• 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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  • 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

  • Check out Little Free Libraries all across Colorado Springs region

    Wed, March 5, 2014 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Carolyn McMahon poses next to a Little Free Library box that her husband, Tim, gave her as a Mother's Day gift last spring. They erected it outside their home on Rossmere Street in Mountain Shadows as a gift to neighbors suffering after the Waldo Canyon fire in June 2012. The couple has enjoyed watching neighbors and strangers visit their library box and borrow books. Photo courtesy Carolyn and Tim McMahon.

    Carolyn McMahon poses next to a Little Free Library box that her husband, Tim, gave her as a Mother’s Day gift last spring. They erected it outside their home on Rossmere Street in Mountain Shadows as a gift to neighbors suffering after the Waldo Canyon fire in June 2012. The couple has enjoyed watching neighbors and strangers visit their library box and borrow books. Photo courtesy Carolyn and Tim McMahon.

    After the Waldo Canyon fire roared through Mountain Shadows in June 2012, killing two and destroying 347 homes, Carolyn and Tim McMahon wanted to do something for their neighbors on Rossmere Street and the rest of the area who lost everything.

    “We felt such grief for our neighborhood,” Carolyn said. “We wanted to do something to pull our block together a little bit.”

    Then last spring Carolyn heard about the Little Free Library program that encourages community-building simply by giving away books from a water-tight box erected in the front yard.

    “The concept is: take a book, leave a book,” Carolyn said. “For Mother’s Day, I asked my husband if we could do something for our neighborhood and put up a Little Free Library.”

    Soon, their box was erected in a grove of trees with large stepping stones leading to it. The McMahons stocked it with books from their personal library — a mix of adult and children’s books.

    Tim and Carolyn McMahon erected this Little Free Library box outside their home on Rossmere Street in Mountain Shadows as a gift to neighbors suffering after the Waldo Canyon fire in June 2012. The couple has enjoyed watching neighbors and strangers visit their library box and borrow books. Photo courtesy Carolyn and Tim McMahon.

    Tim and Carolyn McMahon erected this Little Free Library box outside their home on Rossmere Street in Mountain Shadows as a gift to neighbors suffering after the Waldo Canyon fire in June 2012. The couple has enjoyed watching neighbors and strangers visit their library box and borrow books. Photo courtesy Carolyn and Tim McMahon.

    “This was our contribution to community togetherness after the fire,” Tim said. “We wanted to give the community something to share.”

    Their library — a simple wooden box with a shelf and glass door erected on a wooden post — opened May 31 and it has been a source of joy, and books, ever since.

    “It’s fabulous,” said Carolyn, a retired elementary school librarian and kindergarten teacher. “The books have come and gone. Sometimes they never come back. And that’s OK.

    “We absolutely love it.”

    She loves looking out the window and seeing neighbors gathering at the box to chat.

    She loves seeing which books are borrowed and the new books friends and strangers bring to replace them.

    She especially loves when children and teenagers stop at the box.

    “One day, I looked out and a group of teens was out there and one of them said: ‘Look! They have Hunger Games!’ ” she said. “I love it when I see people out there. And I love meeting people there.”

    The book borrowing isn’t confined to neighbors. The McMahons have had strangers stop by and even knock on their door to ask about it.

    Little Free Library boxes are scattered around the Pikes Peak Region. Courtesy Google Maps.

    Little Free Library boxes are scattered around the Pikes Peak Region. Courtesy Google Maps.

    Then there was the construction crew that rebuilt the house next door after the fire.

    “Construction workers would go to the Little Free Library and get books,” Carolyn said with a laugh.

    She is so devoted to the library that during the winter she installed a battery-operated candle on a timer so evening patrons could visit.

    “It was getting dark at 4:30 every day and you couldn’t see inside the Little Free Library,” she said. “So I put in the candle. It came on at 4:30 and went off at 10:30. It was lovely to come home and see that little glow in the garden.”

    The McMahons are part of a growing trend nationwide and in the Pikes Peak region.

    According to the LittleFreeLibrary.org website, there are at least nine free libraries in the area from Chipita Park in Ute Pass to northern Colorado Springs to near downtown to the southside Meadows Park Community Center to the Broadmoor area.

    Some are projects of a Girl Scout troop. Others are connected to a coffee shop or business. One was erected in memory of a woman who took books to Afghanistan and died in 2013.

    Photos on the site show the Little Free Library boxes range in size and design, limited only by your imagination.

    Jacqueline and Patrick Ayers built and installed a Little Free Library box in front of their home at 1034 E. Platte Ave. last May to encourage reading and build a sense of community. They have enjoyed watching neighbors make friends and chat as they borrow and lend books at the box, which includes a painting of their cat, Gracie Slick. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Jacqueline and Patrick Ayers built and installed a Little Free Library box in front of their home at 1034 E. Platte Ave. last May to encourage reading and build a sense of community. They have enjoyed watching neighbors make friends and chat as they borrow and lend books at the box, which includes a painting of their cat, Gracie Slick. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    At the urging of reader Cheryl Solze, I visited one at 1034 E. Platte Ave. It is more larger and more colorful than the McMahons’ library. It has three shelves, white walls with faux windows on the sides and a glass door painted red with a black-and-white cat painted on one pane.

    Inside I counted about 50 books, paperback and hard-cover, ranging from romance novels to history books to mysteries.

    Patrick Ayers inspects a Little Free Library box he built at the request of his wife, Jacqueline Ayers, and installed in front of their home at 1034 E. Platte Ave. last May to encourage reading and build a sense of community. They have enjoyed watching neighbors make friends and chat as they borrow and lend books at the box, which includes a painting of their cat, Gracie Slick. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Patrick Ayers inspects a Little Free Library box he built at the request of his wife, Jacqueline Ayers, and installed in front of their home at 1034 E. Platte Ave. last May to encourage reading and build a sense of community. They have enjoyed watching neighbors make friends and chat as they borrow and lend books at the box, which includes a painting of their cat, Gracie Slick. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    I stopped to talk to the owners, Jacqueline and Patrick Ayers. who described their own love of reading and desire to encourage others as motivation for building the library last May.

    “It has been a wonderful addition to the neighborhood,” Jacqueline said in an email message. “They even came driving up in their cars from other areas of the city.”

    Patrick said he’s been surprised how readily people contribute books.

    “Sometimes they even leave a boxes of books on the porch for us,” he said, showing me how he built their library using plywood, an old basement window for the door, wood fence slats he cut up for roof shingles.

    Like the McMahons, the Ayers enjoy watching as neighbors meet at the library and chat.

    “People are making new friends,” Patrick said. “That’s good for the neighborhood. I’d like to see these in every neighborhood.”

    As we stood on the sidewalk talking, a woman walked up with a cloth bag pulled two novels out and put them in the library.

    Martha Schwartz peruses the 50 or so books inside a Little Free Library box built and installed by Jacqueline and Patrick Ayers in front of their home at 1034 E. Platte Ave. last May. The Ayers wanted to encourage reading and build a sense of community. They have enjoyed watching neighbors make friends and chat as they borrow and lend books at the box. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Martha Schwartz peruses the 50 or so books inside a Little Free Library box built and installed by Jacqueline and Patrick Ayers in front of their home at 1034 E. Platte Ave. last May. The Ayers wanted to encourage reading and build a sense of community. They have enjoyed watching neighbors make friends and chat as they borrow and lend books at the box. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    “This is such a neat idea,” said the woman, Martha Schwartz. “I love this thing. I’ve been using it four or five months. It’s such a cool idea.”

    Martha said she loves to read and uses the Pikes Peak Library District. But the Little Free Library is so convenient she finds herself dropping by regularly.

    “This is so wonderful for people like me out walking,” she said as she looked for a new book to borrow.

    Little Free Library boxes have a little magic at Christmas. Photo courtesy Jacqueline Ayers.

    Little Free Library boxes have a little magic at Christmas. Photo courtesy Jacqueline Ayers.

    I particularly like the whimsical, even magical quality of the different library boxes.

    And the Ayers say there really is a little magic in the boxes.

    They told me of a man who walked by their library box just before Christmas.

    The man had a wife and an 8-month-old baby, no car and little money.

    He told Ayers he wanted to give his wife a book from the library.

    “When he took it home and gave it to her, they found stamps inside of the book,” Jacqueline said. “They took the stamps to a collector and received $200 for them.”

    Patrick smiled broadly at the memory: “I told him: ‘It is Christmas, after all!’ ”

    This Litte FreeLibrary was erected at 2708 Grandview Lane in the Colorado Springs Country Club/Palmer Park area. Photo courtesy LittleFreeLibrary.org

    This Litte FreeLibrary was erected at 2708 Grandview Lane in the Colorado Springs Country Club/Palmer Park area. Photo courtesy LittleFreeLibrary.org

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

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    This Little Free Library box was erected at 4160 Stonehaven Drive in the Broodmoor area. Photo courtesy LittleFreeLibrary.org

    This Little Free Library box was erected at 4160 Stonehaven Drive in the Broodmoor area. Photo courtesy LittleFreeLibrary.org

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

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    This Little Free Library box was erected at 727 N. Sheridan Ave. in memory of Anne Smedinghoff who died in 2013. She was taking children's books to Afghanistan, according to a memorial marker. Photo courtesy LittleFreeLibrary.org

    This Little Free Library box was erected at 727 N. Sheridan Ave. in memory of Anne Smedinghoff who died in 2013. She was taking children’s books to Afghanistan, according to a memorial marker. Photo courtesy LittleFreeLibrary.org

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

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    This Little Free Library box was donated to the Meadow Park Community Center, 1943 S. El Paso Ave., by Girl Scout Troop 1821. Photo courtesy LittleFreeLibrary.org

    This Little Free Library box was donated to the Meadow Park Community Center, 1943 S. El Paso Ave., by Girl Scout Troop 1821. Photo courtesy LittleFreeLibrary.org

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

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    This Little Free Library box was donated to the Pinon Valley Elementary School, 6205 Farthing Dr. by Girl Scout Troop 1821. Photo courtesy LittleFreeLibrary.org

    This Little Free Library box was donated to the Pinon Valley Elementary School, 6205 Farthing Dr. by Girl Scout Troop 1821. Photo courtesy LittleFreeLibrary.org

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

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  • Black Forest DVD captures historic fire and its aftermath

    Wed, January 8, 2014 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Terry Stokka of the Black Forest History Committee. He was photographed at the Gazette Tuesday, January 7, 2014. Photo by Mark Reis

    Terry Stokka of the Black Forest History Committee. He was photographed at the Gazette Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014. Photo by Mark Reis

    The sequel is rarely as good as the original. (Need I mention Anchorman 2?)

    But that movie adage doesn’t hold up in the case of the video released recently by the Black Forest History Committee.

    In 2010, the committee produced “Historical Tour of the Black Forest.” The 45-minute DVD was a fascinating account of the unincorporated 100-square-mile community, mostly homes on 5-acre lots, north of Colorado Springs and bordered by the Palmer Divide.

    The video took viewers back to Black Forest’s founding in 1859 as a logging center and explored the people, such as legendary teacher Edith Wolford, and neighborhoods that have inhabited its Ponderosa pine forest. It was a labor of love by people who wanted to preserve and share their affection for their community.

    Now, the nonprofit, volunteer group has produced a second video: “The Day the Forest Burned.” This one is a documentary of the Black Forest fire last June that killed two people, destroyed 488 homes and burned 14,280 acres.

    Instead of being a labor of love, this video was more from necessity to tell future generations of the tragedy that ranks among the worst in Colorado history in size and scope, deaths, homes and businesses lost, and overall financial damage.

    The DVD project was the idea of Terry Stokka, an Air Force retiree and forest resident since 1993 who serves as chairman of the history committee of the Black Forest Community Club.

    Stokka lives in the Falcon Forest subdivision, west of the intersection of Shoup and Black Forest roads, where the fire ignited June 11.

    His home was spared, but 26 of his neighborhood’s 65 homes were destroyed and another 25 suffered serious damage to their lots and outbuildings.

    “I got to thinking after the fire that we need to document this,” Stokka said. “It’s such a defining moment in the history of Black Forest. We needed to preserve it.”

    Unlike with the Waldo Canyon fire that ravaged the Mountain Shadows neighborhood of Colorado Springs in 2012, there is no professionally run history museum in Black Forest to collect artifacts or preserve in archives the events of last June.

    Here is the 28-page booklet and the DVD "The Day the Forest Burned" produced by the history committee of the Black Forest Community Club. The DVD is a documentary of the June 2013 fire that killed two and destroyed 488 houses in the unincorporated community north of Colorado Springs.

    Here is the 28-page booklet and the DVD “The Day the Forest Burned” produced by the history committee of the Black Forest Community Club. The DVD is a documentary of the June 2013 fire that killed two and destroyed 488 houses in the unincorporated community north of Colorado Springs.

    So Stokka got busy gathering newspaper stories, photos and videos and collecting personal accounts from eyewitnesses, victims and public officials.

    “I wrote a narrative, trying to be as accurate as I could with times and dates,” he said. “I gathered 250 pictures and six video clips that represent a pretty dramatic collection.”

    Among those donating photos was the staff of The Gazette as well as the Black Forest News, the Colorado Springs Fire Department and other sources.

    Stokka organized the information chronologically, weaving in bits of history on the forest. Then he turned everything over to committee member Jeff Spector who spent hours creating the actual video with Stokka’s audio narration.

    I particularly liked the “before and after” photos of historic buildings in the video. Of course, it was sad to see how many of the structures in the first video didn’t survive.

    And it made the original effort seem especially inspired.

    Stokka said it was difficult to edit the narrative to a reasonable viewing length. So he included the extra material in a 28-page booklet that the committee is selling with the DVD. Three small maps of the forest also are for sale, showing the houses lost and the scope of the fire.

    I wondered if anyone gathered any artifacts such as the skeletal remains of a motorcycle or the charred street signs and fused silverwear collected by the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum used to dramatically illustrate the impact of the Waldo Canyon fire in an exhibit last summer.

    “The idea of a display would be nice,” Stokka said. “But I’m not sure we could put that together. I don’t know if anybody collected artifacts.”

    Sadly, he said, there are still plenty of burned homes in the forest where an archivist could find display pieces.

    But that’s a whole different project. I’m impressed at what Stokka has accomplished in the DVD package. And I’m impressed at his goal for the money made from the sale of the DVD.

    “All proceeds will go to our Black Forest Community Club,” Stokka said. “All the money will go to relief agencies and be funneled to victims of the fire.”

    This is one of the three maps of Black Forest included in the DVD "The Day the Forest Burned" produced by the history committee of the Black Forest Community Club. This map pinpoints the location of the 488 houses destroyed in the June 2013 fire. Map courtesy of the Black Forest Community Club.

    This is one of the three maps of Black Forest included in the DVD “The Day the Forest Burned” produced by the history committee of the Black Forest Community Club. This map pinpoints the location of the 488 houses destroyed in the June 2013 fire. Map courtesy of the Black Forest Community Club.

    “The Day the Forest Burned” is a 50-minute DVD created by the history committee of the Black Forest Community Club. The DVD and three maps sell for $15. An accompanying 28-page booklet is an extra $3.

    The DVDs will be available for purchase — strictly cash or check transactionsbeginning Friday through Feb. 1 at the front desk of The Gazette, 30 E. Pikes Peak Ave., in downtown Colorado Springs.

    The Gazette has no legal or financial interest in the video and will not profit from any sales. All proceeds will be returned to the Black Forest Community Club, which is solely responsible for its content.

    Checks should be made payable to the BFC Club, a nonprofit organization.

    For more information, please call Terry Stokka at 495-0895 or email him at tstokka@juno.com.

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  • Christmas is a time for giving, reflection

    Mon, January 6, 2014 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    The Vogrin family circa 1968. Bill Vogrin Sr. on the far left and his wife, Betty, on the far right. Side Streets columnist Bill Vogrin is on the left, sitting at his dad's knee.

    The Vogrin family circa 1968. Bill Vogrin Sr. on the far left and his wife, Betty, on the far right. Side Streets columnist Bill Vogrin is on the left, sitting at his dad’s knee.

    I love Christmas because it conjures some of the best memories of my childhood.

    Each Christmas Eve, my folks hosted a family party with all our aunts, uncles and cousins. (It was the one night a year everyone got along.) The scene was pure Norman Rockwell, if you ignored the visit by a drunken Santa.

    Christmas tree

    Then my family would go to midnight Mass, and when we came home . magic happened!

    While we were at church, gifts appeared under our tree and our stockings were stuffed with candy. Of course, our parents were in the pew with us the entire time at church. So a visit from Santa was the only logical explanation.

    (It was years before I figured out the elderly next-door neighbors had made the gifts magically appear.)

    In recent years, I’ve found myself on Christmas morning watching my own kids enjoy the day as I drink coffee and reflect on life.

    Same thing happens at work. I reflect on the folks around Colorado Springs whom I’ve met, the extraordinary stories I’ve been fortunate to tell, and I think of a few gifts I’d like to give, if I could.

    Deer 012 2Remember the saga of the Rockrimmon buck – a deer with an impressive rack of antlers who became injured during the rut and perched himself on a ledge near a busy corner?

    Clearly suffering, the buck attracted well-meaning folks who gave him water and food. Others approached him to take photos. Some even lifted small children dangerously close to the injured animal’s jagged, broken antlers.

    The buck caused such a sensation that state wildlife officers captured it, cut off his antlers and relocated him south of the city.

    Sadly, its carcass was found along a road a few weeks later, devoured by bears.

    My gift to the buck would be reincarnation at the top of the food chain in a wilderness far from cars and people.

    RoseArvesonWWNewsAnother story I followed throughout the year was the tale of Little Saint Rose Arveson and the deteriorating shrine her daughters Dorothy and Pauline built at the family’s west-side home after her death in 1963. The daughters believed their mother’s claim that Jesus visited her in the home in 1936 and that roses they placed on her coffin died and then miraculously came back to life, meriting sainthood for Rose.

    The news this year was that authorities entered the house and found the caretaker unable to move and living amid dead animals, human waste, garbage and filth. At year’s end, it seemed the house and shrine the daughters maintained until their own deaths was headed for demolition under a test of the city’s blight ordinance.

    My gift to the Arvesons is that they finally get to rest in peace.

    Ben Pinello Jr. 2A much happier story I followed involved Ben Pinello Jr. and his quest to build a family cemetery on his family’s 40-acre Pinello Ranch south of downtown. It was great to see him get his wish and the gift I’d give him is plenty of time with his family before he ever needs his new cemetery.

    Another of my favorite stories in 2013 involved Joe Hanson and his need for a new kidney. His kidneys failed in 2011, forcing him onto a grueling daily dialysis routine that left him unable to work as an aerospace engineer. Or to do much of anything.

    Before the year’s end Joe received a donor kidney and is recuperating. My gift to Joe is full recovery.

    Joe Hanson after kidney transplant surgery

    Joe Hanson after kidney transplant surgery in November 2013

    Everyone remembers the story of wildfire we relived in June. Not quite a year after the Waldo Canyon fire, the Black Forest was decimated by an inferno that killed two and destroyed close to 500 homes.

    For all in Black Forest, I wish a speedy reconstruction and for the entire region I’d give the gift of safety from more wildfires. Haven’t we had enough?

    Same for the folks in Manitou Springs and west Colorado Springs who found themselves dealing with devastating and deadly flash flooding in summer and fall. As James Taylor said, I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain. And, frankly, I’m done with both. I hope.

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

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

    A favorite story from 2013 was about the Brown Bombers, an all-black team who won back-to-back championships in the Colorado Springs City Baseball League in 1949 and ’50 by defeating all-white teams.

    I was impressed by their story of overcoming hardship. The Brown Bombers organized themselves into a championship team even though team members didn’t have organized Little League teams, coaching, equipment or even uniforms as kids.

    In fact, they were barred from playing baseball or football in high school because of the overt racist culture at the time.

    I was honored when Tom Osborne, chief executive officer of the Colorado Springs Sports Corp., which sponsors the hall, said he’d use my column as a nomination for enshrinement in the Colorado Springs Sports Hall of Fame next fall.

    Of course my gift, could I give it, would be to see that completed and to have the surviving members there to enjoy it.

    Jonah Pfennigs rests in his hospital room in November after his cancer returned.

    Jonah Pfennigs rests in his hospital room in November after his cancer returned.

    Finally, I find myself thinking a lot about Jonah Pfennigs, the 14-year-old freshman at Doherty High School who is battling cancer.

    As a toddler, Jonah was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. On Oct. 30, 2002, at age 3, Jonah received a bone marrow transplant from his 4-year-old brother, Sam. Jonah recovered and on his 10th anniversary was considered cured, said his mother, Kim Pfennigs.

    But in October, Jonah’s cancer returned and he’s been undergoing chemotherapy and awaiting another bone marrow transplant.

    On my desk, I have a red rubber wristband printed with the words: Go Jonah! Kick Cancer. And I have a note from Kim explaining that good folks at Doherty are selling the wristbands to raise money to help the family with its medical expenses.

    I can hardly look at the wristband without thinking of my own 14-year-old son, Ben, and tearing up at the thought of Jonah and all the other children out there facing similar battles.

    Christmas is supposed to be a time of joy. Of drunken Santas and parties and gifts. Not suffering children.

    So for Jonah, a final gift wish of a successful bone marrow transplant Dec. 27 – one that lasts you a lifetime.

    Merry Christmas to you and yours. And may all your Christmas wishes come true.

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  • Rockrimmon residents fear new apartments will create dangerous congestion

    Wed, December 4, 2013 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    The clubhouse of the Encore at Rockrimmon apartment complex is finished in this Dec. 3, 2013 photo. The Nor'wood Development Group hopes to take possession Dec. 21 of the first building in the 260-unit complex under construction on 12 acres along Delmonico Drive near South Rockrimmon Boulevard. Rents will range from $900 to $1,450 a month.

    The clubhouse of the Encore at Rockrimmon apartment complex is finished in this Dec. 3, 2013 photo. The Nor’wood Development Group hopes to take possession Dec. 21 of the first building in the 260-unit complex under construction on 12 acres along Delmonico Drive near South Rockrimmon Boulevard. Rents will range from $900 to $1,450 a month.

    With images of their frantic escape from the 2012 Waldo Canyon fire fresh in their minds, some residents of Rockrimmon are worried their neighborhood is about to become dangerously congested as one large apartment complex opens and another is proposed.

    But officials of the new 260-unit Encore at Rockrimmon apartments on 12 acres along Delmonico Drive, and the proposed Creekside at Rockrimmon project, with 141 apartment units and 62 single-family homes on 24 acres just to the west, say their projects would not unduly add to traffic volumes.

    Premier Homes of Pueblo has proposed building a student housing complex with 141 units and 62 single-family homes to be called Creekside at Rockrimmon in this field along South Rockrimmon Boulevard. This view is looking west from Delmonico Drive. Neighbors fear the student apartments, coupled with the nearby Encore at Rockrimmon apartments now under construction, will dangerously clog area streets.

    Premier Homes of Pueblo has proposed building a student housing complex with 141 units and 62 single-family homes to be called Creekside at Rockrimmon in this field along South Rockrimmon Boulevard. This view is looking west from Delmonico Drive. Neighbors fear the student apartments, coupled with the nearby Encore at Rockrimmon apartments now under construction, will dangerously clog area streets.

    The fears surfaced in neighborhood meetings designed to alert folks to the projects and gather their input.

    Neighbor Carol Vogeney wrote me about the project after one of the meetings turned ugly and left her and others unsatisfied with the answers they received.

    “It was explosive,” Vogeney wrote of the two-hour meeting in October. “Many issues came up: traffic, crime, what to do if we have to evacuate again in the traffic.”

    She was talking about the bumper-to-bumper traffic jam that occurred June 26, 2012, when the Waldo Canyon fire exploded into Mountain Shadows neighborhood prompting the evacuation of about 30,000 residents west of Interstate 25.

    The Creekside at Rockrimmon project proposed by Premier Homes of Pueblo calls for 62 single-family homes and a 141-unit student housing complex on 24 acres. The Encore at Rockrimmon apartments will have 260 units when completed. Courtesy FlashEarth.com

    The Creekside at Rockrimmon project proposed by Premier Homes of Pueblo calls for 62 single-family homes and a 141-unit student housing complex on 24 acres. The Encore at Rockrimmon apartments will have 260 units when completed. Courtesy FlashEarth.com

    At the peak of the evacuation, looping Rockrimmon Boulevard was six lanes of eastbound cars, packed with kids, pets and personal belongings, trying desperately to avoid the inferno to the west. Delmonico was choked with southbound cars.

    The streets intersect twice, north and south, and it was gridlock at both.

    Both apartment projects are located near the south intersection, which was especially clogged due to the proximity of railroad tracks and an intersection with Mark Dabling Boulevard and I-25.

    The Encore at Rockrimmon apartments fill 12 acres between Delmonico Drive and the railroad tracks adjacent to Mark Dabling Boulevard. The complex sits behind the Mateo Spa and USA Cycling buildings. Originally, the project was call North Pointe Apartments. It will have 260 units when completed.

    The Encore at Rockrimmon apartments fill 12 acres between Delmonico Drive and the railroad tracks adjacent to Mark Dabling Boulevard. The complex sits behind the Mateo Spa and USA Cycling buildings. Originally, the project was call North Pointe Apartments. It will have 260 units when completed.

    Now, Vogeney and many folks in the Golden Hills and Tamarron neighborhoods, among other nearby neighborhoods, worry that adding hundreds of apartments will make it even harder to funnel through the intersection of Delmonico and South Rockrimmon Boulevard.

    “Can you imagine that intersection?” Vogeney asked.

    City planner Lonna Thelen said traffic engineers studied plans submitted by Nor’wood Development Group for Encore and deemed the projected volumes within reasonable limits.

    Steve Sharkey, Nor’wood Development vice president, said Encore’s apartments would generate less traffic than if the property had been developed into more retail shops, as was originally envisioned and zoned.

    “The volume of traffic will be significantly less than a retail environment,” Sharkey said, adding that Encore will appeal to “young professionals and emptynesters” who can afford rents ranging from $900 to $1,450 a month.

    As Encore prepares to open its first building Dec. 21, Creekside awaits approval of proposed changes to its concept plan in hopes of launching the first phase of its project. It calls for 38 units in six buildings plus a clubhouse on five acres west of the intersection.

    Creekside needs approval to amend its concept from multi-family to student housing, hoping to cash in on the explosive growth of the nearby University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

    Thelen said she is awaiting analysis by traffic engineers of the plans for Creekside, submitted by N.E.S. Inc., a Springs planning firm handling the project for Premier Homes of Pueblo.

    Premier Homes of Pueblo has proposed building a student housing complex with 141 units and 62 single-family homes to be called Creekside at Rockrimmon in this field along South Rockrimmon Boulevard.  The first phase calls for 38 units in six buildings and a clubhouse with pool on five acres.

    Premier Homes of Pueblo has proposed building a student housing complex with 141 units and 62 single-family homes to be called Creekside at Rockrimmon in this field along South Rockrimmon Boulevard. The first phase calls for 38 units in six buildings and a clubhouse with pool on five acres.

    “We’ve asked for additional study in response to neighborhood concerns,” Thelen said. “We have asked the applicant to resolve questions about geological hazards, drainage and traffic.”

    John Maynard of N.E.S. Inc., said his client has built similar student housing projects in Pueblo, east of Colorado State University there. And a similar project is planned at Mesa State University in Grand Junction.

    “There will be a pool, clubhouse, common kitchen and living area,” Maynard said. “Each bedroom has its own bath and the units are all furnished with daily trash pickup and 24-hour security patrols.”

    But Vogeney said many neighbors fear Creekside will actually be home to far more students, who will double-bunk to save money and clog the area with cars.

    “The developer insists that college kids have changed and will take good care of their dorm rooms and no one will ever have an extra roomate,” she said in disbelief.

    Premier Homes of Pueblo has proposed building a student housing complex with 141 units and 62 single-family homes to be called Creekside at Rockrimmon in this field along South Rockrimmon Boulevard. This view is looking north from Tech Center Drive. Neighbors fear the student apartments, coupled with the nearby Encore at Rockrimmon apartments now under construction, will dangerously clog area streets.

    Premier Homes of Pueblo has proposed building a student housing complex with 141 units and 62 single-family homes to be called Creekside at Rockrimmon in this field along South Rockrimmon Boulevard. This view is looking north from Tech Center Drive. Neighbors fear the student apartments, coupled with the nearby Encore at Rockrimmon apartments now under construction, will dangerously clog area streets.

    Maynard said his client is convinced the project will run smoothly, citing experienced gained in Pueblo. He said he hopes to provide Thelen soon with new traffic projections and calm neighborhood fears.

    One change might be the installation of a traffic signal where the project will intersect with Rockrimmon at Tech Center Drive.

    Creekside, if approved by Thelen, would need approval of the City Planning Commission and possibly the Colorado Springs City Council if an appeal is filed. Premier hopes to have the first phase built and open by the 2014 fall semester.

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  • Colorado Springs builder recycles trees destroyed by wildfires in new homes

    Sun, November 10, 2013 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Andy Stauffer, president of Colorado Timber Homes, is recycling charred Black Forest ponderosa pines into timbers like the cross beam he's seen leaning on in this Oct. 31, 2013, photo. Stauffer's company used recycled timbers to rebuild this large shed at Venetucci Farm and more will be used to build horse stalls in a new barn there. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Andy Stauffer, president of Colorado Timber Homes, is recycling charred Black Forest ponderosa pines into timbers like the cross beam he’s seen leaning on in this Oct. 31, 2013, photo. Stauffer’s company used recycled timbers to rebuild this large shed at Venetucci Farm and more will be used to build horse stalls in a new barn there. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    When Andy Stauffer’s company, Colorado Timber Homes, was rebuilding a Mountain Shadows home destroyed during the Waldo Canyon fire, he had an idea for linking the old and the new.

    It involved recycling a particular tree that had burned on his clients’ property. This tree had been planted by the homeowners for their kids and had special meaning to the family.

    “We dropped the tree and used it to create a mantel over the fireplace in the new home,” Stauffer told me. “Now, they have a photo of the family with the old tree, sitting on that mantel in their new home.”

    Andy Stauffer's Colorado Timber Homes harvested 120 or so large Ponderosa pine trees from this scorched lot in Black Forest to recycle as construction lumber. Courtesy photo.

    Andy Stauffer’s Colorado Timber Homes harvested 120 or so large Ponderosa pine trees from this scorched lot in Black Forest to recycle as construction lumber. Courtesy photo.

    He said the photo and mantle became a source of comfort and helped warm the new home for the family.

    Lately, his company is rebuilding homes that were destroyed in the recent Black Forest fire and he’s creating new mantles from burned pine trees that he’s recycling from his clients’ lots.

    The Venetucci Farm's old asparagus shed in the background was rebuilt using lumber milled from charred logs burned in the Black Forest fire. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    The Venetucci Farm’s old asparagus shed in the background was rebuilt using lumber milled from charred logs burned in the Black Forest fire. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    And seeing all those thousands of acres of burned trees prompted him to think how he might recycle more of the wood, rather than see it all of it simply lost to the chippers.

    “Those tree have to come down eventually,” Stauffer said. “A lot of them can be used like rip rap on hillsides to stop erosion. And a lot of the smaller ones can be chipped up and redistributed to stabilize the soil.

    “But there’s a lot of large logs that can be used for something else.”

    So Stauffer approached the folks at the Pikes Peak Community Foundation about rebuilding a large, old asparagus shed, as it was known, at the old Venetucci Farm, established in 1936 south of Colorado Springs along Fountain Creek in unincorporated Security.

    photo by Carol Lawrence 10-11-01

    Nick Venetucci, 90, is seen in an Oct. 11, 2001, photo on his farm on Highway 85/87, Security, after getting off his 1948 John Deer Tractor. The Gazette file

    You may remember the farm as the place where, for decades, Nick Venetucci grew pumpkins, among other crops, and gave away thousands each year at Halloween to area school children.

    Nick died in 2004 and the foundation acquired the farm a couple years later as a gift from the estate.

    Today, it remains a working farm and the foundation carries on the Venetucci pumpkin giveaway tradition. In addition, it grows 100 varieties of chemical-free vegetables and herbs as well as raising “heritage hogs,” grass-fed cattle and egg-laying chickens.

    Everything grown at the farm is sold in the Pikes Peak region through a farmers market, an on-site farm stand, and to area restaurants.

    The shed, which looks like a large barn, was in danger of collapse. Its roof was ragged and peeling away and timbers inside were rotted and failing.

    111013 Side Streets 7Rebuilding it with commercial lumber would have been too expensive. So Stauffer suggested using the charred lumber off of a Black Forest lot as a way to cut costs and save the shed.

    “This was an historic building,” Stauffer said recently as he showed me around inside. “But it was falling down.”

    Rather than raze the shed, Stauffer thought he could salvage it using freshly cut Black Forest pine.

    Covered in soot, Ralf Bock mills burned logs to be used on a historic shed at the Venetucci Farm on Monday, Sept. 30, 2013.  The logs are from the Black Forest burn area. Once the burned outer layer is cut away, the logs make perfectly fine lumber. (The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett)

    Covered in soot, Ralf Bock mills burned logs to be used on a historic shed at the Venetucci Farm on Monday, Sept. 30, 2013. The logs are from the Black Forest burn area. Once the burned outer layer is cut away, the logs make perfectly fine lumber. (The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett)

    So he hired Ralf Bock from RB Custom Homes in Cripple Creek to haul down his portable mill to the farm. Then Stauffer’s crews dragged 120 or so large, black pine logs, 8 inches in diameter or larger, to the farm and Bock got busy.

    When I met him last week, Bock was sitting at his mill, pushing one log through after another. His large saw peeled away the blackened bark and sliced large, smooth pieces of lumber out of the logs.

    Behind him was the shed, standing as straight and tall as it must have decades ago when the Venetuccis  used it to process vegetables grown at their farm.

    Charred Black Forest ponderosa pine are being milled into lumber being used to rebuild an old shed and to create horse stalls in a new barn at Venetucci Farm. Fire marks are still visible on some of the milled wood. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Charred Black Forest Ponderosa pine are being milled into lumber being used to rebuild an old shed and to create horse stalls in a new barn at Venetucci Farm. Fire marks are still visible on some of the milled wood. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Inside, the new timbers and beams were obvious in contrast to the weathered old posts and boards they had joined.

    With the shed rebuilt, Stauffer now plans to use Black Forest lumber to build five horse stalls in a new barn next to the shed among other projects.

    Some of the wood being used in a historical asparagus shed at the Venetucci Farm is from the Black Forest Fire. Charles Hutchison gets ready to put a piece of the wood in place at the farm on Monday, Sept. 30, 2013. (The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett)

    Some of the wood being used in a historical asparagus shed at the Venetucci Farm is from the Black Forest Fire. Charles Hutchison gets ready to put a piece of the wood in place at the farm on Monday, Sept. 30, 2013. (The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett)

    “Is this wood viable for commercial construction? No,” Stauffer said. “Ponderosa pine is considered a garbage material. Because of its branch structure, it has a lot of knots and imperfections that contribute to weakness.”

    So the charred wood can’t cut it as load-bearing lumber for mass construction.

    But it can be used to shore up old sheds or as a nostalgic beam in a home or a mantel or some other detail piece, he said.

    I think it’s a great idea to salvage as much of the old timber as possible. After all, pioneers used Black Forest timber to build Colorado Springs. Why not use it, where possible, as trim in rebuilt homes?

    Charred Black Forest ponderosa pine are being milled into lumber being used to rebuild an old shed and to create horse stalls in a new barn at Venetucci Farm. Fire marks are still visible on some of the milled wood. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    Charred Black Forest ponderosa pine are being milled into lumber being used to rebuild an old shed and to create horse stalls in a new barn at Venetucci Farm. Fire marks are still visible on some of the milled wood. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

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  • Ghosthunters probe Manitou Springs to help museums and attractions

    Thu, October 24, 2013 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Miramont Castle in Manitou Springs on Tuesday, May 28, 2002.  The Gazette file

    Miramont Castle in Manitou Springs on Tuesday, May 28, 2002. The Gazette file

    Want to get your Halloween spook on and maybe help area businesses struggling after tourist seasons ruined by fire and flood?

    Then sign up for a late-night tour with the Haunted Dimensions Parahistorian Team of Manitou Springs.

    Tammila and Erick Wright of the Haunted Dimensions Parahistorian Team, Courtesy photo.

    Tammila and Erick Wright of the Haunted Dimensions Parahistorian Team, Courtesy photo.

    This weekend and next, the team of Tammila and Erick Wright will lead expert paranormal investigators and members of the paying public on explorations of some famous Manitou buildings.

    On Friday and Saturday night, they will investigate the Iron Springs Chateau playhouse at 444 Ruxton Ave. beginning at 11 p.m., following performances of the play “The Restless Ghosts of Emma Crawford.”

    (Longtime residents know Emma Crawford as the woman who came to Manitou in 1889 seeking a cure for tuberculosis only to die two years later. She was buried atop Red Mountain but a 1929 storm washed her remains  down the mountain. Only her casket handles, a nameplate and few bones were found. Legend says she haunts the mountain still today and she is celebrated with an annual festival and coffin races, scheduled Saturday.)

    Emma Crawford

    Emma Crawford

    If you believe in that kind of thing, you might want to catch the play and then stick around for the ghost hunting with Tammila and Erick for an extra $25. All funds going to the playhouse, which has been struggling like most Manitou attractions following the 2012 Waldo Canyon fire and the recent devastating floods.

    “Everybody in Manitou has been hurting,” Tammila said. “We thought we could help some of the museums out by doing paranormal tours to raise money.”

    Based on preliminary research, the Wrights are confident that spirits, entities or other paranormal activity will be encountered in the chateau.

    “We’ve been researching the property for a couple years and they allowed us in three times to do preliminary investigations,” Erick said. “This is the first time we’ll be allowed to bring in a large group.”

    A thermal image taken by the Haunted Dimensions Parahistorian Team during an Oct. 19, 2013, investigation of the Iron Springs Chateau in Manitou Springs. Courtesy photo.

    A thermal image taken by the Haunted Dimensions Parahistorian Team during an Oct. 19, 2013, investigation of the Iron Springs Chateau in Manitou Springs. Courtesy photo.

    Teams will be armed with all the modern paranormal investigative tools as they hunt evidence of the afterlife.

    Paying customers will get to use electromagnetic receivers, digital and magnetic tape audio recorders, professional sound equipment and microphones, digital cameras, video and thermal imaging recorders and even good old flashlights.

    A horse-drawn carriage stands in front of wooden building with signs "Ute Iron Spring" at 444 Ruxton Ave., in Manitou Springs, and a sign says "Ute Iron Springs J.G. Hiestand, Prop." in this photo from the Stewart Commercial Photographers Collection of the Pikes Peak Library District. The Iron Springs Chateau began as a candy and cigar store in 1880 at the site of the Ute Iron Springs. Hiestand erected the original building now known as the Iron Springs Chateau Melodrama Dinner Theater. In 1964, the Chateau Players formed launching the Iron Springs Chateau melodrama.

    A horse-drawn carriage stands in front of wooden building with signs “Ute Iron Spring” at 444 Ruxton Ave., in Manitou Springs, and a sign says “Ute Iron Springs J.G. Hiestand, Prop.” in this photo from the Stewart Commercial Photographers Collection of the Pikes Peak Library District. The Iron Springs Chateau began as a candy and cigar store in 1880 at the site of the Ute Iron Springs. Hiestand erected the original building now known as the Iron Springs Chateau Melodrama Dinner Theater. In 1964, the Chateau Players formed launching the Iron Springs Chateau melodrama.

    “We’ll go to different parts of the building and people will witness for themselves what is going on,” Erick said. “We could be there several hours.”

    In preliminary ghost hunting at the chateau, the Wrights and their team believe they recorded the sound of a woman walking through singing an opera.

    “Based on our research, we believe it was Alice Crawford, Emma’s sister,” he said. “Alice worked at the chateau when it was a spa building. And its builder was a pall bearer at Emma’s funeral.”

    In fact, Erick said an old mineral spring, now capped, still sits under the floor of the main room. He said natural water features tend to “act as an amplifier for entities” in a building.

    “Besides Alice, another entity we picked up was Sid, who worked there for 35 years or so as an actor and stagehand,” Erick said, describing how his team was led by spirits to a small storage room where they found a photo of Sid, taken in 1974, hanging on the wall.

    The Haunted Dimensions team will regroup next week on Halloween and on Friday, Nov. 1, to do further research on a handful of historical properties in downtown Manitou.

    Pall bearers posed with the coffin of Emma Crawford before her burial atop Red Mountain in this 1891 photo. Courtesy the Margaretta M. Boas Photograph Collection of the Pikes Peak Library District.

    Pall bearers posed with the coffin of Emma Crawford before her burial atop Red Mountain in this 1891 photo. Courtesy the Margaretta M. Boas Photograph Collection of the Pikes Peak Library District.

    Those tours also cost $25 apiece and will begin at 9:30 p.m., lasting until after midnight.

    The group conducted its first charitable ghosthunt last week at Miramont Castle and raised about $3,500 last week hosting three nighttime investigations at the famous castle at 9 Capitol Hill Ave., in Manitou.

    Demand was so great they had to expand from two nights to three to accommodate everyone, said Jennifer Walters, spokeswoman for the castle, a four-story, 14,000-square-foot structure built in 1895 by Father Jean Baptiste Francolon. It was bought by the Manitou Springs Historical Society in 1976 and now operates as a family-friendly museum featuring 30 rooms filled with Victorian-era artifacts.

    “It was a big success,” Jennifer said. “It’s something we, as a historical society, don’t normally do. We’ve turned away many groups and individuals who wanted to investigate the castle. But the Wrights are members of the society and they wanted to help us, knowing we’ve had a pretty rough time the past two summers.”

    So the society approved the investigations. The Wrights are now studying their hours of audio and video to see if they can confirm what they believe may be paranormal activity.

    The Wrights have done similar investigations since 1985 but never charged people to join them in the past.

    Turning their ghost-hunting into fundraising events helped everyone.

    “We are helping organizations that are struggling,” Erick said. “And we are getting to investigate some incredible historic properties.”

    To join the Iron Chateau event, call 685-5104.

    To join the investigations on Halloween and Nov. 1, call 685-1454. 

    Follow this link to a video produced by Haunted Dimensions about their investigation of Baby Doe Tabor and her haunted cabin in Leadville.

    This link takes you to a video investigating the Elkhorn Lodge in Estes Park.

    The Haunted Dimensions Parahistorian Team films historic research during a recent investigation of paranormal activity. Holding the book is Tammila Wright and her husband, Erick Wright, is on the far right. Courtesy photo.

    The Haunted Dimensions Parahistorian Team films historic research during a recent investigation of paranormal activity. Holding the book is Tammila Wright and her husband, Erick Wright, is on the far right. Courtesy photo.

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  • Orphaned Colorado Springs war vets to regroup at Denny’s

    Fri, September 6, 2013 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    The Peak Grill as it appeared Sept. 5, 2013, about two weeks after it closed. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    The Peak Grill as it appeared Sept. 5, 2013, about two weeks after it closed. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette

    The failure of a small, family-owned and operated business is painful enough. Everything you worked to build for years is gone. Your finances are ruined. You are embarrassed.

    But when you feel like you’ve let others down, too, that pain is compounded.

    Randy and Nancy Bolen. Photo courtesy Jane Rodgers.

    Randy and Nancy Bolen. Photo courtesy Jane Rodgers.

    That’s the case for Randy and Nancy Bolen who abruptly closed their Peak Grill on Centennial Boulevard a couple weeks ago. They shut down operations after 14 years serving breakfast and lunch to folks in Mountain Shadows, Holland Park and the surrounding northwest area, there was one aspect that made it even worse.

    The Bolens were heartbroken to walk away from their restaurant, which Randy said finally succumbed to soaring food costs, the recession and a knockout blow last summer from the Waldo Canyon fire which killed two in Mountain Shadows and destroyed 347 homes, many of them owned by regular Grill customers.

    But they feel even worse because their closure has orphaned a group of veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

    Inside the Peak Grill, a wall was dedicated to veterans of World War II, known as the Greatest Generation. Courtesy photo.

    Inside the Peak Grill, a wall was dedicated to veterans of World War II, known as the Greatest Generation. Courtesy photo.

    For the past four years, the group has met at the restaurant on a monthly basis, even creating a “Greatest Generation” wall inside of photos, news clippings and other memories. They gathered to make new friends, to share war stories, to enrich their twilight years by surrounding themselves with a shrinking group of vets who alone can understand what they endured on the battlefield.

    Randy Bolen knows those monthly lunch meetings were pretty special in the lives of these vets and he’s sick to think his closing also might doom the group’s activities.

    “I so hope another restaurant or business or organization will step up to honor these people,” Randy said of the veterans.

    Dennys_Logo_ColorA new home, at least for now, has been found at Denny’s restaurant at 315 W. Bijou St., at the intersection of Interstate 25. But some wonder if any restaurant can ever recapture the special feeling that existed at the Peak Grill.

    It started as a one-time event in 2009 when Randy and Nancy offered a free lunch to all World War II vets on the anniversary of the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941.

    “Nancy and I were watching a History Channel show about the war and we cooked up a scheme to honor our local veterans on Pearl Harbor day,” Randy said. “We had such a good response we decided to do it monthly.”

    So on the second Tuesday of every month, veterans gathered at the Grill for a deeply discounted lunch, often a guest speaker, and to make new friends.

    “At our last lunch meeting, we had close to 100 people,” Randy said. “It was one of the most satisfying things about the business.”

    Henry "Duke" Boswell, a paratrooper in the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment during World War II. Photo courtesy of Jane Rodgers.

    Henry “Duke” Boswell, a paratrooper in the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment during World War II. Photo courtesy of Jane Rodgers.

    One of the regulars at the lunches was Henry “Duke” Boswell, 89, who was drawn by the opportunity to commiserate with fellow GIs who could relate to his own war experiences as a paratrooper in the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment.

    Boswell was among the fearless paratroopers who jumped into the night, drifting down behind enemy lines as a prelude to key invasions including the daring D-Day invasion on the beaches of Normandy, France, on June 6, 1944, as Allied forces launched a pivotal offensive against Nazi Germany.

    “We jumped at midnight, the night before D-Day in a town near the coast about two miles behind the landing beaches,” Boswell said. “Our job was to grab the crossroads and bridges that led to the beaches and stop the Germans from reinforcing the beaches.”

    Not many places you can find someone to nod knowingly and appreciate stories of Germans firing at you as you floated to earth with tracer bullets whizzing past your parachute. It’s a special kind of camaraderie that the Bolens and the Peak Grill offered.

    “I feel terrible about them closing,” Boswell said. “They did it out of the goodness of their hearts. It was a great project.”

    Jane Rodgers. Photo courtesy Jane Rodgers

    Jane Rodgers. Photo courtesy Jane Rodgers

    Jane Rodgers is hoping to preserve the lunch program by relocating it to a new restaurant.

    Rodgers, whose husband was a Vietnam veteran, helped the Bolens coordinate the lunches as the program grew in popularity.

    But with the next lunch meeting scheduled Sept. 10, she was running out of time in her effort to find a restaurant willing to host dozens of war vets. Then she called Denny’s.

    “We’re more than happy to have them here,” Denny’s manager Nate Bellamy told me. “I guess a lot of other restaurants couldn’t accommodate them. But we can. We’re looking forward to it.”

     Rodgers and Boswell hope all the veterans who were regulars at Peak Grill will drop by Denny’s at 11 a.m., Tuesday, to join them for lunch.

    As Boswell noted, it’s not like they can waste too many opportunities to meet since many are in their 80s and 90s.

    “It’s just a good, friendly meeting,” Boswell said. “Absolutely, I’ll be there. It would be a shame to let it die.”

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