Heroes – 2

Heroes (Part 2)

The topic of heroism has always fascinated us. We look for examples to emulate in doing great things. The quarterback or home run champ?  The firefighter carrying a child out from a burning building, the cop – or civilian! – subduing a killer?  Sure, but how about the parent reading a bedtime story after an exhausting workday, the sanitation worker, the utility worker in a storm. Some are daring greatly, some just persisting in dull or draining work because it has to be done. Heroism comes in many forms. 

By Ken Fischer

Heroic efforts are not always front page.

In the course of many years of dealing with tactical and high stress incidents, I’ve had occasion to witness heroic acts. Again, the principals in these incidents regarded themselves as ordinary people doing what they needed to do to resolve a crisis.

Women in police street level work were fairly non-existent even into the seventies. Lakewood was progressive so female agents were on board, but could not work solo until 1975. No chief wanted to be the first to lose a woman in the line of duty, so women had partners or worked support assignments, never alone. In 1975 a female officer was killed in the line of duty in Washington DC. Soon after, Lakewood had women working the street solo.

A couple years later I was asked, as a street supervisor, how I felt about women in combat.

While differing in the work environment from combat, parallels do exist between the police and the military.

My response was that my troops, including several women, faced combat issues regularly. If they were not up to the task, they usually redirected their career in a short time frame – men and women alike.

Lakewood Police Department photo

Toward the end of my tenure, I monitored a burglary in progress alarm at a marijuana store. The female beat agent – flying solo post-academy for just a couple months – had been close and responded to confront an exiting suspect. Our police agent was athletic and avid, but ran about five feet tall, just over a hundred pounds. She was the daughter of a fellow ranking officer from another agency. I recalled her as his newborn baby in the eighties when she and her mother came to watch our Police Athletic League football practices.

The suspect was twice her weight, intoxicated and confrontational. He would not obey commands and charged her. No opportunity for a Taser. Seconds seemed like minutes as this 22-year-old woman confronted real life danger in a hands-on assault.

Backup got to her as she was riding the back of the suspect and hanging on for dear life. Custody was accomplished with some additional “dancing.” I arrived and found my first responding agent to have two shredded knees, bumps, bruises, facial cuts and a hair scheme that looked like a bad bird’s nest.

She had done her job and now wanted to follow through with booking this suspect, who showed minimal damage and no concern for her at all. I assured her that he would be waiting at the station for her after she was treated for injury. She won her spurs that night as fellow officers got wind of her performance. Of course we had her new husband respond to the hospital. Her assignment for the rest of the night would be rehab at home. I advised her to take the time she needed to get everything working again. She was back at roll call the next day with a new hairdo, new pants and applause from her peers.

She’s now a seasoned veteran and still out there serving and protecting you and me.

I am proud to have lived and worked in the company of heroes.

This is Part 2 of a 3-part series about heroes. In case you missed it, here is Part 1.

Ken Fischer holds a Master’s Degree in Education from the University of Iowa and was involved in organizing Iowa’s first Law Enforcement Training Academy. He was on the SWAT Team in the Lakewood Police Department, and retired as a Senior Sergeant. A longtime resident of Southern Gables, he is an experienced woodsman and now runs a firewood business.

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Our neighbor Ken Fischer met a lot of interesting characters in his work with the Lakewood Police Department, Some were difficult or dangerous, of course. It’s a tough job, part of the deal. But some… some were shining examples of the best of us. Some were heroes. 

By Ken Fischer

When I was young, one of my earliest examples of a hero to be admired was President John F. Kennedy. Most boomers in my generation felt the same, with this dashing, youthful, charismatic and well-spoken president. When he challenged us with “Ask not what your country can do for you…” it was electrifying, and just the juice we sought moving into new frontiers. The sad reflection of decades since has been what he could have done had his opportunity not been tragically plucked from history. With all his flaws documented in years since, I believe he is still regarded as one of our best. He was a hero to us. It is not a tragic death, though, that bestows the title.

Heroes are among us.

I do not believe there is a common definition for a hero. Performance under stress often points to an individual regarded as heroic. Dave Sanders, Sully Sullenberger, Alvin York, Kendrick Castillo and Todd Beamer were heroes.

The common thread seems to be average people who step up at a critical time to confront a life-threatening situation and resolve it in a life-saving manner, even at the risk of losing their own lives.

I spoke with one such hero. Dr. David Benke was a math teacher at a South Jeffco middle school. During an afternoon playground recess, a former student – an adult – with severe mental problems returned to his old school where he knew none of the present staff or students. With a legally obtained rifle, he began shooting students. Without hesitation, this tall, slender doctor of mathematics charged toward the fire, tackled the intruder and dragged him to the ground. He was joined by a school bus driver, Steve Potter, and together they subdued the aggressor. He shared with me that he felt he could not have physically made that tackle alone. In my wheelhouse, this took a mile of guts and I commended him.

As one of many humble people, he was uncomfortable with the honors. With reporters pushing him for a story, he brushed off accolades for his actions. “You’re just doing what you can do to try to protect your kids,” he said. Still, as a hero would, he turned bravery into action.

David Benke went on to establish a foundation to teach school and community safety. The foundation’s programs are now used in more than 30,000 schools, districts, departments, agencies, organizations and communities around the world. According to the Foundation’s website, the methods taught are about crisis response and post-crisis reunification, and are “research-based best practices of school administrators, psychologists, public space safety experts, families, and first responders.” A guiding principle of the “We Love U Guys” Foundation is…

Crisis isn’t a choice. Response is.

That’s something a hero knows.

This is Part 1 of a 3-part series about heroes.

Ken Fischer holds a Master’s Degree in Education from the University of Iowa and was involved in organizing Iowa’s first Law Enforcement Training Academy. He was on the SWAT Team in the Lakewood Police Department, and retired as a Senior Sergeant. A longtime resident of Southern Gables, he is an experienced woodsman and now runs a firewood business. 

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Growing up in Great Times

Growing up in Great Times

The years following WWII saw unprecedented growth all around the country, with the countryside around urban centers sprouting new housing developments. Our neighbor Judi tells of her growing-up days in the booming new 1950s suburbs of  southwest Denver. The days of such great freedom… 

By Judi Puncec

My parents moved us to Denver in 1953, and the following year they found the perfect place to live. It was a brand new development called Mar Lee. The majority of the homes were already occupied. However, at the time my parents were looking at homes a builder in the development had gone bankrupt. The remaining, unoccupied, homes were then sold at a reduced price. My parents were lucky enough to purchase one of those homes. It was on South Newton Street.

The house on South Newton Street. I lived there until I got married.

The neighborhood was mostly occupied by young families. It was what you would call a blue collar neighborhood. Because everyone was basically a new buyer it was a very friendly area with everyone eager to meet each other. The street we lived on had many children, some younger than me, some older and a few my age. There wasn’t an elementary school nearby so we were bused to a school out of the area.

First day of school, 1953

An elementary school did open a year after we moved in and it was within walking distance of our home. This is when I met and became friends with three other girls in my class. It was nice to have girls my age living nearby. On our street there was only one boy who was in my grade at school so I was very grateful for the girls!

By the time summer arrived that first year, because it was a new housing area there were no big trees and many houses still were in the process of planting lawns. Kids playing outside were restricted from new lawns so we mostly rode bikes or played jacks and hopscotch on the driveways. There was always something fun to do.

We did have an indoor swimming pool, Progress Plunge, about 8 blocks away and by the time I was ten I was allowed to ride my bike and go swimming without a parent accompanying me. It was great freedom during the summer months. Also by then a strip mall shopping center had been built four blocks from our house. I was allowed to go there by myself or with a neighbor girl. We eagerly looked forward to trips to Hested’s dime store to buy 10 cents worth of candy or going to the drug store to buy a milkshake at the soda fountain.

By the time I went to junior high our neighborhood was showing the signs of permanency with the trees and shrubs getting bigger and change of ownership in many of the homes. Also, the undeveloped land to the south of us was now all homes and growing fast with new builders coming in every year. When we first moved to Mar Lee we were on the very outskirts of the city. Now we were well within the city and developing suburbs to our west. We even had bus service to downtown. The bus stop was two blocks north of us and one had to change buses at Broadway to get to downtown Denver. I was allowed to take the bus downtown when I turned 12 years old. The girl next door was 14 then and my parents trusted us to venture alone into the big city! Oh, how we loved to shop by ourselves. We felt so grown up. We now also had the first McDonald’s in southwest Denver and were thrilled to be able to buy hamburgers and cheeseburgers. The hamburgers were 15 cents and the cheeseburgers were 19 cents! It wasn’t quite close enough to walk or bike to so we depended on a parent to take us.

When I was in high school (10th grade) we had a new school that had only been open one year. I was in the second graduating class from the school. It was really too far to walk to and there was no bus service so we had to take a public bus or depend on a parent or older student of driving age to take us. By 11th grade I had a driver’s license and my Grandma Rosie had bought us a second family car which was mainly for my use, getting to and from school.

The house now. My parents planted the elm tree.

I lived with my parents in that home until I got married in 1966. My parents lived there the rest of their lives. My father died in 1975 and my mother in 1996. A lot changed in the neighborhood during those years. Houses were added onto or remodeled, the trees grew to majestic heights, and families from all over the world became our neighbors. When I go by there now, the neighborhood of my growing-up years is recognizable only in my memory.

Judi Puncec was born in Rockford, Illinois and lived there until the summer she turned 7 (1953) when her parents moved to Denver. They lived in an apartment until February of 1954 when they bought the house in Mar Lee. Now she lives in Southern Gables with her husband Harry, who told us about their move to a different new development, Memories of Early Southern Gables.

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