• 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

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  • 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

  • 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

  • Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum is an historic artifact worth preserving

    Fri, March 28, 2014 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    ARCHITECTURE

    The Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum in a 2007 photo. Mark Reis / The Gazette.

    It’s no secret that I love the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum.

    I love the building, which opened in May 1903 as the El Paso County Courthouse.

    And I love its contents — the collection of 40,000 items ranging from Van Briggle pottery and American Indian artifacts to the personal papers of Civil War Gen. William Jackson Palmer, who founded Colorado Springs and built the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad.

    These artifacts tell the story of life in the Pikes Peak region. (In fact, a Side Streets column is one of the artifacts that has been on display!)

    The Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum boasts three styles of columns: plain Doric on the bottom right, ornate Ionic in the middle and elaborate Corinthian on the far top tower. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    The Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum boasts three styles of columns: plain Doric on the bottom right, ornate Ionic in the middle and elaborate Corinthian on the far top tower. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    So it concerns me when I climb the steps to its doors and see cracks and missing chunks from its towering columns — which vary from Doric to Ionic and Corinthian, I’m told by Matt Mayberry, museum director. I hate to see the towers’ ornate, carved stonework crumbling.

    “The columns are melting away,” Mayberry said as he ran his hand over the deteriorating, decorative carvings.

    And it bothers me to see the stains and streaks of water damage under the windowsills around the elegant old building.

    “The building needs a thorough cleaning,” Mayberry said.

    When I look closer, my concerns grow. I see large pieces missing from archways over doors. Mortar is cracked or missing between the pink granite and rhyolite lava base stones. And a growing collection of pieces have fallen off the building.

    A century of wind, rain and snow have caused significant damage to the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. Chunks of stone have broken off. The exterior is gashed by cracks and stained by decades of water damage. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    A century of wind, rain and snow have caused significant damage to the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. Chunks of stone have broken off. The exterior is gashed by cracks and stained by decades of water damage. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    It’s a comfort to me that Mayberry and his staff have been diligent in pursuing funds to restore the structure. But money is tight for things such as power washing and new mortar. People tend to want to donate for a new exhibit or something to which they can proudly attach their names.

    That’s why I’m writing a note in support of the museum’s effort to secure a $190,000 grant from the State Historical Society to help fund Phase 4 of a decade-long restoration project.

    A century of wind, rain and snow have caused significant damage to the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. Chunks of stone have broken off. The exterior is gashed by cracks and stained by decades of water damage. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    A century of wind, rain and snow have caused significant damage to the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. Chunks of stone have broken off. The exterior is gashed by cracks and stained by decades of water damage. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    In the first three phases, about $1 million was used to replace rusting metal and repair roof leaks and stones. Phase 3 is ongoing, and I watched Wednesday as a masonry magician finished work on an eroded column base near the main Tejon Street entrance.

    This is not easy or inexpensive work. Century-old mortar must be chemically analyzed for expansion and contraction rates so that matching mortar can be created. And some of the work is not easily accessible.

    Matt Mayberry, director of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum, inspects decorative stone carving that has disintegrated on a column on the building. He is seeking a $190,000 grant from the State Historical Society to help fund the fourth phase of restoration work on the century-old building. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Matt Mayberry, director of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum, inspects decorative stone carving that has disintegrated on a column on the building. He is seeking a $190,000 grant from the State Historical Society to help fund the fourth phase of restoration work on the century-old building. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    It will be quite a trick to reach weathered and crumbling overhangs and windows.

    If Mayberry lands his grant and secures a 30 percent match from the city and private donations, Phase 4 will begin next summer on the north and south sides of the building. Then will come Phase 5, which will involve repairing and replacing doors and windows.

    “We started planning for this in 2005,” Mayberry said. “We hope to have it completed by 2016. Then the outside of the building should be good for another 100 years.”

    It’s pretty amazing to think that with a little more tender loving care the Pioneers Museum should stand for another 100 years. Consider that in 1963 the El Paso County Commission declared the building unusable and began planning a new courthouse — the rectangular monstrosity across Tejon Street.

    This building that now resides on the National Register of Historic Places serves as a 146-foot landmark in downtown with its bell tower, four-sided lighted clock, 38 carved Indian head keystones, two lion head fountains, cage elevator and more.

    A century of wind, rain and snow have caused significant damage to the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. Chunks of stone have broken off. The exterior is gashed by cracks and stained by decades of water damage. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    A century of wind, rain and snow have caused significant damage to the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. Chunks of stone have broken off. The exterior is gashed by cracks and stained by decades of water damage. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    It’s imperative that we preserve what enlightened Springs residents fought to save from demolition 50 years ago when they rallied behind a “Save the Courthouse Committee” and raised $250,000 to buy it.

    After this architectural gem was boarded up in 1972, I’m thrilled the museum was able to move in seven years later.

    And I’m happy to add my voice to those seeking grants and donations to preserve the museum.

    I’d love to see some deep-pockets benefactor step forward to transform the shuttered fourth courtroom into an exhibit space, restore the tower clock and ditch the clock’s electric motor for its historic water-pressure operation.

    A before-and-after comparison of cherubs over a doorway of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. Courtesy photo.

    A before-and-after comparison of cherubs over a doorway of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. Courtesy photo.

    About the museum
    • First two floors have large yellow columns, or pilasters, called scagliolia, or plaster painted to imitate marble.
    • Building materials include pink granite from Platte Canon quarry south of Denver and rhyolite tuff called cotapaxi lava from Kerr Quarries near Howard, west of Cañon City.
    • During its 60 years as a courthouse, its basement housed the offices of the courts, surveyors, county physician and coroner.
    • The 16 columns on the top of the clock/bell tower are cast iron.
    • Each of the four porticos are adorned with two cherubs holding blank shields. Original plans called for them to be inscribed with “Justitia Dedicata” or Dedicated to Justice.
    • The building has three floors. The tower is disproportionately tall because it was designed to accommodate a fourth story. The tower was centered in the building, north to south. But it is slightly off center, east to west, to accommodate a larger main courtroom.

    Lions head water fountains grace the north and south sides of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. They are believed to be horse water troughs. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Lions head water fountains grace the north and south sides of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. They are believed to be horse water troughs. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Timeline
    1899: Excavation begins
    Labor Day 1900: Cornerstone is laid
    May 1903: Opens as the ninth El Paso County Courthouse. Construction cost: $420,000. Architect: Augustus J. Smith.
    1963: El Paso County Commission starts planning a courthouse, declares old building unusable
    1966: Commission announces building will be demolished. A “Save the Courthouse Committee,” led by retired Brig. Gen. Kenneth Curtis, persuades the commission to build on a new site and preserve the old courthouse. It raises $250,000 to buy the building after a bond issue failed.
    Sept. 29, 1972: Building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places
    1972: Building is vacated by the county and boarded up
    1973: Building is deeded to Colorado Springs, which assumes ownership
    1979: Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum moves from its previous home in the gymnasium of the Knights of Columbus Hall at 25 W. Kiowa St.

    The Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum features 38 Indian head keystones over archways  around the building. Each face is unique. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    The Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum features 38 Indian head keystones over archways around the building. Each face is unique. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

  • Escape to Rocky Mountain National Park and Estes Park and recharge your soul

    Wed, March 26, 2014 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    A coyote pauses during a hunt in Moraine Park in Rocky Mountain National Park on March 22, 2014. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    A coyote pauses during a hunt in Moraine Park in Rocky Mountain National Park on March 22, 2014. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    ESTES PARK – A fresh coat of wet snow made the coyote easy to spot as it trotted through the grass and boulders of the moraine.

    It winced as blowing snow pelted its face and coated its thick, reddish-tan fur. It stopped abruptly, crouched and stared intently at the snow-covered ground, its ears straight up and slightly twitching as it hunted in Saturday’s storm.

    Instinctively, I pulled my Jeep to the shoulder of the road and my wife, Cary, pulled out her binoculars. Soon she spotted a second coyote hunting on a parallel course a few yards away. See video of the coyotes here.

    Two coyotes hunt in Moraine Park in Rocky Mountain National Park on March 22, 2014. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Two coyotes hunt in Moraine Park in Rocky Mountain National Park on March 22, 2014. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    It’s a well-rehearsed routine for us . . . cruising Rocky Mountain National Park, spotting wild animals and pulling off to watch and photograph them.

    This is where we go whenever we get a chance to escape and recharge. Spring break often has provided us the excuse to get away, as it did this year, and explore the park’s 415-square-miles of wilderness located just 140 or so miles north of Colorado Springs on the western edge of Estes Park.

    Since we met nearly 20 years ago, Cary and I have been all over the park on foot and by Jeep. We’ve hiked to the keyhole on Longs Peak (a hot spot on my ankle forced us to turn back) and driven to the continental divide via Fall River Road. And we’ve covered just about every place in between.

    Two elk rear up in Horseshoe Park along the Fall River in Rocky Mountain National Park in a file photo. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Two elk rear up in Horseshoe Park along the Fall River in Rocky Mountain National Park in a file photo. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    I first came to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park as a boy stuffed in the back of my family’s Plymouth Belvedere station wagon, pulling a pop-up camper to a campground along the Big Thompson River.

    After I started dating Cary, this was the first place I took her for a romantic getaway. I wanted her to know this magical place and fall in love with it the way I had.

    The setting is spectacular with Estes, its small shops and restaurants clustered where the Big Thompson and Fall rivers converge, filling a valley surrounded by soaring, jagged peaks including Longs Peak.

    Like most of the national park’s 3 million-plus annual tourists, we have visited in summer with our kids, when Estes Park is wall-to-wall with people and the roads are choked with RVs, minivans pulling campers, cars, motorcycles and bicycles.

    Bull elk spar in Horseshoe Park in a meadow along Fall River in Rocky Mountain National Park in this March 22, 2014, photo. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Bull elk spar in Horseshoe Park in a meadow along Fall River in Rocky Mountain National Park in this March 22, 2014, photo. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    We’ve ridden horseback, driven go-karts, roasted marshmallows over a campfire and waded in the streams.

    But more often Cary and I have come in the fall and spring when snow is flying, roads are mostly empty and, in town, many shops and restaurants are closed for the season.

    We’ve chuckled at the chipmunks that beg for scraps. We’ve marveled at the hearty marmots living in the harsh climate among the rocks high along Trail Ridge Road. And we’ve admired the Stellar’s jays that swoop among the Ponderosa pines, the bighorn sheep that nimbly dance along rocky hillsides and the massive elk fighting for dominance. We’ve also spent time searching for elusive moose.

    Cary and Bill Vogrin on their wedding day in 1998 in a meadow along the Big Thompson River in Moraine Park within Rocky Mountain National Park.

    Cary and Bill Vogrin on their wedding day in 1998 in a meadow along the Big Thompson River in Moraine Park within Rocky Mountain National Park.

    We like the solitude of the park in winter when it seems like it’s just us and the sheep, coyotes and the ubiquitous elk.

    Sitting by the road in snowstorms, we’ve seen deer and elk spar. We’ve spent hours listening to the bull elk bugle during the fall rut. We’ve hiked to waterfalls in the cold. And we’ve driven high in the park to see its meadows far below draped in white.

    It’s one of those places we find so special that we’ve brought many of our friends with us over the years. (I even brought my in-laws a couple times!)

    One evening, we drove slowly along as a coyote trotted nearby. Suddenly, it stopped, threw back its head and let out a chilling howl.

    Trout spawned in the Big Thompson River in Rocky Mountain National Park in this 2006 photo. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Trout spawned in the Big Thompson River in Rocky Mountain National Park in this 2006 photo. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Shortly, a haunting howl answered from across the meadow and the coyote took off in that direction. We were all in awe in our Jeep and Mike, my father-in-law, said you could live your entire life and never be lucky enough to see that happen.

    On another evening, I was lucky enough to see two elk rear up on their hind legs and thrash each other with their hooves. I called the photo “dancing elk” and still cherish it.

    Hiking the morning after a hard freeze and snow, we looked down at a stream feeding Sprague Lake and were surprised to see trout frozen in ice. Another time, in the same water, we watched trout spawning.

    The alluvial fan that was created after the Lawn Lake dam failed in 1982 sending water crashing down the Roaring River in Rocky Mountain National Park. The cascading water carried huge boulders and tons of gravel and rock which ripped down tall pine trees before fanning out at the base of Bighorn Mountain in Horseshoe Park, covering Fall River Road and changing the course of Fall River. This is a 2006 photo by Bll Vogrin / The Gazette

    The Lawn Lake dam failed in 1982 sending water crashing down the Roaring River in Rocky Mountain National Park, carrying huge boulders and tons of gravel and rock which ripped down pine trees, fanning out at the base of Bighorn Mountain in Horseshoe Park, covering Fall River Road and changing the course of Fall River. This is a 2006 photo by Bll Vogrin / The Gazette

    We’ve marveled at the enormity of natural disasters that have occurred there, like the Lawn Lake dam break in 1982 that hurled boulders the size of small houses down into the national park, tossing tall trees like toothpicks and changing the course of Fall River.

    But mostly, Cary and I have just loved being there.

    In fact, we fell in love there. We were married there in a meadow where the Big Thompson River meanders through willows and around boulders and trout gather in riffles and pools. It’s named Moraine Park but, ever since, we’ve called it Cary’s Meadow.

    Cary and Bill Vogrin on their wedding day in 1998 in a meadow along the Big Thompson River in Moraine Park within Rocky Mountain National Park.

    Cary and Bill Vogrin on their wedding day in 1998 in a meadow along the Big Thompson River in Moraine Park within Rocky Mountain National Park.

    For that one day, the snow-capped mountains, the aspen and elk were a mere backdrop to my bride in her wedding dress.

    We bought our wedding rings from a local jeweler, the Golden Ghost. We had our wedding brunch at the historic Stanley Hotel.

    And we started our marriage with a celebratory hike to Fern Falls, holding hands and talking about the future, our children, our careers, our dreams.

    This weekend, we still held hands as we cruised the park and talked. But our conversations have changed with time. Now we talk about getting our youngest through high school and college, about paying off the house and how we want to spend our retirement years perhaps by living in Estes and volunteering in the park. (I still want to finish that Longs Peak hike.)

    As we sat in the snow Saturday watching the coyote, I considered how much has happened since Cary and I first discovered our love of Estes and Rocky Mountain National Park and hiking and wildlife-watching and each other.

    I thought about how much this magical place has given me in my life. How lucky I’ve been.

    And I wondered how many more trips we’ll make here together. I’m hoping many more.

    Cary and Bill Vogrin return to spot where they married in 1998 in a meadow along the Big Thompson River in Moraine Park within Rocky Mountain National Park in this March 23, 2014, photo. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Cary and Bill Vogrin return to spot where they married in 1998 in a meadow along the Big Thompson River in Moraine Park within Rocky Mountain National Park in this March 23, 2014, photo. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

  • Couple hopes new owner will be lifesaver for Village Seven pool

    Fri, March 21, 2014 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    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 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 Academy 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

    It’s a bit of a fixer-upper. But with nearly an acre in the middle of Colorado Springs, it’s got a great location. And there’s plenty of parking and room for entertaining.

    And when it’s spruced up, I predict it will be one of the most popular places in the neighborhood.

    For sale: the Village 7 Swim Club on Nonchalant Circle South.

    That’s right, the neighborhood pool is for sale, listed on Facebook and craigslist websites for $149,000.

    What a rare opportunity for a family-run, neighborhood business.

    The secluded entrance to the Village 7 Swim Club on Nonchalant Circle South. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    The secluded entrance to the Village 7 Swim Club on Nonchalant Circle South. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    That’s exactly what Jacque and Mike Thurman thought when they bought it in December 2012 from longtime owner Rose Rook.

    “We used to run a pool in Pennsylvania,” Mike told me. “That’s why we were attracted to this.”

    But once they started looking hard at the pool, they realized they’d taken on too expensive a project.

    “We just couldn’t make the numbers work,” he said.

    I could see the disappointment in his face as he showed me around the grounds.

    Although he and Jacque never swam at the Village 7 Swim Club, they spent many summers at pools in their native Pennsylvania. They came here in 1998 to work at Focus on the Family. Today, he owns a diagnostic lab for sleep disorders.

    Jacque said “unanticipated life changes and financial changes” forced the couple to abandon their pool dream.

    “We caught a vision of a family-owned pool our own kids could help us run in the summers,” Jacque said. “We thought it would be a great opportunity to teach our kids about hard work, ownership and businesses.”

    But they started adding up the cost of changes they wanted to make, like an estimated $50,000 for a new liner, and realized they couldn’t afford it.

    “I know somebody would like to see this pool come back to life,” she said.

    The trick is finding that person who shares their dream and will step in and reopen the place. It had been a summer hot spot since it opened Memorial Day 1970 to serve the 850 or so homes in Village Seven, a 1,500-acre neighborhood near Academy Boulevard and Austin Bluffs Parkway famed for its streets with whimsical names and miles of walking paths.

    Rose Rook coached the Village 7 Swim Team in Colorado Springs for 42 years until she retired in 2012 at age 84. She is seen in a June 15, 2007, Gazette file photo.

    Rose Rook coached the Village 7 Swim Team for 42 years until she retired in 2012 at age 84. She is seen in a June 15, 2007, Gazette file photo.

    When it opened, the pool was managed by Rose Rook, a native of Germany who married a U.S. soldier, Art Rook, who was then stationed at Fort Carson until his retirement.

    “We moved here in 1966,” Rose said. “In 1970 we bought a house in Village Seven and I was hired to manage it (the pool).”

    Then, in 1978, Village Seven developer Omer “Bud” Shepard asked Rook if she wanted to own the pool.

    Omer "Bud" Shepard in an undated file photo.

    Omer “Bud” Shepard in an undated file photo.

    “He said: ‘We don’t know anything about pools. Why don’t you just buy it from us?’ ” Rose said. “So we did.”

    They ran it as a private swim club, building a membership base of about 300 with a swim team that competed for years. She also gave lessons every summer, teaching thousands of children to swim over four decades.

    The pool struggled at times as the neighborhood changed.

    “Village Seven just didn’t have many kids anymore,” Rose said. “To sell out our memberships, we opened it to the whole city.”

    By 2012, Rose was no longer able to handle the daily operations.

    Rose Rook holds a water noodle during practice of the Village 7 Swim Team in this June 15, 2007, Gazette file photo. Rook coached the team 42 years until she retired in 2012.

    Rose Rook holds a water noodle during practice of the Village 7 Swim Team in this June 15, 2007, Gazette file photo. Rook coached the team 42 years until she retired in 2012.

    “I was very ill,” said Rose, 85. “I just couldn’t do it anymore.”

    And though she sold it to the Thurmans, Rose hasn’t been able to completely let go of it.

    For example, as the pool sat vacant, she became concerned neighbors would blame her for its appearance, with its dying grass and weeds everywhere.

    “It looks awful,” Rose said. “It never looked like that when I owned it. Even in the winter. I am very frustrated. I told them I’d come down and help them even though I can barely walk.”

    The basketball / volleyball courts at the Village 7 Swim Club. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    The basketball / volleyball courts at the Village 7 Swim Club. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    She knows it’s important a new owner is found before things deteriorate too much.

    “People came back year after year,” Rose said. “It was a fun place.”

    Her memory was echoed by her daughter, Mary Jones, who became an avid swimmer like her mother and a prominent swimming coach in the area.

    “Our whole family swam there,” Mary said, fondly recalling her time there and her mother’s dedication. “She coached swimming until she was 84. We all spent our summers there and my kids grew up at the pool.”

    People from across Colorado Springs visited the pool, Mary said.

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

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

    “It was a wonderful family place,” she said. “If you asked me to pick one good memory, I couldn’t. There were just so many good memories.

    “There just aren’t places like that anymore.”

    Like her mother, Mary hopes the pool is reopened soon. After all, she wants her own granddaughter to swim there.

    Hopefully, the Thurmans say, they can find a buyer and get the pool reopened this summer.

    That hope is shared by neighbors including Matt Blanski, whose home backs up to the pool, which sits secluded among mature trees shading its basketball/volleyball court, playground and picnic areas.

    “I’m sure the whole neighborhood would use it,” Matt said. “When it first closed, people were talking about it. It would be nice to have it open again.”

    The playground and picnic area of the Village 7 Swim Club. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    The playground and picnic area of the Village 7 Swim Club. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

  • Goofy email brings call for colorful Colorado Springs characters

    Wed, March 19, 2014 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    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.

    I don’t know about you, but I get some goofy email.

    And I’m not talking about the come-ons from Nigerian bankers and young girls promising to get “drunky” with me.

    These are from real people. Some are asking for help. Others think they want me to speak to their group. Some want me to join their club. (Clearly, they don’t know me.)

    For example, last week I was invited to become a charter member of the private club at the new Pinery at the Hill on Bijou Street across Interstate 25 from downtown Colorado Springs.

    The email promised “member mixers and power hours.” The initiation fee is just $600 with annual dues of $2,400.

    Do they not realize I’m a newspaper writer? Heck, $3,000 is what I paid for my 14-year-old Jeep!

    Thanks for thinking of me, Pinery. But it’s safe to say you won’t be bumping into me at any future power hours.

    But that isn’t the goofiest email I’ve gotten lately.

    On Monday, I received this inquiry from a fellow named Jake Rosen who said he’s an associate producer for ABC News as well as for the Travel Channel where he’s been asked to line up episodes for a pilot program that will take viewers to unique small towns and explore their history.

    Bill Boo BooI’ve had similar inquiries in the past. A producer for the Hoarders cable show once wrote and another Hollywood type was seeking candidates for a new reality TV show. (Funny, he rejected my idea of “Side Streets Boo Boo.”)

    This guy Rosen had a very specific request of me related to our marijuana trade. He’d seen my columns about drug dealing in Shooks Run and knuckleheads who broke into pot shop trash bins.

    Drug RV Angry Man

    A man suspected by neighbors of dealing drugs from his house in Shooks Run did not like being photographed in July 2010. Gazette file photo.

    He wanted me to provide him names of “people who dive into dispensaries dumpsters and get their left over weed and sell it on the black market.”

    Or, he’d like me to hook him up with an “ex-street dealer who used to sell pot but with the legalization his biz has gone bad and he/she is leaving the state.”

    Sure, Jake. I’ll set you up with that drug dealer pronto. I’m sure he’s on my speed-dial. And the dumpster divers, too. Got ‘em in my Rolodex.

    Finally, I got an email from a reader in London. As in England. (I guess my accent doesn’t throw them off!)

    Ken Graham of Soda Folk.  Courtesy photo.

    Ken Graham of Soda Folk. Courtesy photo.

    Anyway, this sounded like a request from a legitimate reader: Ken Graham, who said he is a native of Colorado Springs who moved across the pond in 2012.

    “I’ve been reading your Side Streets column for a long time, and still check in now and then to get a glimpse of what’s going on in my home town,” Graham wrote.

    He was inspired to write after reading my profile of Tim Burke, who recently closed Ethan’s Room Skate Shop in the basement of his advertising agency.

    Graham explained that he had started “Soda Folk,” a company that produces “all-natural, premium American soft drinks for UK customers.” (Reckon he’s going to sell a lemon-limey drink?)

    He’d settled on a product motto: “Uncommon Flavor for Uncommon Folk.” But he said he was struggling to create brand names for each flavor. I checked out his website, sodafolk.com, and he seemed to be for real.

    “So it occurred to me that the labels should celebrate some of the fascinating people I met growing up in Colorado who embodied my and my company’s values,” Graham said. “I’m still on the hunt for other remarkable people, and was hoping you might be willing to help.”

    He wants the names and images of a few “uncommon folk” who are “unique to Colorado” and willing to have their portraits drawn for his labels.

    So I’m thinking maybe Side Streets readers have some ideas for Soda Folk labels.

    I have a few immediate recommendations for Graham.

    He’s got to create a Wagon Man energy drink. After all, Wagon Man Phillip Cargile walks hours every day with his arm outstretched, reaching out to all who see him. He’s a natural and a great visual with his tattered coveralls and straw cowboy hat.

    Rose Ella Scott Arveson Simmons

    Rose Ella Scott Arveson Simmons

    I’d also suggest Rose Arveson, whose daughters promoted her for sainthood claiming roses they placed on her casket had wilted, died and been resurrected 10 days after her burial and they cured people who touched them. Perhaps Graham should sell a Saint Rose bottled water. Holy water.

    Not sure if Graham only wants humans. But I’d also suggest the Rockrimmon Buck, which became famous after it perched on a retaining wall to recuperate after a hard winter of rutting.

    Nothing says outdoors Colorado like a huge buck with unique antlers. (Try to forget that he was beat up, limping and ended up killed, probably hit by a car, along Highway 115.) The buck could be the face of a cream soda, maybe?

    Please add your suggestions on Facebook or send them to me by email.

    The Rockrimmon Buck in January 2013. Gazette file photo.

    The Rockrimmon Buck in January 2013. Gazette file photo.

  • Joe Rivera’s tragic life and death illustrate the complexity of the homeless issue

    Sun, March 16, 2014 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Joe Rivera spent his adult life roaming West Colorado Avenue, washing windows for cash and panhandling. His life became a cycle of substance abuse, arrest, rehab and back. He died Jan. 21, and his life illustrates the complexity of the issue generally defined as homelessness. He is seen here on Dec. 6, 2013. Rivera was a basketball star at Coronado High School in the early 1980s but his promising life was derailed by alcohol and drug abuse.Cary Leider Vogrin / The Gazette

    Joe Rivera spent his adult life roaming West Colorado Avenue, washing windows for cash and panhandling. His life was a cycle of substance abuse, arrest, rehab and back. He died Jan. 21, and his life illustrates the complexity of the issue generally defined as homelessness. He is seen here on Dec. 6, 2013. Cary Leider Vogrin / The Gazette

    They are known as the homeless. Street people. Panhandlers, beggars, hobos, bums, crazies, drunks and junkies.

    The labels make them easier to dismiss as sub-humans and mere distractions.

    To many they are harmless irritants who try to coax money for food, booze or drugs.

    They sleep in shelters, cheap motels, with friends and relatives, under bridges, in tents and on park benches. But most just call them “homeless.”

    Many are troubled by their appearance on street corners and at parks across Colorado Springs. As their numbers grow, calls have gone out for a solution.

    Joe Rivera was one of these folks. In fact, many of the labels applied to him.

    And the tragic story of Rivera’s troubled life and recent death at age 48 illustrates how complex these people of the street are and how difficult, if not impossible, it will be to find a solution that provides shelters, treatment, day centers or whatever else is needed to help.
    ___

    Joe Rivera was a basketball star at Coronado High School in the early 1980s but his promising life was derailed by alcohol and drug abuse. Rivera spent his adult life roaming West Colorado Avenue each day, washing windows for cash and panhandling. His life became a cycle of substance abuse, arrest, rehab and back. He died Jan. 21, and his life illustrates the complexity of the issue generally defined as homelessness. He is seen here in the 1983 Coronado High School yearbook.

    Joe Rivera was a basketball star at Coronado High School in the early 1980s but his promising life was derailed by alcohol and drug abuse. Rivera spent his adult life roaming West Colorado Avenue each day, washing windows for cash and panhandling. He died Jan. 21, and his life illustrates the complexity of the issue generally defined as homelessness. He is seen here in the 1983 Coronado High School yearbook.

    To look at the Coronado High School yearbooks from 1982 and ’83, it’s a surprise that Rivera ended up being a guy who cruised West Colorado Avenue every day for years, in sun, rain or snow, often pulling a red wagon with a bucket and squeegee, offering to wash windows for cash . . . money he would spend on liquor and drugs.

    In the yearbooks, Rivera was pictured as a soccer player and the star of the basketball team.

    There was even a large photo of the young Rivera with a bushy head of hair standing calmly at the free throw line in his No. 34 jersey, contemplating his next shot.

    Rivera was such a good basketball player he earned a scholarship to Trinidad State Junior College and the University of Southern Colorado in Pueblo, as it was known.

    But his basketball career never developed and gave way to jobs selling cars, first on a family-owned lot and then at car dealerships on Auto Row.

    How Rivera’s life deteriorated into years spent drunk and even unconscious on the streets was pieced together talking to friends of his family, business owners and Colorado Springs police who came to know him.
    ___

    I was among those who encountered Rivera along West Colorado Avenue where my wife, Gazette journalist Cary Leider Vogrin, owns a small business.

    Even before her business opened, Cary met Rivera when he showed up at her store with his bucket and squeegee offering to wash her windows for cash. He was even a customer from time to time.

    But the encounters became troubling over the years as his behavior became bizarre and even frightening.

    His squeegee bucket became a prop to hide his vodka or Evil Eye or Pit Bull or whatever he was drinking.

    And rather than a polite window-washer he became a sometimes aggressive panhandler.

    Toward the end of his life, Joe Rivera would stagger up West Colorado Avenue and sit in a stairwell near 31st Street where he would collapse for hours as in this April 26, 2013, photo. Rivera was a basketball star at Coronado High School in the early 1980s but his promising life was derailed by alcohol and drug abuse. He spent his adult life roaming West Colorado Avenue, washing windows for cash and panhandling. His life became a cycle of substance abuse, arrest, rehab and back. He died Jan. 21, and his life illustrates the complexity of the issue generally defined as homelessness. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Toward the end of his life, Joe Rivera would stagger up West Colorado Avenue and sit in a stairwell near 31st Street where he would collapse for hours as in this April 26, 2013, photo.  He died Jan. 21, and his life illustrates the complexity of the issue generally defined as homelessness. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Over the years he became a common sight along the avenue, standing with open containers of booze, urinating in the street or parking lot, brawling with other street people and collapsing unconscious on benches.

    Toward the end of his life, Rivera would stagger up the avenue and sit in a stairwell near 31st Street. He would drink until he passed out, slumped over with his head smack up against the stone wall. Sometimes he stayed like that for hours as cars roared past.

    Cary had heard many stories about Rivera. She began asking folks who knew Rivera and his family about him in hopes of helping him.

    What she and I learned was heartbreaking. And it resembled the stories other street people have told Cary as she has befriended them and sometimes reunited them with long-lost families. We both conducted interviews for this story.
    ___

    To the casual observer, Rivera was only another “homeless” person. But the term didn’t accurately apply to him. He had plenty of family in Colorado Springs who took him in and tried to help him. And he had friends who took him in. Repeatedly.

    His family declined repeated requests for interviews. I don’t blame them. They told me they want to remember the young, charismatic athlete full of promise and not dwell on his ugly life on the street.

    Ghana Evans went to grade school and junior high with Rivera and recalls his friend as athletic, very friendly and competitive.

    Joe Rivera, seen in the 1983 Coronado High School year book.

    Joe Rivera, seen in the 1983 Coronado High School year book.

    “He was one of my best friends at school,” Evans said, describing how they practiced high jumping on an old mattress in the back yard and tried to imitate the basketball dunks of Julius Erving.

    “He was very active, very athletic,” said Evans, who works at a gas station on West Colorado Avenue.

    The friends parted ways when they went to different high schools. Evans joined the Navy and didn’t see Rivera for years.
    ___

    Evans and many of his family and friends thought basketball would be Rivera’s future.

    “I asked him one time why he didn’t stick with that,” said Officer Bobby Jeffords, a 35-year veteran of the Colorado Springs Police who frequently dealt with Rivera while patrolling the neighborhood as part of a dedicated westside team.

    “It was very sad. He said: ‘I got involved in drugs and alcohol.’”

    Instead of pursuing basketball, Rivera started selling cars and spending his free time drinking and doing drugs.

    “Joe was a great car salesman,” said Linda Schlarb, who has owned Old Town Propane at 2725 W. Colorado Ave. for 21 years and is friends with one of Rivera’s uncles. “His uncle said Joe made more money than any kid that age should make and he started getting into drugs. Eventually he got into trouble.”
    ___

    Drug and alcohol abuse led to arrests, the first in 1985 at age 20, according to public records.

    By the time he died Jan. 21, Rivera had gone to jail 35 times and received numerous summons for public intoxication, open containers of alcohol, urinating in public and other petty crimes, police said.

    Friends and acquaintances recite a series of arrests, stints in jail and trips to rehab.
    After one of those episodes about nine years ago, Schlarb said Rivera started washing windows, pulling his bucket and squeegee in a little red wagon.

    “But he was always drunk so I wouldn’t let him wash my windows,” she said. “If they come in drunk, I won’t help them and Joe would get rip-roaring drunk.”

    Lori Daugherty of Olde Town Optical and Gifts across the street had similar experiences with Rivera before she closed her business.

    “We used to hire him to do our windows,” Daugherty said. “And he did a good job.”

    Then he started asking to borrow money. And he lied, telling Daugherty he wanted to buy a squeegee pole.

    “We lent him the $40 to get the poles because we wanted to help him out because he was trying to get back on his feet,” she recalled. “He went right down the street … to the liquor store. That was the end of it.”

    He never paid the money back and began begging for cash instead of washing windows.

    “He noticed (others) were making more money bumming money and they didn’t have to work,” Daugherty said. “That’s when he started bumming and not working.”

    Eventually they banned him from their shop because he kept coming in drunk.

    Other business owners also reached out to Rivera, said Martin Camarata, who operates Chip Monk Windshield Repair at 30th Street and Colorado Avenue.

    “A lot of people tried to help Joe,” Camarata said. “But he was one of those people you just couldn’t help.”
    ___

    Despite the problems Rivera might have caused, the locals on the avenue also shared a concern for his well-being.

    Daugherty said she and her husband would call his mother when Rivera’s behavior became extremely bizarre.

    “Everybody knew him and even when he was at his craziest, you might say, he was just a fixture on the Westside,” she said. “We kept trying to help him out so he could get back on his feet. When you didn’t see him you kinda wondered: ‘Well, where the heck is he now?’”

    Camarata recalled giving Rivera rides to a family member’s home after he had a particularly bad fight or when he was passed out in extreme cold.

    “A half-dozen times I’d pick him up in my Suburban, pile him in and drive him to his mom’s house,” he said. “She’d try to take care of him. Within a week or two, he’d leave and he’d be out there again.”
    ___

    For boyhood friend Evans, it was a shock when returned to the old westside neighborhood after 10 years in the Navy and saw Rivera for the first time.

    “I recognized him and I had to sit,” Evans said. “I was surprised to see what condition he was in.”

    Joe Rivera in an undated photo. Courtesy Legacy.com.

    Joe Rivera in an undated photo. Courtesy Legacy.com.

    And like others on the avenue, Evans rooted for his old friend when he came back from rehab sober and looking good.

    “He was more sane than when he was drinking heavily,” Evans said.

    That was the case last fall after his last stint in rehab.

    “I hadn’t seen him in a while and I asked him how he was doing,” Evans said, describing how they reminisced about their carefree days as boys playing sports in the backyard.

    “He said he was doing better,” Evans said. “(But) I could tell he had been drinking a little bit already. I just told him I wished the best for him.”

    Camarata remembers being encouraged at seeing Rivera sober, too.

    “One day he walked up and it was the cleanest I ever saw Joe,” Camarata said. “He said hello. He looked me eye-to-eye and he seemed like a different person. His brother told me Joe had been to rehab. He was a different man. I was so glad.”

    But the sobriety didn’t last.

    “It wasn’t a month later he’d fallen off the wagon,” Camarata said.
    ___

    Given Rivera’s history, it was no surprise to Jeffords when, after only a few weeks, his sobriety ended.

    “He was standing next to a liquor store, can of beer in his hand,” Jeffords said, describing how he and his partner were on patrol at the time.

    “He tipped it up and we were driving by,” Jeffords said. “We stopped and we did write him up. Our thought was, the only way he’s going to get help is if he’s forced into it.”

    Rivera was drinking a 24-ounce can of malt liquor beer. He received a $100 ticket.

    Once Rivera got enough tickets, as the routine typically went, a judge would offer him the option of going to jail or back to long-term rehab.

    “The only option we had was writing him up,” Jeffords said.
    ___

    But there would be no more rehab for Rivera. Many who know Rivera believe he died after sleeping outside during severely cold weather in December and January.

    Schlarb said Rivera’s family said he became ill from exposure to the cold.

    “He got pneumonia,” she said, adding that family said his condition deteriorated and led to his death.

    There was no autopsy available from the El Paso County Coroner’s office.

    His death didn’t surprise many but saddened those who came to know him.

    “He was somebody’s brother,” Daugherty said. “He was somebody’s son. I just feel so bad for his mom.”

    Camarata called his death a tragedy.

    Schlarb said it was sad and a reflection on the family’s inability to get mental health professionals to commit Rivera for inpatient treatment.

    “The family was trying to help him,” she said. “But the courts decided he wasn’t crazy enough to be put away and given medication. That, to me, is just wrong.”

    Jeffords echoed the general feeling of sadness.

    “I kinda miss the guy, actually,” Jeffords said. “The whole thing is just very sad.”
    ___

    Perhaps the saddest thing is that Rivera’s is not an unusual case.

    His history of substance abuse, mental illness and self-destructive choices is mirrored in many of the estimated 1,170 people who described themselves as homeless in the 2013 survey led by the Pikes Peak United Way. Of that total, about 300 described themselves as chronic homeless.

    Many more live in shelters, motels, group homes and with friends and relatives but spend their time on the streets.

    “There’s a lot more ‘Joes’ out there,” Jeffords said. “They are guys that have problems with alcohol or drugs. They were college students or professionals with great jobs and families who got hooked on something and it took them right down the drain.”

    He described how he’s been working with two guys recently who sleep under a bridge rather than go to a shelter or enter a program.

    “There’s no magic out there to stop somebody like Joe from being self-destructive,” Jeffords said. “You can talk until you are blue in the face. You can tell them they are killing themselves. But you can’t stop them.”

    I considered Jeffords’ observations, and it really bothered me. I’d like to think Rivera was an extreme case. But Jeffords convinced me he was not.

    “Joe was definitely not a unique individual,” Jeffords said again. “There are a lot of Joe Riveras out there.”

    Toward the end of his life, Joe Rivera would stagger up West Colorado Avenue and sit in a stairwell near 31st Street where he would collapse for hours as in this April 26, 2013, photo. Rivera was a basketball star at Coronado High School in the early 1980s but his promising life was derailed by alcohol and drug abuse. He spent his adult life roaming West Colorado Avenue, washing windows for cash and panhandling. His life became a cycle of substance abuse, arrest, rehab and back. He died Jan. 21, and his life illustrates the complexity of the issue generally defined as homelessness. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Toward the end of his life, Joe Rivera would stagger up West Colorado Avenue and sit in a stairwell near 31st Street where he would collapse for hours as in this April 26, 2013, photo. Rivera was a basketball star at Coronado High School in the early 1980s but his promising life was derailed by alcohol and drug abuse.  His life became a cycle of substance abuse, arrest, rehab and back. He died Jan. 21, and his life illustrates the complexity of the issue generally defined as homelessness. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette