2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner
  • Side Streets readers grant Peggy Shivers’ birthday wish

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

    Peoples United MethodistHallelujah for Side Streets readers.

    You made Peggy Shivers‘ 75th birthday one to remember.

    Let me refresh your memories.

    On June 6, I asked readers to give Peggy a birthday present to thank her for all she and her late husband, Clarence Shivers, have done for Colorado Springs.

    Clarence Shivers is seen in a June 2004 photo. He posed with a bust of the Tuskegee Airman statue he sculpted in 1988 honoring the black Air Force squadron of World War II. He trained with the squadron. The statue stands outside the Chapel at the Air Force Academy. Photo by Carol Lawrence, The Gazette.

    Clarence Shivers is seen in a June 2004 photo posing with a bust of the Tuskegee Airman statue he sculpted in 1988. The statue stands outside the Chapel at the Air Force Academy. Photo by Carol Lawrence, The Gazette.

    Clarence was part of the famed Tuskegee Airmen black pilot fighter squadron in World War II. He was also a painter and sculptor.

    Peggy is a classically trained opera soprano.

    After the couple moved to Colorado Springs in 1979, they became active in the community.

    In 1993, they established the Shivers Fund to buy books and reference materials by and about African-Americans for the Pikes Peak Library District. The fund led to creation of the Shivers African-American Historical and Cultural Collection with an inventory exceeding 1,000 and an endowment of $100,000 or so.

    The collection chronicles the achievements of blacks in history, culture and the arts. And the fund distributes scholarships of $3,000-$4,000 to young people interested in studying the arts.

    Peggy Shivers in a March 2013 photo. Christian Murdock / The Gazette

    Peggy Shivers in a March 2013 photo. Christian Murdock / The Gazette

    Clarence and Peggy also launched the Shivers Celebration of music and the arts, hosting jazz and classical concerts by world-famous musicians along with workshops and master classes for young musicians every other year.

    Clarence died in 2007 and Peggy has carried on their work. This past Thanksgiving she announced she would no longer host the celebrations.

    It made me think it was time to thank her.

    So with her 75th birthday approaching, Peggy told me she didn’t want any presents but she’d love for her friends to join her for church services June 29 at Peoples United Methodist Church on the eastern edge of Colorado Springs.

    I asked you, Side Streets readers, to grant her birthday wish.

    And I’m tickled to report you made me proud.

    More importantly, you made Peggy incredibly happy.

    On a riverboat in Budapest, Hungary, I received an email from Peggy, who sounded ecstatic.

    Here’s what she wrote:

    “Just wanted to let you know that my birthday was WONDERFUL!! The church was packed with standing room only. It was FANTASTIC. Thanks again for helping to make my wish come true.”

    Her email made my day.

    So when I got back, I called Peggy’s pastor, Bill Gamble, to get the details.

    Pastor Bill Gamble preached to a standing-room-only crowd at Peoples United Methodist Church on Sunday, June 29, 2014, as people filled it to help celebrate Peggy Shivers' 75th birthday. Photo courtesy Maui Davila Photography.

    Pastor Bill Gamble preached to a standing-room-only crowd at Peoples United Methodist Church on Sunday, June 29, 2014, as people filled it to help celebrate Peggy Shivers’ 75th birthday. Photo courtesy Maui Davila Photography.

    “It was exciting,” he said. “It was successful in a big way. We typically get 50 people for Sunday services. We prepared for over 100 and we had more than 140 that day.”

    Many were friends of Peggy’s but some were strangers who simply wanted to say thanks.

    City Councilwoman Jan Martin was there. Same for longtime community leader Mary Ellen McNally.

    There were other pastors and chaplains who attended, Gamble said, and folks of other denominations who never had visited the 111-year-old church, which was founded by freed slaves who came to Colorado Springs with the daughter and son-in-law of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

    “It was very multi-cultural,” Gamble said. “It blossomed like a rainbow. It was a great worship experience.”

    A few even promised to come back and Gamble hopes they do.

    “I had a couple Catholics come up after the service and say they enjoyed it,” Gamble said with a laugh. “I said God is here, too.

    “Hopefully, they will come back. We were glad to have them.”

    Peggy was glad, too.

    Peggy Shivers, standing in center, thanks the standing-room-only crowd at Peoples United Methodist Church on Sunday, June 29, 2014. People filled the church to celebrate Shivers' 75th birthday. Photo courtesy Maui Davila Photography.

    Peggy Shivers, standing in center, thanks the standing-room-only crowd at Peoples United Methodist Church on Sunday, June 29, 2014. People filled the church to celebrate Shivers’ 75th birthday. Photo courtesy Maui Davila Photography.

    Overwhelmed, actually, Gamble said.

    And flattered, she told me.

    “It was just wonderful,” she said. “It was just everything I wished for and more.”

    In an email, she again stressed how happy the turnout made her.

    “I greatly appreciated each and everyone who came being there,” Peggy said. “I TRULY LOVED SEEING EVERY SINGLE PERSON that attended.”

    I was sorry I couldn’t be there.

    But I’m so proud of all of you who filled the pews. Thank you.

  • Safety can be achieved for bicyclists on city streets

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

    Here are a couple videos offering great solutions for protecting folks on bicycles when they are in traffic . . . 

    DutchThis Dutch video really brings the concept to life:

    https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10151919524141983

    Dutch Roundabout

    This video shows the roundabouts and bikes:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XhqTc_wx5EU

    Finally, I liked this Smithsonian video about protected intersections.

    http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/if-your-city-had-bike-lanes-these-would-you-ride-more-1-180951812/#fVlUOOkZmrEh5Jbq.01

     

    Smithsonian

    —————–

     

     

  • A bike-sharing program would make Colorado Springs as cool as Budapest

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

    In case any of you were wondering, I spent much of the last two weeks in the Old Country, touring Europe by riverboat (imagine Huck Finn with a gourmet chef and flat-screen TV) and traveling within a few hundred miles of my grandfather’s village in Slovenia.

    I have so many stories to tell, but most will have to wait for a Life & Travel piece I will be writing.

    Bicycle sharing is an inexpensive and popular way for residents of Vienna, Austria, to get around the city. Users register at kiosks or online, using a credit card to pay the annual fee, the hourly rates and hold as a deposit on the bicycles. Cary Vogrin, a Gazette editor and wife of Side Streets columnist Bill Vogrin, selected a bike from one of many solar-powered bike stations in the city in this June 26, 2014, photo. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette.

    Bicycle sharing is an inexpensive and popular way for residents of Vienna, Austria, to get around. Users register at kiosks or online, using a credit card to pay the annual fee, the hourly rates and  pay a deposit on the bikes. Cary Vogrin, a Gazette editor and wife of Side Streets columnist Bill Vogrin, selected a bike from one of many solar-powered bike stations in the city in this June 26, 2014, photo. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette.

    For now, I want to share a revelation that my wife, Cary, and I experienced in Vienna, Austria, and again in Budapest, Hungary.

    Bicycle sharing isn’t a fresh idea, I know.

    It’s been working rather well in Denver since then-Mayor John Hickenlooper oversaw the rollout of the nation’s first large-scale program in 2010, according to friends there.

    But it would be new to Colorado Springs, and I think it would work well if the powers that be can figure out funding.

    Bicycle sharing is an inexpensive and popular way for residents of Vienna, Austria, to get around the city. Users register at kiosks or online, using a credit card to pay the annual fee, the hourly rates and hold as a deposit on the bicycles. In this June 26, 2014, photo, Cary Vogrin, a Gazette editor and wife of Side Streets columnist Bill Vogrin, cruised through a Vienna city park on a bike rented near a subway station. She rode it an hour before returning it to a solar-powered bike station several blocks away. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette.

    In this June 26, 2014, photo, Cary Vogrin, a Gazette editor and wife of Side Streets columnist Bill Vogrin, cruised through a Vienna city park on a bike rented near a subway station. She rode it an hour before returning it to a solar-powered bike station several blocks away. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette.

    As we toured Vienna, Cary and I kept noticing racks of bicycles parked at various places — in the heart of the city, around parks and retail corridors, and along the main routes leading from the Danube River, where our cruise ship was docked.

    With the help of an English-speaking Austrian, we registered, rented two bikes with a credit card and launched ourselves on a thoroughly enjoyable exploration of Vienna.

    Dodging cars was no problem as Vienna has well-defined bike lanes along its network of sidewalks.

    Dodging other bikes was another issue. Riders zoomed past us at dangerous speeds. At one point, I thought we’d stumbled into the peloton of the Tour de Austria.

    Once we adjusted to the pace, it was great. Best of all, when we were done sightseeing, we simply followed the bike lane toward the river. About three blocks from the Danube, we found a bike station, parked our bikes in the locking racks and walked the rest of the way to our ship.

    What an adventure.

    Gleaming new bicycles await riders in Budapest, Hungary, as the eastern European city prepares to launch its new bike sharing program. Solar-powered bike stations with kiosks were built at key locations thoughout the ancient city on the Danube River, offering residents and visitors an inexpensive way to get around. Users register at kiosks or online, using a credit card to pay the annual fee, the hourly rates and hold as a deposit on the bicycles, which can be returned to any station in the city, as seen in this June 29, 2014, photo. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette.

    Gleaming new bicycles await riders in Budapest, Hungary, as the city prepares to launch its new bike sharing program. Solar-powered bike stations with kiosks were built at key locations thoughout the ancient city on the Danube River, offering residents and visitors an inexpensive way to get around. Users register at kiosks or online, using a credit card to pay the annual fee, the hourly rates and hold as a deposit on the bicycles, which can be returned to any station in the city, as seen in this June 29, 2014, photo. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette.

    We saw dozens of gleaming new bikes in similar racks stationed around Budapest.

    But we could only admire them because that ancient city’s program is still in the testing phase.

    All we could think about was how great it would be if Colorado Springs had a bike sharing program for commuters and tourists.

    Of course, it would require better bike lanes and greater connectivity of the existing bike trails.B-cycle

    When I got home, I researched bike sharing programs and was surprised to find how common they are in the U.S. I was aware that Denver had a B-cycle program with 700 bicycles scattered across 80 stations.

    And I was not stunned to learn it exists in Boulder as well. But there’s a long list of cities, many I consider less outdoor-oriented than Colorado Springs, with bike sharing programs.

    Susan Edmondson, president and chief executive officer, Downtown Partnership of Colorado Springs

    Susan Edmondson, president and chief executive officer, Downtown Partnership of Colorado Springs

    So I called my friend Susan Edmonson, president and CEO of the Downtown Partnership of Colorado Springs, to ask about prospects for bike sharing.

    She is a huge supporter of anything that enhances the quality of life in the Springs and has sponsored and promoted events such as fun downtown rides.

    Edmonson gave me hope but was honest about the challenges facing urban bikers in the region.

    First, she noted the city has hired a bicycle transportation coordinator to work on things such as trail connectivity and bike lanes.

    “For a bike sharing program to be successful, we need good bike infrastructure,” she said.

    That also means more pedestrian bridges and tunnels at intersections to keep cars and bikes safely away from each other. What’s important is that people are studying these issues and looking for solutions.

    Colorado Springs City Councilwoman Jill Gaebler

    Colorado Springs City Councilwoman Jill Gaebler

    One of the folks leading the conversations is City Councilwoman Jill Gaebler, who is pursuing a B-cycle program for the Springs because of all the benefits that spin off from a community that embraces pedal power.

    People who bike generally are healthier. Bikes don’t pollute or use fuel or sit and idle in traffic jams. But there are reasons cities such as Fort Collins have bike sharing programs and we don’t.

    “I live in the Patty Jewett neighborhood,” Gaebler told me. “My goal is to bike downtown twice a week. But it’s not as safe a ride as I’d like it to be. We need to make it safer to ride bikes on our streets.”

    So she’s attacking the issue on several fronts. For example, she and her advocacy group are working with city traffic engineers to identify core routes to be improved.

    “If you ride, you know there are 10 to 20 little junctions that need to happen to make this a really rideable city,” she said. “We need to get the inner-connectivity piece done well so they are safe and comfortable for people.”

    Gaebler also is looking at the best structure for a ride share program.

    “Our goal is to create a nonprofit organization to oversee it,” she said.

    Then there is the basic funding question: rely on user fees or find grants and sponsors to finance the program?

    “Relying totally on user fees just doesn’t work,” she said. “I think we’ll need sponsors who will sponsor a bike station, for example.”

    The advocacy group, which met Monday night, includes Allen Beauchamp, who describes himself as a diehard local cycling advocate. He came on board as a skeptic, but he talks like a believer.

    Beauchamp is a card-carrying member of Denver’s B-cycle program because he loves being able to drive north, park, get on a bike and take a 20-30 minute ride to his destination.

    But he worries if Springs residents will embrace the concept and pay say $50 a year to get access to the bikes.

    “It would be really nice for people working downtown to hop on a bike at lunch and take a ride without giving up their parking spot,” Beauchamp said. “Or to hop on a bike to ride to a meeting that is just beyond walking distance. Or to go to lunch.”

    The Denver program offers four options for access to the bikes: $8 daily, $20 weekly, $30 monthly and $80 annually. Members of the program then can ride any bike free for 30 minutes and pay only $1 for an hour.

    Rates for a Springs system are one of the things the group is discussing. Gaebler envisions a community conversation about the program once her group’s work gets further along.

    B-cycle 2But already it has identified logical routes to link key parts of the city.

    Bicycle enthusiasts hope to start by connecting downtown with the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and the North Nevada Avenue shopping district as well as Colorado College, the Penrose and Memorial hospital campuses, the Ivywild neighborhood to the south and Old Colorado City and Manitou Springs to the west.

    I’d add Garden of the Gods along with a route east to The Citadel mall area.

    How convenient would it be to rent a bike at Woodmen Road, ride it downtown, drop it off at a rack and know that another bike would be there when you want to leave?

    We’d be as cool as Budapest! 

    _______

  • Buried treasure actually story of mystery, intrigue revolving around eccentric Colorado Springs man

    Sun, June 22, 2014 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

     

    A national cable television audience watched as Don McNamara's 1967 Corvette coupe was auctioned for $725,000 in April by Mecum Auctions in Houston. Courtesy Mecum Auctions.

    A national cable television audience watched as Don McNamara’s 1967 Corvette coupe was auctioned for $725,000 in April by Mecum Auctions in Houston. Courtesy Mecum Auctions.

    This started out as a story of buried treasure.

    Then it turned into the story of mystery and intrigue.

    And buried treasure.

    But it’s mostly about a man given up for adoption as an infant, who found himself alone late in life when his adopted parents died and his short marriage ended without children, only to be adopted once more and embraced by a whole new family.

    First, the buried treasure.

    Don McNamara's treasured 1967 Corvette as it appeared after in his one-car garage behind his modest home on Wolfe Avenue. McNamara parked the car in 1968 with just 2,996 miles on it and never drove it again. Courtesy photo.

    Don McNamara’s treasured 1967 Corvette as it appeared after in his one-car garage behind his modest home on Wolfe Avenue. McNamara parked the car in 1968 with just 2,996 miles on it and never drove it again. Courtesy photo.

    It was a pristine 1967 Corvette coupe, with less than 3,000 miles, which was left buried under a pile of blankets, a U.S. flag and a flag of the Marine Corps.

    This sweet Corvette was unrestored and worth a small fortune in the supercharged world of classic car collectors.

    It was white with a red stinger stripe and red interior.

    Under the hood was a 427-cubic-inch, 390-horsepower engine with a manual, four-speed transmission.

    It was equipped with a “Positraction” rear end, tinted glass, telescopic steering wheel, AM/FM radio, side exhaust and aluminum wheels. It had no power steering, power brakes or anything to drain juice from the rear tires.

    In other words, it was a four-wheeled, fiberglass rocket.

    The interior of Don McNamara's 1967 Corvette coupe. It was found under a pile of blankets and flags. Courtesy photo.

    The interior of Don McNamara’s 1967 Corvette coupe. It was found under a pile of blankets and flags. Courtesy photo.

    And from May 1968 until 2011, the Corvette sat parked in a one-car garage behind a modest home on Wolfe Avenue near South 8th Street and West Cheyenne Boulevard.

    The reason the rocket stopped flying down area roads was a mystery and part of the larger story of its intriguing owner, Donald J. McNamara.

    McNamara was 74 when he died in July 2011 and he had no relatives.

    But he did have family. And they are the folks who helped unravel McNamara’s fascinating life story.

    The sales receipt for Don McNamara's 1967 Corvette coupe. The couple that inherited his estate found he kept detailed paperwork on his treasured car. Courtesy photo.

    The sales receipt for Don McNamara’s 1967 Corvette coupe. The couple that inherited his estate found he kept detailed paperwork on his treasured car. Courtesy photo.

    They are also the lucky folks who inherited his estate, including the ’67 Corvette that was known to a select few car collectors in town.

    But they don’t want their identity revealed. They are put off by the national fame achieved by the “McNamara Corvette” as a result of a publicity campaign designed to generate interest and bidders when the car was put on the auction block in a nationally televised event in April.

    They want to respect McNamara’s memory as a private person and don’t want to be viewed as profiting on their friendship with him. And the couple doesn’t want to be targeted by strangers who might learn they enjoyed a windfall from the sale of the Corvette.

    That’s a shame because it’s a great story and they deserve recognition for how they befriended a man with no relatives and welcomed him into their lives, embracing him as if he was their own flesh and blood.

    The couple helped me piece together McNamara’s life story, starting with his birth in September 1936 and his adoption a short time later.

    His father was a used car dealer on south 8th Street, not far from the family home. McNamara served a hitch with the Marines in 1956-60 and returned home to become a window glazer. The couple told me he spoke with pride of working on the glass in the Air Force Academy chapel.

    The couple said that sometime after getting out of the Marines, McNamara went to Las Vegas and won $5,000 playing the slot machines. He used his winnings to special order a new Corvette, seeking out a Chevrolet dealer in Lamar who gave him the best deal.

    According to extensive paperwork related to the car found in McNamara’s home, he paid $5,504 for his car, taking delivery on May 20, 1967.

    The odometer on Don McNamara's 1967 Corvette  coupe showed just 2,996 miles. Courtesy photo.

    The odometer on Don McNamara’s 1967 Corvette coupe showed just 2,996 miles. Courtesy photo.

    This is where the mystery and intrigue come in. For some reason, McNamara stopped driving his Corvette with just 2,996 miles on the odometer.

    He parked it in the little garage behind his family home.

    And he turned the garage into a Corvette shrine, covering its walls with memorabilia.

    In the following years, McNamara married and divorced and never had children. And it seems he spent his later years as something of a recluse.

    That is, until about 1991 when McNamara was introduced to a car collector who heard of the legendary Corvette from friends in the car upholstery business.

    “They told me about the Corvette and said he wouldn’t let anybody see it,” the man, who insisted on anonymity, explained to me. “I said I’d like to meet him and see the car. So they arranged for me to go over to his house.

    “We sat in the living room and talked quite a while. Maybe two hours. Finally, I asked if I could take a look at his car. At first he was very reluctant to let me see it. Finally he got comfortable with me and he said OK.”

    The executors of Don McNamara's estate found this photo folded up on his wallet after his death in 2011. Courtesy photo.

    The executors of Don McNamara’s estate found this photo folded up on his wallet after his death in 2011. Courtesy photo.

    The car was hidden beneath at least nine blankets and the two flags, the man said.

    “He said the number of people who had seen that car could be counted on one hand,” he said.

    That meeting began a friendship that would last until McNamara’s death. In fact, the two men became so close they met every weekday for coffee, sitting at a cafe on South Nevada Avenue from 6-7:30 a.m. chatting about cars.

    While the man was very fond of McNamara, he confessed his friend was a bit eccentric.

    “He was an odd bird,” the man said. “He wouldn’t leave the city limits of Colorado Springs for anything.

    “And he didn’t have many friends because he didn’t want to.”

    He said McNamara would sometimes tease him about the Corvette.

    “Don would say: ‘I bet you wish you had my Corvette’ and things like that,” the man said. “I always said I didn’t want it. I believe anybody who turn that odometer to 3,000 miles ought to be strung up. So if I’m not going to drive it, what good is it? I wasn’t going to put it up on a pedestal in an air-conditioned garage and look at it.”

    Don McNamara’s 1967 Corvette coupe as it awaited sale by Mecum Auctions in Houston. It eventually sold in April for $725,000. Courtesy photo.

    Eventually, he introduced McNamara to his wife and they formed a close bond.

    “Donnie was like my little brother,” she said. “He was my husband’s best friend and a very dear friend of mine.”

    How close, I asked.

    “Donnie started coming to family birthday parties and Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas dinner,” she said. “Our kids and our grandkids were Donnie’s, too.”

    Over the years, she started handling all of McNamara’s personal affairs — bookkeeping and taxes and ferrying him to doctor’s appointments and things.

    “We used to kid him about being the baby of the family,” she said.

    Finally, McNamara let the wife see the car one day. Her husband was there, too. It was a special day.

    Don McNamara's 1967 Corvette coupe as it sat in the one-car garage behind his modest home on Wolfe Avenue. McNamara parked the car in 1968 and never drove it again. Courtesy photo.

    Don McNamara’s 1967 Corvette coupe as it sat in the one-car garage behind his modest home on Wolfe Avenue. McNamara parked the car in 1968 and never drove it again. Courtesy photo.

    “I’d known him about 10 years before I got to see it,” she said. “I’d heard about this car and I didn’t have any idea if he really had a car.”

    But he did. Definitely did.

    “It was gorgeous,” she said.

    Her husband was with her for the visit.

    “Before Don died, I saw that car twice . . . the first time 20 years ago and the second time 19 years later,” he said.

    He said McNamara claimed no one ever rode in the passenger seat of his Corvette and he was the only person who ever drove it.

    When McNamara died, the couple inherited his estate, including the car.

    The man knew the Corvette would be coveted by collectors and contacted an appraiser in Illinois who came out, arranged for it to be shipped to his business in Bloomington so it could be displayed and marketed.

    The couple sold it to a man in West Virginia who then contracted to auction it off, choosing Mecum Auctions in Houston to handle the deal.

    The “McNamara Corvette” was heavily promoted in recent months building on the mystery and intrigue and even creating a legend that McNamara only drove the Corvette to The Broadmoor hotel on moonlit nights.

    It all sounded pretty goofy to me. Neighbors reportedly never heard anything and it would have been impossible to muffle the sound of that rocket roaring to life and pulling out of the garage.

    So I asked the couple and they said emphatically that McNamara never drove the car after 1968 for a simple reason: money.

    “He lived like a pauper,” the man said. “In May 1968, the tags expired. He didn’t have the money to renew the tags or his insurance. So he just quit driving it.”

    His wife agreed, insisting McNamara would never risk getting pulled over by police in a car with no license or insurance.

    The car, the extensive paperwork and the legend was powerful enough to drive the price to $725,000 when it was sold by Mecum Auctions in Houston in April.

    062214 Side Streets 10

    Don McNamara’s 1967 Corvette coupe really sparkled after it was removed from his garage, and taken to Bloomington, Ill., and polished for sale. Courtesy photo.

    Everyone, it seemed, was talking about McNamara and his Corvette. When an 8 percent commission was added, the final price came to $783,000.

    And that, the couple said, would not make McNamara happy.

    “He would be mortified,” the woman said. “Just absolutely mortified. That is not who Donnie was. He was a very private person. We adored him. We have such fond memories of him.”

    She said he wouldn’t want to be remembered for the commotion over the car.

    “Don was an interesting fellow and a good friend,” she said. “He is missed on a daily basis.”

  • Retired Colorado Springs parks director sculpts nicest lawn in city

    Fri, June 20, 2014 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Paul Butcher, retired Colorado Springs parks director, has sculpted his Rockrimmon lawn into a golf course putting green. Mark Reis / The Gazette

    Paul Butcher, retired Colorado Springs parks director, has sculpted his Rockrimmon lawn into a golf course putting green. Mark Reis / The Gazette

    Doesn’t it seem like there’s always one guy in the neighborhood whose lawn puts all others to shame?

    You know the type. These people create tsunamis on their yards and pile on more manure than I use in my Side Streets columns to produce a lush green carpet you’d expect to see in a rain forest.

    Then they stand behind the curtains in their living room and watch as passersby stop to admire their work.

    Don’t ya just hate those people? (I confess I say that as a man with a zeroscaped front yard. And I do mean zeroscaped.)

    OK. I don’t hate them. I’m sure they are perfectly nice. (Even if they have nothing better to do than crawl around on their hands and knees pulling weeds and clipping stray leaves of grass.)

    In truth, I admire them. I know how much work it takes to produce a beautiful lawn.

    In my neighborhood, that lawn is the pride and joy of Paul Butcher.

    What else would you expect from our retired parks director?

    When he still ran the city’s parks, I used to tease Paul of sending maintenance crews by to keep his lawn looking so good.

    Turned out I hadn’t seen nothing yet.

    After he retired in 2010, Paul took his lawn to a new level. A whole new dimension, really.

    Paul Butcher at his retirement in 2010

    Paul Butcher at his retirement in 2010

    Through painstaking, daily effort, Paul has sculpted one beautiful lawn.

    I’m not talking about fancy flower beds, or lawn art or fountains, ponds or other distractions.

    I’m talking about the green, leafy stuff. Nothing else.

    His little lawn puts some golf courses to shame.

    In fact, it looks like one. A putting green, surrounded by rough.

    Paul even added a finishing touch or two.

    A golf ball sits in the middle near a tall red flag painted with his name and 93 — his house number. (Either that, or it’s the 93rd hole!)

    This lawn is such a thing of beauty it caught the eye of Side Streets reader Paul Miller, the recently retired founder of the PGA Golf Management Program at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

    Miller wrote me an email asking for the story behind the golf green lawn, calling it a “work of art.”

    It’s definitely beautiful and certain a lot of work.

    “I usually mow it daily,” Butcher said. “Certainly no less than every other day.”

    And here I thought he was retired.

    “I like to mow,” Paul said, sensing my disbelief. “It’s fun to me.”

    And when he’s not mowing, he stays busy sharpening the blade on his mower.

    “I sharpen the blade every third time I use it,” Paul said. “It’s gotta be sharp to cut the grass that low.”

    (People sharpen their mower blades? Who knew?)

    This is when I started quizzing Paul, trying to get to the root of his success. I figured he was using some secret sauce to cultivate such a spectacular lawn. At the least, he must be turning it into a swamp.

    So, Paul, how many thousands of gallons of water do you use a day, I asked politely.

    “I never water my lawn more than 10 minutes every other day,” he replied.

    (That’s approximately the same schedule I follow for bathing.)

    If water isn’t the trick, he must be using an experimental “black market” fertilizer. Or maybe the secret is a genetically modified, mutant strain of grass seed.

    “I fertilize once a month with the cheapest fertilizer on the market,” he said, laughing at my questions. “And I use common Kentucky bluegrass.”

    Finally, I got the truth about how he grows such an amazing lawn.

    “I’m a fiend about watering in the winter,” Paul said. “I water my lawn every two weeks, all winter long. My grass never goes dormant. It’s still green at the ground level.”

    How, I wondered, did he stumble onto his winter watering strategy?

    “I’m a turf grass guy,” he said. “My undergraduate degree in college was turfgrass science.”

    So, what’s next for the best lawn in the city?

    Paul said he’s got a couple ideas.

    “I was thinking about adding a sand trap,” he said, chuckling. “But I was looking at it the other day and when fall comes around, I think I’ll do a football end zone and put the Broncos’ logo in.”

    balding

    Side Streets columnist Bill Vogrin

    Actually, I look forward to seeing Paul’s next creation as he spends his retirement “lawnscaping” as he calls it.

    And I have a couple more thoughts.

    Would his winter watering strategy work on my bald head?

    And if he’s having so much fun, maybe he’d like to wander down the street to my house with his seed and fertilizer and mower and work his magic. Heck, I wouldn’t expect him to mow more than once a month.

  • Colorado Springs native, recent Pulizter Prize winner, heads to New York Times

    Wed, June 18, 2014 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Side Streets columnist Bill Vogrin, left, and Dave Philipps, winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for national reporting, pose in the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum before a portrait of Colorado Springs founder Gen. William Jackson Palmer, a Civil War hero and railroad baron who also founded The Gazette. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Side Streets columnist Bill Vogrin, left, and Dave Philipps, winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for national reporting, pose in the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum before a portrait of Colorado Springs founder Gen. William Jackson Palmer, a Civil War hero and railroad baron who also founded The Gazette. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Today, just two months after we gave Dave Philipps a champagne toast in the newsroom to celebrate winning the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting, we are honoring him again.

    It’s his last day at The Gazette.

    He is leaving us to join the New York Times, where he’ll start on Monday.

    Gazette Managing Editor Joanna Bean, Dave Philipps and photographer Michael Ciaglo pop champagne in April to celebrate winning the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting. Mark Reis / The Gazette

    Gazette Managing Editor Joanna Bean, Dave Philipps and photographer Michael Ciaglo pop champagne in April to celebrate winning the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting. Mark Reis / The Gazette

    I applaud Dave, 36, for reaching what I consider the pinnacle destination in our profession. He deserves it as much as any reporter I’ve ever known. And in my 20 years at The Gazette, I’ve seen some good ones.

    Dave is proof of what I used to tell prospective reporters when I was hiring as City Editor.

    The Gazette is a place where you can do great work because it has an atmosphere that encourages reporters to think big. This attitude has produced two Pulitzer Prizes, national military writing awards, national religion writing honors and prestigious prizes for photos and designand our Lifestyle and Sports sections. I’m confident there will more accolades in our future.

    But today we are bidding farewell to Dave, who bounced into our old newsroom on South Prospect Street in 2002 as a brash intern ready to show all us oldtimers how this journalism thing is done.

    I didn’t know it at the time but Dave grew up here, on the campus of the Fountain Valley School where his late father, Glenn, taught history for years.

    His mother, Peggy, still lives in Colorado Springs after retiring as an elementary school teacher.

    He arrived at The Gazette after stints doing construction work (he’s skinny as a 2-by-4!) and as a ski bum, er ski instructor.

    “I can get down the hill OK,” Dave said modestly.

    His first day should have been an omen . . . it was the day the Hayman fire erupted near Lake George. He came armed with an environmental studies degree from Middlebury College in Vermont and a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University in New York.

    It was immediately obvious he was confident in his abilities and unafraid to push boundaries.

    “I just wanted to write,” Dave said. “Journalism is a way to engage people and connect with people. It’s not an academic practice.”

    By the time his summer internship was over, Dave felt ready to jump right in as a fulltime employee.

    But he had to wait for an opening about six months later when we hired him as a outdoors writer specializing in hiking, skiing and other fun pursuits.

    “It was a dream job,” he said. “They were going to pay me to have fun in the Rockies.”

    Dave threw himself into the job.

    “I wanted it to appear to readers like it was totally awesome, which it was,” Dave said laughing.

    I remember resenting this skinny kid who we paid to play.

    Then I started hating him when he became our food critic. (It wasn’t enough he specialized in recreation, we had to feed him too?)

    But I couldn’t ignore his talent. His early writing taught me about hiking and biking and camping and skiing with thoroughly researched stories that always included entertaining turns of phrase.

    Dave Philipps, winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for national reporting, studies an exhibit at the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum on June, 17, 2014, about the life of Colorado Springs founder Gen. William Jackson Palmer, a Civil War hero and railroad baron who also founded The Gazette. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Dave Philipps, winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for national reporting, studies an exhibit at the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum on June, 17, 2014, about the life of Colorado Springs founder Gen. William Jackson Palmer, a Civil War hero and railroad baron who also founded The Gazette. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    And soon he was revealing his appreciation for the history of The Gazette, of Colorado Springs and, of course, founder Gen. William Jackson Palmer. How could I dislike someone who shared my passions?

    He loves to cite the trivia of The Gazette.

    “The Gazette building was the first school, and the first firehouse and the first two-story building in the city,” Dave said, repeating one of his favorite sayings.

    “And we’re the oldest surviving non-taxpayer funded institution in the city. That’s really cool. We get up each morning and have to figure out how to keep the lights on.”

    I wondered where he got his love of history.

    “My dad was a history teacher,” he said. “We spent every summer in an orange Volkswagen bus touring history sites.”

    Then he started producing cartoons to tell stories. I began looking forward to see how Dave would surprise me next.

    The biggest surprise would come in 2009 when Dave dove into an investigation of post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, among returning combat troops at Fort Carson.

    In just about any newsroom it would be an audacious move for a skiing writer/food critic to grab a hard news story. But Dave didn’t care.

    He’d been watching the headlines we were churning out about soldiers coming back from combat tours only to wreak havoc at home in a series of violent crimes and murders.

    Dave Philipps and Joanna Bean at the Pulitzer Prize award banquet June 17, 2014, at Columbia University in New York.

    Writer Dave Philipps and Gazette Managing Editor Joanna Bean at the Pulitzer Prize award banquet May 28, 2014, at Columbia University in New York.

    Hanging out with his wife, Amanda, whom he met in college and was a public defender, and her friends, Dave gained a different perspective on the soldiers and their crimes and, with the encouragement of his editor, Joanna Bean, he started digging.

    “I felt there was a real need to explain what was going on,” Dave told me. “We needed to take a step back and consider the bigger forces at work. We owed it to these guys, who are the kernel of why this community exists. These soldiers.”

    His research produced the “Casualties of War” series that uncovered PTSD and traumatic brain injuries among our troops. The series was a runner-up in Pulitzer voting in 2010. He later wrote a book “Lethal Warriors” based on his stories.

    Dave was not a one-hit wonder.

    Remember his stories about the bogus psychiatrist?

    Or his exposé about wild horses being rounded up and shipped to Mexican slaughterhouses despite promises from federal officials they would not be harmed?

    Or his investigation of Colorado Springs Utilities’ questionable investment of millions in ratepayer money in unproven scrubber technology?

    And I haven’t even mentioned how Dave convinced sources to talk on the record about El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa and produce hundreds of sexually charged emails, even a half-naked selfie, he is accused of sending to women he supervises.

    And I think he could have won many awards for his reporting last fall that uncovered a secret snitch squad among cadets at the Air Force Academy.

    Of course, the biggest prize came in April for his three-day series “Other than Honorable,” which examined how wounded combat veterans were being discharged from the Army and stripped of benefits for offenses likely caused by their war injuries.

    His stories reveal a reporter who is fearless and dedicated to standing up to those in authority and those in power on behalf of the helpless. Exactly what the best reporters, editors and newspapers should be. It’s what The Gazette has been doing during my 20 years.

    He’s also a fun guy to hang out with at lunch or after work. I’m going to miss him.

    But I have hope that maybe we haven’t seen the last of Dave.

    Deep down I harbor a feeling that Dave, Amanda — a graduate of the University of Colorado law school — and their kids might be back someday.

    After all, Dave’s a hometown boy.

    Colorado Springs founder Gen. William Jackson Palmer, a Civil War hero and railroad baron who also founded The Gazette, is seen in a photo exhibit at the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Colorado Springs founder Gen. William Jackson Palmer, a Civil War hero and railroad baron who also founded The Gazette, is seen in a photo exhibit at the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    And his beloved Gen. Palmer is here. Always will be. And we all know how much Dave loves the founder of Colorado Springs. He can’t just leave Gen. Palmer behind forever, can he?

    “I will miss Gen. Palmer deeply,” Dave said.

    Heck, he came back twice already. Remember, he left for college. Then he left the Gazette in 2011 to attend a journalism fellowship at CU in Boulder. But he returned in October 2012 and immediately picked up where he’d left off . . . reporting about those in authority who were not doing the right things.

    But for now, I’m just wishing him the best as he heads to Gotham City and the Times, which counts among its prestigious ranks ex-Gazetteers including sports writer Lynn Zinser, sports copy editors Greg McElvain and Melissa Hoppert and 2013 Pulitzer Prize-winning sports writer John Branch.

    I’m proud of all of them. Like Dave, they are all really great people. And I miss them all.

    So good luck, Dave. I know you’ll kick some butt.

    As a parting gift, he bestowed on me his local history book collection.

    Thanks, Dave. I appreciate it. I’ll mine it for columns. And I’ll take good care of it so it will be around for years.

    Until you return.

    Dave Philipps

    Dave Philipps

  • Scandalous behavior by El Paso County sheriffs is not new

    Sun, June 15, 2014 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    You might think the Pikes Peak region has never seen anything like the headline-grabbing scandal that has left El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa disgraced and apologizing for “inappropriate behavior” as authorities investigate and his fellow elected officials line up to demand his resignation.

    El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa

    El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa

    No doubt you’ve heard the accusations that Maketa had inappropriate relationships with three female subordinates in his office, even sending one a half-naked selfie.

    He’s also accused of dismantling oversight of the county budget, creating a hostile work environment, using taxpayer money to travel with the women and giving them raises and promotions despite questionable qualifications.

    Then there’s the missing Internal Affairs file. Five employees allege the file disappeared as part of a dirty tricks campaign by Maketa, whom they accuse along with Undersheriff Paula Presley of evidence tampering, attempting to influence a public official, bribing a witness, witness intimidation and misuse of official information.

    If you are like me, you are thinking we’ve never had such behavior from our sheriff.

    You’d be wrong.

    The Colorado Springs Weekly Gazette, Sept. 26, 1901. Courtesy Pikes Peak Library District

    The Colorado Springs Weekly Gazette, Sept. 26, 1901. Courtesy Pikes Peak Library District

    I certainly was. Because I’d never heard of William R. Gilbert.

    Gilbert first showed up on the front page of the Colorado Springs Weekly Gazette on Sept. 26, 1901, as one of the GOP nominees for county office.

    A large photo showed a clean-shaved man with slicked-back hair in a coat, white shirt and bow tie sternly looking off camera.

    The story described Gilbert as a 43-year-old Iowa native and a high school graduate who had managed a wholesale flour and feed store, then worked as a carpenter before starting a career working for railroads in Iowa and Kansas.

    Gilbert became ill and moved to Colorado where he worked for the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad as foreman of bridges and building between Denver and Pueblo.

    In January 1898, he became superintendent of bridges, building and water service on the Colorado Midland Railway — the first standard-gauge railroad built over the Continental Divide. It ran from Colorado Springs to Leadville and on to Glenwood Springs and Grand Junction.

    His 20-year-old son, Merle, also worked for the Colorado Midland.

    Gilbert was a Mason, a Shriner, a member of the Elks and the Woodmen of the World, a fraternal organization responsible for bringing many “lungers” to the Pikes Peak region seeking a cure for tuberculosis at a sanitarium of open air huts it built on Mount Saint Francis.

    Sounds like a typical politician. What was so scandalous about him, I wondered?

    So I called a couple of history experts, Bill Thomas, photo archivist at the Pikes Peak Library District, and folks in the archives section at the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum for some research help.

    Boom!

    Next thing I know, I’m reading some not-so-typical stories about Gilbert.

    Standard Mill, left, and Philadelphia Smelting & Refining Mill, right, with houses in foreground and Pikes Peak in background. Courtesy Pikes Peak Library District.

    Standard Mill, left, and Philadelphia Smelting & Refining Mill, right, with houses in foreground and Pikes Peak in background. Courtesy Pikes Peak Library District.

    First came stories suggesting Gilbert helped incite the labor wars of 1903-04 in the Cripple Creek mining district, a violent and deadly conflict that led to mine owners breaking the union.

    Then I saw a little story about his marriage, his “dual life” and his quickie divorce!

    Perhaps you are wondering how the El Paso County sheriff was blamed for inciting labor wars in Cripple Creek. It started with efforts by the Western Federation of Miners to organize smeltermen at the mills in Colorado City, now the west side of Colorado Springs.

    Assorted books, including “The Colorado Labor Wars: Cripple Creek 1903-1904” published in 2006 by the Pikes Peak Library District, explained Gilbert’s role.

    In August 1902, the union organized the Colorado City Mill and Smeltermen’s Union No. 125, whose members worked at the Standard, Portland and Telluride mills.

    Spencer Penrose

    Spencer Penrose

    The owners of the Standard — Broadmoor founder Spencer Penrose, his close friend Charles Tutt and Charles MacNeill, the mill’s general manager — opposed the union. So the Standard Mill hired a Pinkerton detective who infiltrated the union. The mill then fired 42 union workers.

    The union demanded their reinstatement and the mill refused, prompting the smeltermen to strike on Feb. 14, 1903.

    Under Gilbert’s watch, sheriff’s deputies provided security for the mill at the owners’ expense.

    Then Gilbert deputized MacNeill for the duration of the strike.

    The mill hired strike-breakers, causing tensions to mount along the picket lines. Gilbert responded by appointing 70 deputies for strike duty.

    But MacNeill wanted more troops to protect the mill.

    So Gilbert asked Gov. James Peabody to send in the state militia, falsely claiming the striking smeltermen were rioting. Published reports said there were periodic brawls but no rioting. In fact, the arrival of National Guard troops and subsequent military occupation was opposed by many in Colorado City, the books report.

    The troops caused tensions to escalate and miners in the Cripple Creek mining district went on strike in sympathy with the smeltermen. That’s where the conflict turned violent and resulted in about 30 deaths due to suspicious explosions and a cable car death.

    Historians say Gilbert’s request for Peabody to send in troops is to blame for much of what happened.

    William R. Gilbert, circa 1901, courtesy Pikes Peak Library District

    William R. Gilbert, circa 1901, courtesy Pikes Peak Library District

    But he defiantly defended his actions in his April 28, 1904, letter of resignation, while acknowledging he’d been “subjected to severe criticism and, on some occasions, scathing denunciation for doing what I believed then and still believe to have been my duty.”

    Gilbert said he was honest and conscientious as sheriff, an apparent response to allegations he illegally conspired with mill owners.

    “I feel that no apology is necessary for any of my official acts,” Gilbert wrote, adding that despite the “unpleasantness in the past,” he would “bear no malice or ill will toward any citizen of El Paso County.”

    With that, he disappeared to work in Nevada or Los Angeles, according to various newsclips.
    But that wasn’t the end of his headline-generating days.

    There was one more mention of him in Colorado Springs, with his wife, Harriet, and son, Merle.

    The Colorado Springs Gazette, Nov. 27, 1906

    The Colorado Springs Gazette, Nov. 27, 1906

    It was a Nov. 27, 1906, Gazette story under the headline: “MRS. GILBERT FREED.”

    It was a four-paragraph story describing how Harriet showed up at the El Paso County Courthouse shortly before closing on the previous day seeking a divorce.

    She accused Gilbert of “extreme cruelty” and wanted no alimony from her husband of 26 years.

    “A jury was quickly secured and a divorce granted with in a few minutes,” the story reported.

    Although Gilbert had been seen in Colorado Springs for several days, he did not appear at the divorce hearing.

    Only Harriet and their son, Merle, testified, detailing Gilbert’s cruelty.

    “A pointed feature of the complainant’s evidence was the statement that her husband had admitted to her that he had led a dual life during the three years prior to their departure from Colorado Springs,” the story reported.

    Dual life, huh?

    Experts say Harriet was able to file for divorce here because of the “extreme cruelty exception” and the fact the abuse — either mental or physical — occurred in Colorado.

    City directories and other records show Hattie, as she was known, stayed and lived with Merle and his family. She died in 1932 and is buried in Evergreen Cemetery.

    Gilbert’s fate is unknown. He seemed to vanish. (Leaving no half-naked selfies behind.)

    You know, you can’t make this stuff up.

  • HOA Czar coming to host public forum on water issues

    Fri, June 13, 2014 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

     

    Colorado HOA Information Officer Gary Kujawski in a March 2013 file photo.

    Colorado HOA Information Officer Gary Kujawski in a March 2013 file photo.

    HOA Fans!
    Gary Kujawski, the HOA czar from Denver, is coming to the Springs to host an HOA forum focusing on water issues affecting neighborhoods.

    Date: Wednesday, June 18
    Time: 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. 
    Location: Colorado Springs Utilities Conservation and Environmental Center

    Mesa Conference Room

    2855 Mesa Road Colorado Springs, CO 80904

    Free but Seats MUST BE RESERVED. Limited to 130 attendees.

    Please RSVP to: Fkinder@csu.org
    or
    cynthia.aguilar@state.co.us

    _____

  • Disaster strikes Chestnut Street Bypass as Colorado Springs women predicted

    Fri, June 13, 2014 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    A car careened around curve on the new Chestnut Street bypass, jumped the sidewalk and crashed into the concrete wall that separates Parker Street from the bypass. Residents at the end of Parker predicted such disasters when the bypass was proposed. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    A car careened around curve on the new Chestnut Street bypass, jumped the sidewalk and crashed into the concrete wall that separates Parker Street from the bypass. Residents at the end of Parker predicted such disasters when the bypass was proposed. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Next-door neighbors Ruth Wagner and Phyllis Smith predicted this would happen.

    They warned Colorado Springs officials the Chestnut Street bypass would be a disaster.

    Now, just six months or so after the new bypass opened with its stamped concrete privacy wall, an out-of-control motorist has struck the wall.

    Careened over the sidewalk and crashed into the corner post right in front of the Wagner home, leaving a trail of skid marks on the sidewalk, car parts in the gravel and cracked concrete and a wobbly post in its wake.

    The midnight Sunday wreck is the fulfillment of everything Ruth and Phyllis knew would happen. And, they believe, it’s a precursor of things to come. Perhaps next time the driver won’t walk away and the car won’t be stopped by the wall.

    Ruth Wagner describes how  cars roar around the new Chestnut Street bypass. Her home is directly behind it. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Ruth Wagner describes how cars roar around the new Chestnut Street bypass. Her home is directly behind it. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    “This is the first time and it won’t be the last,” Ruth said as she picked a wheel cover out of the gravel next to the smashed post.

    “They use this bypass as a racetrack out here,” she said as, on queue, a stream of cars loudly accelerated around the curve. “This is just what we said was going to happen.”

    The bypass was the city’s solution to a troublesome intersection a block east of where Chestnut Street, Fillmore Street and Interstate 25 exit/entrance ramps all converged.

    But rather than route Chestnut in a tunnel under Fillmore to simplify the intersection, as engineers preferred, the city chose the cheapest solution of rerouting it west, to where Parker Street met Fillmore. In the process, Parker was turned into a long dead-end street.

    Motorists ignore the signs and speed up Parker Street only to confront the wall separating the Chestnut Street bypass. Most cars whip U turns and race back down, creating a dangerous situation, neighbors say. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Motorists ignore the signs and speed up Parker Street only to confront the wall separating the Chestnut Street bypass. Most cars whip U turns and race back down, creating a dangerous situation, neighbors say. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Two gas stations and several homes on Chestnut were bought and razed along with a handful of homes on the east side of Parker Street, leaving those on the west side isolated behind an ugly wall.

    The final product, Ruth and Phyllis agree, is worse than they ever imagined.

    Instead of a quiet street where they socialized with neighbors all around, today Ruth and Phyllis sit at the end of a dead end road which, despite obvious signs, attracts a steady stream of oblivious drivers who speed up Parker until they slam on their brakes when confronted with the wall and whip U turns.

    No longer do Ruth and Phyllis look at trees and homes across the street. Today, they look at the wall and cars on Fillmore and at the new gas station across the street and on the interstate beyond.

    Rather than having a peaceful place to raise kids, they have a dangerous racetrack where cars roar around the curve. Or the cars sit and idle, producing clouds of exhaust and an obnoxious mix of engine noise and pounding bass from ridiculously loud car stereos.

    Parker Street Bypass Z“It’s horrible,” Phyllis said, waving her arm at the cars lined up 10 deep waiting for the light to change.

    “This is why I wanted the city to buy me out, too,” said Phyllis, who is 83 and lived in her home 55 years.

    Both women wanted the city to take their homes when they bought out neighbors’ homes as part of the $7 million bypass project.

    I wrote about them several times over the years and their pleas to be spared from the bypass.

    I never understood why the city thought it was OK to block their access to their homes, take away their street parking and replace it with a wall.

    I wrote that the city would never dream of building such a monstrosity in a more affluent neighborhood where homeowners with political clout and money would make their lives miserable.

    It seemed obvious to me the city should have ponied up the extra bucks to remove them from a nasty situation the city was creating.

    Actually, Ruth and Phyllis began begging the city and the Colorado Department of Transportation to buy them out beginning in 2002, when plans first surfaced to rebuild the entire Fillmore/I-25 interchange.

    Even then they sensed trouble. They knew the only way to make room for a massive new $50 million interchange would mean removing lots of homes and businesses in the modest, 1950s-era Mesa Springs neighborhood.

    It was obvious the gas stations and small houses on Chestnut were goners. But it wasn’t clear if Parker Street, the next block west, would be affected.

    Then the interchange project was put on indefinite hold. So the city decided in 2010 it could wait no longer to fix the troublesome Chestnut intersection. That’s when the bypass was proposed.

    But the city said there wasn’t enough money to buy the homes of Ruth and Phyllis. They’d have to live behind the ugly wall and deal with the inconvenience of lost access and parking.

    This is how Parker Street appeared in 2011, looking north.

    This is how Parker Street appeared in 2011, looking north.

    Construction lasted much of 2013 and it took just six months after the bypassed opened in December for the first motorist to plow into it late Sunday night.

    Both homeowners would love to sell and get out.

    This is how Parker Street appears now with the wall.

    This is how Parker Street appears now with the wall.

    But they believe no one will buy their homes now for what they were worth before the bypass.

    “I really want to move,” Phyllis said. “But after what they did to us, my real estate agent says I’ve lost $30,000 from the value of my home.”

    And Ruth believes her family will be stuck in its home for eternity.

    “Who in their right mind would buy our home?” she said. “We’ll never be able to sell.”

    I think it would be fair for the city to pay them the difference between what their houses were worth before the wall and what they can get for them today.

    But in the absence of such an offer, both Ruth and Phyllis sit and stew.

    They are waiting for the contractor to come repair the concrete and steel-reinforced wall, as city engineer Aaron Egbert promised will be done in a couple weeks.

    And they are hoping to get the weeds cut and trash collected from behind the wall, which Egbert also promises will happen. And they hope to get some new landscaping to replace the bushes that have died already.

    Otherwise, Ruth and Phyllis sit, with windows closed, even on hot days, to avoid the noise and fumes.

    And they worry about the next car to miss the curve.

    And they curse the city that would leave them in such a shameful mess.

    Ruth Wagner and Phyllis Smith want weeds cut in the lot behind the Chestnut Street bypass. They also say trash like liquor bottles and drug paraphernalia collect behind the wall. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Ruth Wagner and Phyllis Smith want weeds cut in the lot behind the Chestnut Street bypass. They also say trash like liquor bottles and drug paraphernalia collect behind the wall. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

  • Colorado Springs woman rescues community swimming pool

    Wed, June 11, 2014 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Village Seven LogoWhen Jacque Thurman couldn’t find anyone to throw a lifeline to the Village 7 Swim Club, she decided to rescue it herself.

    Now, after two years being closed and weeks of intense rehabbing, the pool is scheduled to open June 21.

    Based on conversations at a nearby Mountain Grounds Coffee House, neighbors are eagerly anticipating its return.

    “Ever since we opened last August, people have been asking about the pool,” said Melinda Haggerton, who owns Mountain Grounds with her husband, Mason.

    “People ask all the time. I think it’s going to be great for this community.”

    Jacque Thurman stands in the pool of the Village 7 Swim Club with her son, Ty Thurman, 11, Tuesday, June 10, 2014. The pool, which opened in 1970, closed at the end of the summer in 2011. Thurman bought pool and hopes to have it open June 21.  (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

    Jacque Thurman stands in the pool of the Village 7 Swim Club with her son, Ty Thurman, 11, Tuesday, June 10, 2014. The pool, which opened in 1970, closed at the end of the summer in 2011. Thurman bought pool and hopes to have it open June 21. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

    And that’s why Thurman changed her mind about the future of the pool and decided in May to revive it.

    I wrote about the pool in March after seeing it advertised for sale online by Jacque and her husband, Mike Thurman. They had bought the pool in December 2012 from owner Rose Rook, who was its original manager when it opened in 1970.

    But the Thurmans never opened the pool and listed it for sale this spring when their personal circumstances changed and they no longer thought it was a feasible project.

    It needed significant help.

    In the two years it was closed, vandals smashed most of the windows and broke glass throughout the lockers and sauna. Thieves stripped the copper from the pump room and stole the pool pump.

    Losers sprayed graffiti on the fence and even tossed the “Snack Shack” cash register in the muddy water at the bottom of the Z-shaped pool. The damage totaled tens of thousands of dollars.

    Jacque Thurman takes a break from the clean up at the Village 7 Swim Club Tuesday, June 10, 2014. The pool, which opened in 1970, closed at the end of the summer in 2011. Thurman bought pool and hopes to have it open June 21.  (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

    Jacque Thurman takes a break from the clean up at the Village 7 Swim Club Tuesday, June 10, 2014. The pool, which opened in 1970, closed at the end of the summer in 2011. Thurman bought pool and hopes to have it open June 21. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

    It was a pretty depressing sight when I visited in March. Weeds and tall grass choked its basketball andvolleyball court, playground and picnic areas.

    Besides the register, other trash floated in the ugly water.

    Frankly, it was hard to imagine children splashing in the shallow end or jumping off the diving board or laughing as they zipped down the water slide.

    It was a cold, windy day and the lifeguard tower sat like a forlorn sentry guarding over the end of an era.

    That’s not the way it looks in photos since the pool opened as an amenity to lure folks to Village Seven, a new 1,500-acre neighborhood with 850 homes near Academy Boulevard and Austin Bluffs Parkway.

    For 42 years it was the heart of the community each summer.

    The basketball / volleyball courts at the Village 7 Swim Club were choked with tumbleweeds and grass in March 2014. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    The basketball / volleyball courts at the Village 7 Swim Club were choked with tumbleweeds and grass in March 2014. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Families spent their summers at the pool. Rook taught thousands of children to swim and gave hundreds of teens their first jobs in the Snack Shack. Families had reunions and picnics there. They played volleyball and basketball.

    And that’s why Jacque decided to try to save the pool.

    “It’s more than a pool,” she said. “It’s about the community. It’s about the generations of families that have come over the years. It’s where they made memories.”

    In recent weeks she’s been spending all her free time at the pool, when she’s not working fulltime at Hope and Home, a child placement agency.

    “We’ve been painting and cleaning and doing the lawn and everything,” she said.

    The popular Shack Shack at the Village 7 Swim Club in March 2014. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    The popular Shack Shack at the Village 7 Swim Club in March 2014. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    She has scaled back some of the couple’s original plans for the pool. There will be no $50,000 liner replacement. Other enhancements also are on hold. The pool pump cost $8,000 to replace and the stolen copper was $3,000. Cleaning and patching the pool will cost $4,000.

    “It will be new and improved but I’m not doing those renovations,” she said. “But there will be new paint and a new security system and new landscaping. It will be better than ever.”

    I wondered how she’d juggle a fulltime job and a pool, with all the demands for maintenance and lifeguards and security and all.

    The Village 7 Swim Club on Nonchalant Circle South as seen from FlashEarth.com

    The Village 7 Swim Club on Nonchalant Circle South as seen from FlashEarth.com

    She solved that problem by hiring a company to hire and train her staff, offer swim lessons and maintain the property.

    “Basically, I’m outsourcing the pool management piece to USA Pools,” she said.

    Since the pool is opening later than the normal Memorial Day kickoff, Jacque is offering discounted family memberships of $275 for the season, ending Labor Day weekend. (You can find details on the pool’s Facebook page ).

    When Rose Rooks owned it, she typically had about 300 family members who paid $425 per season. I’m guessing Thurman won’t have much trouble selling out at the discounted rate, especially given what Haggerton is hearing at her coffee house.

    “When I heard it was reopening, I wanted to hug Jacque,” Haggerton said. “I’m so excited. Customers are excited. I think it’s going to be great for the community.”

    Jacque Thurman stands in front of the Village 7 Swim Club pool on Tuesday, March 18, 2014. She and her husband, Mike Thurman, bought the pool in 2012 but have not had the money to open it. So they are trying to sell it. The pool was built in 1970 by developer Omer "Bud" Shepard to promote his Village Seven subdivision at Austin Bluffs Parkway and Academ;y Boulevard. It was managed eight years by Rose Rook who then bought it in 1978 and operated it until 2012 when she sold it to the Thurmans. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Jacque Thurman stands in front of the Village 7 Swim Club pool on  March 18, 2014. She and her husband, Mike Thurman, bought the pool in 2012 but did not open it in 2013. After trying to sell it, Jacque decided to open it June 21. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette