2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner


Published: February 23, 2013, 12:07 pm, by Bill Vogrin

Pinello Cemetery 001 .

Ben Pinello Jr. just proved there’s still a little of the Old West left in Colorado Springs.

On Thursday, Pinello won approval from the Planning Commission to put a small family cemetery within his 40-acre Pinello Ranch southwest of downtown.

Ben Pinello Jr. on his ranch

Ben Pinello Jr. on his ranch

The ranch is in a wooded valley sliced by Bear Creek and home to wildlife and panoramic views of mountains including the granite outcroppings along nearby Gold Camp Road.

He plans to build a fence — maybe white-picket or wrought iron  — around a 25-foot-by-40-foot parcel.

There, amid scrub oak and cottonwood and locust trees just a few dozen feet from the creek, the 80-year-old Pinello intends to spend eternity with his wife, Vira.

Pinello Cemetery 016.

Maybe some day they’ll be joined by their son and three daughters and their families. Maybe not. That’s up to them, he said.

Pinello just wanted to make sure he’d be allowed to remain on the land where he ran cattle and raised kids since buying the place at auction in 1962 after coming home from serving in the Marines.

“Darn right,” he said. “We’ve got to have a little of the Old West left in us. And I am happy”

In the old days, folks were buried on their land. Pinello, being an old cowboy, felt the same way.

“I want to be here,” he said. “I’ve been here over 50 years. It’s a nice piece of property and you kind of fall in love with it.”

It’s where he belongs.

Pinello Family Cem map.

But I was worried when I heard he needed city permission for a cemetery.

After all, zoning codes are stubborn things. And neighbors can be prickly about having things like convenience stores within shouting distance.

I feared urban Colorado Springs would clash with our Old West roots.

Luckily, city codes never anticipated a request for a cemetery so planner Erin McCauley was in virgin territory as she researched Pinello’s request for a conditional use permit.

“I learned Colorado is the only state that allows private individuals to act as a funeral director,” McCauley said. “And I learned any burial on private land has to be located by a GPS as part of Colorado law..

“You have to get the latitude and longitude and record it with the county.”

That makes sense. Some road project might come along and threaten to disturb Pinello’s sleep. Best to get it on a map.

Pinello Family plot 2.

Finding no opposition, McCauley approved it.

So why a cemetery now?

Pinello had a cancer scare a few years ago. He wanted to know where he’d be buried.

“I guess it is comforting,” he said. “The whole family is happy we got it.”

I wondered what he’d have done if the city had refused his request.

Pinello’s answer was exactly what I’d expect from a cowboy.

“We’d have done it at midnight,” he said with a laugh