak region by Manitou police, who even confronted Wagon Man at the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade, prompting parade-goers to step in and walk with him.

    “I was ready to come home,” Cheryl said. “I’m a warm-weather person. I was turning into a Wagon Lady popsicle. And we were both a little homesick.”

    She insisted they have nothing but love for the people they left behind here.

    “We fell in love with that community,” she said. “Everybody there was just precious sweet. We started out truly homeless and we ended up in a beautiful cabin in the woods with so many friends. We were so blessed.”

    While she declined to criticize police in Manitou, Cheryl said it was nice to be welcomed home by Panama City Police who, she said, were glad to see Wagon Man out on the streets again with his wagon train.

    Police there have stopped him. But with a big difference.

    “They stop him and give him water because they’re afraid he’s going to get dehydrated,” she said with a laugh.

    I chuckled, too. Until I thought about the bigger picture.

    I could understand if a unique character like Wagon Man caught flak in Colorado Springs. We’re a big city anymore. But I kind of hoped Wagon Man had found a home in Manitou.

    Maybe I’ll start calling it Aspen Springs.

     

    Aspen, Colo. Courtesy gentryconnects.com

    Aspen, Colo. Courtesy gentryconnects.com

  • Historic old building mask modern facilities at Deaf and Blind School

    Sun, April 6, 2014 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    The main administration building at the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind on April 3, 2014. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    The main administration building, opened in 1906, at the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind on April 3, 2014. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Don’t be fooled by the imposing old stone buildings of the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind standing tall atop the hill at Institute Street east of downtown Colorado Springs.

    They only look old from the outside. You might be surprised at what’s inside the 17 buildings on the 37-acre campus on North Institute Street behind the white wrought-iron fence.

    I long admired the buildings and the folks I often saw walking with white canes up and down surrounding streets, learning how to navigate this crazy world with impaired vision or hearing.

    The 37-acre campus of the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind. Courtesy FlashEarth.com

    The 37-acre campus of the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind. Courtesy FlashEarth.com

    I knew the basics of the institution . . . that it’s a state-fund school serving kids across Colorado from birth to age 21 who have impaired hearing and vision.

    But I never had an opportunity to wander around and look behind the century-old stone facades.

    Recently I learned the school is celebrating its 140th anniversary. I called and asked for a tour. I’m glad I did.

    What I found really opened my eyes to all the great people and amazing work merging new technology and cutting-edge educational techniques in a historic setting.

    My tour guide, Diane Covington, the school’s community liaison, showed me around the excellent facilities the administration has built for its 220 or so students who attend daily classes. About half of them are “day students” and the rest live on campus Sunday through Friday. (The school’s staff of 160 serves about 550 students statewide.)

    Diane Covington, community liaison at the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind, points to the student ledger of every child ever enrolled dating to 1874. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Diane Covington, community liaison at the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind, points to the student ledger of every child ever enrolled dating to 1874. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    And she introduced me to some of the great kids and staff at the schools.

    “It’s just like a college campus,” Covington said as we moved from building to building, dropping into modern classrooms packed with everything from old Braille writing machines that resemble small typewriters (if you remember typewriters) to state-of-the-art computers, electronic tablets and video equipment.

    The technology allows visually impaired students to read and even allows rural students to telecommute and interact with teachers and students in Colorado Springs.

    “We have a student in Holly whose parents don’t want him to live away from home,” Covington said, citing just one of the distance-learning students CSDB serves. “We have two classrooms equipped so he can watch and participate.”

    The class of the Blind School in 1889. Courtesy the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind.

    The class of the Blind School in 1889. Courtesy the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind.

    As dazzled as I was by the blending of old and new facilities, I was most impressed by the people.

    And I found myself a big fan of the teachers who have to deal with all the typical issues of pre-schoolers, elementary age and teenagers as well as physical challenges I can’t comprehend. I stood in awe watching a preschool teacher dramatically enact the eating of an apple as students sat in a semi-circle, watching her and a video on a huge screen about eating.

    The campus of the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    The campus of the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    As a history buff, I was stopping frequently to study the photos of famous alumni and benefactors, like the lifesize oil painting Springs founder Gen. William Jackson Palmer in the Administration Building. Palmer donated 10 acres to the school and the Colorado Territorial Legislature appropriated $5,000 so Jonathan Kennedy could open the school in 1874 with nine students — including three of his own children.

    An early, undated photo of a class at the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind. Believed to be the late 1800s. Courtesy photo.

    An early, undated photo of a class at the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind. Believed to be the late 1800s. Courtesy photo.

    The school’s rich history is on display throughout its buildings.

    There are photos of students and teachers through the decades.

    This teacher and her two students went to the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis and put on exhibitions of teaching methods. Courtesy of the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind.

    Student Lottie Sullivan, left, her teacher, Bessie Veditz, and an unidentified boy seen in 1904. The three went to the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis to represent the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind. They demonstrated techniques for teaching students with visual and hearing impairments. Courtesy of the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind.

    Some offer reminders of the often crude way society treated folks with physical disabilities, from the language “Deaf Mutes and Blind Institute” to the photos of the teacher and two students who were literally put on display at the 1904 Worlds Fair in St. Louis to demonstrate teaching techniques for the blind.

    Trolleys packed with people stop at the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind in an undated photo believed to be around the turn of the 20th century. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Trolleys packed with people stop at the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind in an undated photo believed to be around the turn of the 20th century. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    I especially liked walking down a sidewalk and seeing large photos peering from out from windows of a former classroom building showing Lon Chaney, the silent film superstar whose parents met at the school. Chaney’s skills in sign language and pantomime, which he used to communicate with his parents, helped make him a huge star in silent films including the Hunchback of Notre Dame and the Phantom of the Opera.

    This ledger shows the  first student enrolled in the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind from its inception in 1874. The school has detailed historic records of its students and activities. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    This ledger shows the first student enrolled in the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind from its inception in 1874. The school has detailed historic records of its students and activities. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    In addition, I loved digging through the stacks of ledgers, including those documenting the enrollment of the very first students. And I marveled at the school newspapers, printed on site, dating back to its first years.

    The school will celebrate its anniversary with an assembly and balloon release starting at 1 p.m., Tuesday, at its gym.

    I recommend anyone interested call and schedule a tour. Get to know the people there. Covington tells me the school is always looking for community partners and welcome visitors.

    You will be glad you did. I certainly am.

    Diane Covington, community liaison at the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind, examines the school's "Touch Museum" _ a collection of stuffed animals. Students with visual impairments are taught about various animals by touching the taxidermy displays. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Diane Covington, community liaison at the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind, examines the school’s “Touch Museum” _ a collection of stuffed animals. Students with visual impairments are taught about various animals by touching the taxidermy displays. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette


    IF YOU GO

    The Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind offers tours on the first and third Monday of each month. For more information, call Diane Covington, 578-2225 or email her at dcovington@csdb.org.

    The School for the Deaf will present a spring program celebrating the school’s history at 6 p.m., May 1, in the Gottlieb Building. The School for the Blind will present its own program at 6 p.m., May 13, in the Gottlieb Building.

    Images of Lon Chaney, the silent film star known as the Man of a Thousand Faces, peer from a former classroom building on the campus of the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind. Both Chaney's parents attended the school and his ability to express emotion, learned from communicating with his deaf parents, aided his film career. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Images of Lon Chaney, the silent film star known as the Man of a Thousand Faces, peer from a former classroom building on the campus of the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind. Both Chaney’s parents attended the school and his ability to express emotion, learned from communicating with his deaf parents, aided his film career. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    _

     

    Student Lottie Sullivan, left, her teacher, Bessie Veditz, and an unidentified boy seen in 1904. The three went to the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis to represent the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind. They demonstrated techniques for teaching students with visual and hearing impairments. Courtesy the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind.

    Read more at http://gazette.com/gallery/articleid/1517701/1/pictures/465855#TBLxfvS3lUdZHZsT.99

  • Some major league history in Colorado Springs

    Fri, April 4, 2014 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Melvin and Florence Barhite as seen in a 2013 photo. Melvin Barhite won a contest sponsored by the Gazette Telegraph in 1949 to name the city's new minor league baseball team the Sky Sox. Courtesy photo.

    Melvin and Florence Barhite as seen in a 2013 photo. Melvin Barhite won a contest sponsored by the Gazette Telegraph in 1949 to name the city’s new minor league baseball team the Sky Sox. Courtesy photo.

    In recent days, baseball players for the Colorado Springs Sky Sox came north from spring training in Arizona and began the 2014 season. About the same time, Melvin Barhite returned to his home in Calhan after a winter visit to Phoenix.

    But Barhite was not among the fans who flock to training camp to get a glimpse at new prospects and established stars. And when the Sky Sox opened their season Thursday in New Orleans, Barhite was pretty much oblivious to the action despite his unique historical connection to the city’s minor league baseball team.

    Barhite, 92, has never been much of a sports fan, said his daughter, Judy Black in Phoenix. However, he loves the Denver Broncos and follows them on TV, said daughter Dixie Pring.

    And she said he was always good at naming things like the family’s horses and their “Down to Earth” excavating company.

    The Sunday, Jan. 1, 1950, edition of The Gazette Telegraph.

    The Sunday, Jan. 1, 1950, edition of The Gazette Telegraph.

    And that was true 65 years ago when Barhite made banner headlines in the Gazette Telegraph, including having his photo in the paper Jan. 1, 1950, when his nickname was chosen from thousands of entries for the new minor league baseball team in Colorado Springs.

    Barhite’s suggestion was among the first entries received at the desk of then Gazette Telegraph sports editor Tom McLaughlin when the contest began Dec. 11, 1949. He expressed surprise when he received the news a few weeks later that he had won the contest and two season tickets for the 1950 season.

    “It was so long ago that I sent in my entry that I forgot all about it,” Barhite told the newspaper.

    I learned the story after receiving a 65-year-old photo sent to me by my friends at the Pikes Peak Library District. It had been unearthed by history buff David Raith, executive director of U.S. Figure Skating.

    The story unfolded as I dug into the archives of The Gazette and the library.

    Barhite told the GT he suggested “Sky Sox” to connect the team to its then major league affiliate Chicago White Sox and because the team would be playing “in the sky” — at the highest elevation of any pro U.S. baseball team.

    In this photo published Jan. 1, 1950, in The Gazette Telegraph, El Paso County Judge Irvin E. Jones, left, congratulates Melvin Barhite, center, as C.C. Morris looks on. Jones and Morris were directors of the new minor league baseball team, an affiliate of the Chicago White Sox, which would begin play in 1950. Barhite won a contest, sponsored by the Gazette Telegraph, to give the team its nickname. Barhite suggested Sky Sox for the team. Photo courtesy the Pikes Peak Library District.

    In this photo published Jan. 1, 1950, in The Gazette Telegraph, El Paso County Judge Irvin E. Jones, left, congratulates Melvin Barhite, center, as C.C. Morris looks on. Jones and Morris were directors of the new minor league baseball team, an affiliate of the Chicago White Sox, which would begin play in 1950. Barhite won a contest, sponsored by the Gazette Telegraph, to give the team its nickname. Barhite suggested Sky Sox for the team. Photo courtesy the Pikes Peak Library District.

    In the story, Barhite also said he and his wife, Florence, were “good baseball fans” and would enjoy the season tickets. But Black said it didn’t turn out that way.

    “My dad was so busy working and raising a family and he devoted everything to that,” Black said.

    During World War II he was stationed at Fitzsimmons Army Hospital and was trained as a histologist, preparing tissue slides for analysis by pathologists. He and Florence came to Colorado Springs in 1947, five years after they were married, and he worked at the old Glockner Penrose and St. Francis hospitals.

    He also started a school of histology, Black said, and worked in a home laboratory preparing slides for hospitals in several stations around the region.

    “He worked at the hospital during the day and at home at night,” Black said. “He never had much time for sports.”

    Hearing loss makes it difficult to communicate with him. But he told me, through Dixie, he was a fan.

    “I went to several games,” Barhite said, noting he threw out the first pitch at a game in 1950.

    And though he hasn’t attended many games, he still treasures his link to the Sky Sox.

    “Dad still tells people he named the team,” Black said. “He is proud of that.”

    040414 Side Streets 4Reading stories from 1949, it was clear McLaughlin and his staff had a lot of fun reporting on the contest.

    He kept readers updated on the influx of entries and a minor controversy over the panel of judges, which included Norma Dodge, a former Gazette Telegraph society editor and widow of former sports editor Stuart Dodge.

    A December 1949 Gazette Telegraph

    A December 1949 Gazette Telegraph

    He noted some team officials worried the panel of judges might pick a name like the “Burros.” Some questioned why a woman was among the judges.

    “I’m fully qualified to help judge a contest concerned with baseball,” Dodge was quoted by McLaughlin. “I do know there are four bases, around which you have to run if you hit the right kind of ball.”

    I was also interested to read the names of team officials, including club president H. Chase Stone, a longtime banker and civic leader in the city, as well as Bill MacPhail, the general manager of the new team. The MacPhail family has deep roots in baseball and sports, in general.

    MacPhail was then the 29-year-old son of Larry MacPhail, former president of the Brooklyn Dodgers who introduced night baseball in 1935 when he was president of the Cincinnati Reds. And his brother, Lee MacPhail, became president of the American League and was general manager of the New York Yankees.

    Bill MacPhail went on to fame as a pioneering television sports executive who rose to president of CBS Sports, where he worked from 1956-73 and introduced instant replay to TV broadcasts during the Army-Navy game in 1963. Even today Bill MacPhail’s nephew, Andy MacPhail, is president of the Baltimore Orioles.

    Ford Frick at the 1937 All Star Game. File photo.

    Ford Frick at the 1937 All Star Game. File photo.

    But MacPhail isn’t the only legendary sports figure to live in Colorado Springs.
    Ford Frick, the third commissioner of Major League Baseball, also lived here twice. In fact, he worked at the Gazette and the Telegraph before they were merged under one owner.

    It was early in the 20th century, according to his biography at baseball-almanac.com. After his graduation from DePauw University in his native Indiana, Frick took a job teaching English at Colorado Springs High School, now Palmer High. He also worked as a freelance writer for the Gazette for two years before leaving.

    Frick would after World War I, to open an advertising agency in Colorado Springs and to write a weekly column for the Telegraph. He also wrote for the Rocky Mountain News in Denver. In 1922, Frick joined the sports staff of the New York American then moved to the Evening Journal where he covered the Yankees.

    Eventually, he became a ghostwriter for Babe Ruth, then moved to broadcasting and finally became publicity director for Major League Baseball. He became president of the National League in 1934 and then commissioner of baseball in 1951, serving until he retired in 1965. He died in 1978.

    Of course, there have been several major league players from Colorado Springs, including Wasson High grad and Hall of Famer Rich “Goose” Gossage. But that’s for another column.

    That’s a lot of baseball trivia for this time. I say it’s time to play ball.

  • A Side Streets pat on the rump to public servants doing the right thing

    Wed, April 2, 2014 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, congratulates quarterback Tony Romo. Courtesy photo.

    Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, congratulates quarterback Tony Romo. Courtesy photo.

    Who doesn’t like an attaboy now and then?

    I sure do and I like giving them out. So here we go.

    I’ve got a high five for Mike Chaves, a senior civil engineer for the city of Colorado Springs.

    And I’ve got celebratory pats on the rump for the Manitou Springs School District and Mayor Marc Snyder.

    Thanks to Chaves, 86-year-old Springs resident Duncan MacDonald no longer feels trapped in his home by the heaving and crumbling sidewalk near Fillmore Street and Templeton Gap Road.

    The sidewalk in front of the Prospect Place home of Mary Tatum and Tamara Bartlett in Manitou Springs was a jagged, heaving mess due to decades of tree roots pushing it up. Here's how it looked in November 2013. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    The sidewalk in front of the Prospect Place home of Mary Tatum and Tamara Bartlett in Manitou Springs was a jagged, heaving mess due to decades of tree roots pushing it up. Here’s how it looked in November 2013. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    And the willingness of Snyder and the school officials to compromise and place common sense over city codes resulted in a much safer sidewalk leading from the playground of the Manitou Springs Elementary School where many children are dropped off and picked up by their parents.

    Loyal Side Streets readers — all three of you — may remember stories I wrote about the dangerous stretches of sidewalk in late 2013.

    A 75-year-old Chinese elm caused the public sidewalk on Prospect Place in Manitou Springs to heave, making it dangerous for pedestrians, especially school children who routinely use it when dropped off by their parents. Adjacent homeowners Mary Tatus and Tamara Bartlett want the city and school district to help pay to replace the heavily used sidewalk, which was ruined by tree roots. Courtesy photo.

    A 75-year-old Chinese elm caused the public sidewalk on Prospect Place in Manitou Springs to heave, making it dangerous for pedestrians, especially school children who routinely use it when dropped off by their parents. Homeowners Mary Tatus and Tamara Bartlett convinced the city and school district to help pay to replace the heavily used sidewalk. Courtesy photo.

    In November, I told of the ridiculous strip of jagged, twisting concrete that lurched from the  playground past the home of Mary Tatum and Tamara Bartlett on Prospect Place.

    They were concerned for the children who run back and forth, twice a day, along the concrete, which had been dangerously contorted by the roots of trees planted along the street decades ago. Their concerns were heightened with the same piece of pavement became a focal point of emergency responders during last fall’s flash flood episodes.

    Tatum and Bartlett, who bought the home in 2001, had spent $1,000 to have the tree removed. But they couldn’t afford the estimated $4,500 cost of replacing the sidewalk. So they asked the school district and city of Manitou to split the cost.

    “They just weren’t interested,” Tatum said, noting the city cited an ordinance that requires homeowners to be responsible for the public sidewalks in front of their homes.

    Preschooler Autum Ward, 5, runs toward Manitou Springs Elementary School Tuesday, April 1, 2014 along a new section of sidewalk behind the school that was repaired Friday after complaints from the homeowner and donations from the city and school district. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette

    Preschooler Autum Ward, 5, runs toward Manitou Springs Elementary School Tuesday, April 1, 2014 along a new section of sidewalk behind the school that was repaired Friday after complaints from the homeowner and donations from the city and school district. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette

    Snyder cited the ordinance when I called him to ask about the sidewalk.

    “Our municipal code is really clear,” Snyder said at the time.

    He was reluctant to consider sharing the costs even when I suggested Manitou could mimic Colorado Springs, which has taken responsibility for public sidewalks.

    Since 2004, Colorado Springs has spent about $5 million a year replacing miles of sidewalks, curbs and gutters, using maintenance money from its share of the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority’s one-cent sales tax, called the PPRTA. In addition, it has installed thousands of handicap ramps and fixed hundreds of trip hazards on city sidewalks.

    In the end, Snyder said he was open to a possible private-public partnership between the couple, the town and the school district to fix the sidewalk.

    “We’re willing to discuss things,” Snyder said. “We’d consider it.”

    He did more than consider it. And by the time spring break rolled around last week, crews were ready to yank out the old sidewalk, grind down the tree stump and roots and pour a new red sidewalk, as mandated by codes governing the local historic district.

    From left, sisters Katelyn, Madeline and Marisa Fonkert walk home from Manitou Springs Elementary School Tuesday, April 1, 2014 along a new section of sidewalk behind the school that was repaired Friday after complaints from the homeowner and donations from the city and school district. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette

    From left, sisters Katelyn, Madeline and Marisa Fonkert walk home from Manitou Springs Elementary School Tuesday, April 1, 2014 along a new section of sidewalk behind the school that was repaired Friday after complaints from the homeowner and donations from the city and school district. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette

    “It’s pretty great,” said Tatum, who posted photos on Facebook all week as work progressed.

    “It’s a beautiful red sidewalk,” she said. “And it has a new curb and gutter which will be huge for drainage. I’ve had people pulling over and congratulating us. I even saw the elementary school principal and he congratulated us.

    “People are very happy about it.”

    Duncan MacDonald in December 2013. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Duncan MacDonald in December 2013. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    In Colorado Springs, Duncan MacDonald is equally thrilled about the new sidewalk that stretches in front of his house.

    No longer do neighbors, even those in wheelchairs, have to detour into Ute Drive to avoid falling on the old concrete, which had cracked and crumbled under pressure from tree roots.

    I told his story in December and it included tales of MacDonald twice rescuing folks in wheelchairs who had become trapped amid the cracks and crevices of his sidewalk.

    As a retired contractor, MacDonald knew it would cost thousands to replace the concrete and he couldn’t afford it.

    He hoped the city would fix the problem using proceeds from the PPRTA sales tax.

    A before-and-after look at the sidewalk on Ute Drive in Colorado Springs. Top shows the crumbling sidewalk in December 2013. Below is the new sidewalk on April 1, 2014. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    A before-and-after look at the sidewalk on Ute Drive in Colorado Springs. Top shows the crumbling sidewalk in December 2013. Below is the new sidewalk on April 1, 2014. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Since it passed in 2004, MacDonald had read how the street division had fixed more than 109.6 miles of curb and gutter, 3,811 pedestrian ramps, 13,621 “trip hazards” where sidewalks have heaved creating dangerous conditions, and a whopping 54.1 miles of sidewalk.

    He’d even put his sidewalk on the waiting list twice, hoping to get it fixed.

    But there is such a backlog of broken sidewalk, it had never reached the top of the list, city engineer Chaves told me at the time.

    “We’re slowly getting to everyone,” Chaves said, noting the city has 2,362 miles of curb and gutter and sidewalk and many need repair.

    But everything changed when Chaves learned that MacDonald was rescuing folks in wheelchairs and that the retired builder and inspector was disabled, as well.

    “I’m going to need a wheelchair, but I won’t be able to get out of my house in it,” MacDonald said. “I need to replace the sidewalk to my front door, too. But they can’t do it until the city fixes the public sidewalk out front.

    A before-and-after look at the sidewalk on Ute Drive in Colorado Springs. Top shows the crumbling sidewalk in December 2013. Below is the new sidewalk on April 1, 2014. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    A before-and-after look at the sidewalk on Ute Drive in Colorado Springs. Top shows the crumbling sidewalk in December 2013. Below is the new sidewalk on April 1, 2014. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    “I couldn’t get off my own property in a wheelchair.”

    Chaves said the city puts a priority on handicapped accessibility and he vaulted MacDonald’s sidewalk to the top of the list.

    When winter weather finally gave crews a window to get busy, they were on the scene.

    “They finished up a couple weeks ago,” MacDonald said. “They did a nice job.

    “Now I’ve got to save up and do my driveway.”

    So thanks to the public servants who made these projects happen. It’s always gratifying when common sense prevails. Congratulations on a job well-done.

    A before-and-after look at the sidewalk on Ute Drive in Colorado Springs. Top shows the crumbling sidewalk in December 2013. Below is the new sidewalk on April 1, 2014. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    A before-and-after look at the sidewalk on Ute Drive in Colorado Springs. Top shows the crumbling sidewalk in December 2013. Below is the new sidewalk on April 1, 2014. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette