Meet Your Neighbors: Harry and Judi Puncec

Meet Your Neighbors: Harry and Judi PuncecSouthern Gables Neighborhood Association

Continuing our series of interviews with our Southern Gables neighbors, to help us get to know and appreciate each other. Last week we read what it was like when our neighborhood was a busy construction zone out in the country. Now we would like you to get better acquainted with our neighbors Harry and Judi.  Interviewed by Bruce McDonald.

Bruce: Harry, I recall the first question that came to mind when we first met, after having seen your name in connection with Neighborhood Association activities, was how to pronounce Puncec.

Harry: It’s like Punchek. That’s the first part of a longer name, and the story is told that the shortening was typical of what happened with a lot of names at Ellis Island when my grandparents came over.

I understand you were one of the original owners in Southern Gables, so you’ve been here since, when, 1967?  Yes, and 1967 was before there was a place called Lakewood.

How did you come to choose the Southern Gables neighborhood? In September of 1966 we married, moved in with Judi’s Grandmother, Rosie, to plan our future and began setting aside money for a home of our own — once we decided where and what it was to be. Wood Brothers were building on raw, vacant land west of Wadsworth Blvd. and we clicked with agent Chuck Oschner when visiting the show homes. They called the development Southern Gables and it had the advantage of convenience to my job at the Denver Federal Center, and one model, the Vicksburg, was actually within reach at $18,400. I qualified for a no-down-payment GI Mortgage from my three years in the Army so we swallowed hard and took out a 6% home loan.

Wood Bros. Sold sign, Southern Gables, Harry and Judi PuncecBy the summer of ’67 our house was about built and we began our great adventure, deeply in debt and yet excited by what we saw about us. The neighbors were mostly young with small children and an elementary school was being finished nearby which proved to be the gem it still is today.

Judi: In 1969 our unincorporated area voted to form a city, and so we were part of the birth of the new city of Lakewood. Our neighborhood was growing up around us and we were along for the ride. Over the first decade here we were blessed with two kids and Harry was able to work all the overtime he could handle, and all that I could bear.

You mentioned our gem of a school, Green Gables Elementary; can you tell us more about your kids’ school experiences over the years? 

Our kids attended the trifecta of Southern Gables schools: Green Gables ES, Carmody MS, and Bear Creek HS. The adventure that marked our experiences with Green Gables ES was the experiment with year-around school. Due to an enrollment of more than the school could handle it was decided to split the student body into three groups, or Tracks A, B, and C as they called it. This kept the school open all year with two-thirds of the total student body in the school at any given time. It avoided students going just half a day. Each track would attend for just over four months and be off for a month and a half and then do it again. What made it the subject of much discussion was when your child had his break. I remember that Track B had their “vacations” in the spring and fall, and that’s what we optioned for our kids.

Getting it organized was not easy. Parents were required to sign up for what track they wanted. A lot of parents favored Track C, the traditional summer vacation and Christmas break schedule so when time came to register the line formed early and quickly grew long. Many parents even spent the night before registration camping out at the school. It became obvious that something was happening and soon a local TV station’s remote truck, cameramen and a reporter arrived. It became big news, appearing on the local station that evening.

We’re all glad that was handled, though schools have other challenges now. Thinking of other changes over the years, you’re not still in the house you described last week, right? How did that come about? 

Harry: By 1977 the mortgage payment was manageable and the kids were taking up more room all the time. There was only one answer, move, and so we did, a whole three blocks from Yarrow to the Georgetown model on Ammons — and here we reside.

Judi: Over the decades people moved away, new folks moved in, and we discovered gray hair while making new friends. The greatest discovery we made over those years was what a great place Southern Gables is, filled with good people looking out for each other. Once during a particularly heavy snowstorm a bunch of homeowners came out to shovel my way home after I got stuck and snow bound at the corner. They were an invaluable snow shoveling brigade.

What kinds of things come to mind in connection with big changes over the years?

Harry: In the early 70s a vacant lot that was sitting idle on Evans and Wadsworth was reported to be the new home of Luby Chevrolet. We had been promised it was intended for more benign purposes and the neighborhood organized to fight it. I was involved with the Neighborhood Association that was formed for that purpose. We lost but in the end we did extract concessions like a berm along Evans, no outdoor loudspeakers, off-loading of new cars away from neighborhood traffic, and so on. The dealership — now Emich of course — has proved to be a good neighbor.

That must have been a good feeling, and Emich is now one of our valued Local Business Supporters. Any other special memories over the years?  Across Wadsworth sat Green Gables Country Club that added a park-like expanse to the area, and on the 4th of July they had a fireworks show which we enjoyed for years until the neighborhood trees grew too tall. Our son even earned money caddying over there. They too were good neighbors and it was sad to see them depart.

Final thoughts, advice?  Ours is a quiet neighborhood but close to all the medical, entertainment, parks and retail needs of a family, a calm oasis nestled in a metropolitan area that has grown beyond us, west to the foothills and Green Mountain, and many miles to the south. We’ve seen the development mature and fulfill all the promises made by the Wood Brothers.

We’re glad that people keep on being good to one another here in Southern Gables, and we hope that will continue as time goes on.


Memories of Early Southern Gables

Memories of Early Southern Gables
Southern Gables Neighborhood Association

A few years ago we hosted a celebration of the 50-year anniversary of the Southern Gables neighborhood, honoring the “first owners” and long-time residents. This story was among the memories shared on that occasion. 

By Harry Puncec

Time capsule: writing in May 2017…  Look across South Wadsworth Boulevard at the new housing going in over there. You’ll get a sense of what it was like in Southern Gables during the summer of 1967 when our brand new ranch-style Vicksburg model house was being built on South Yarrow. A complete neighborhood is being created over there at the old Green Gables County Club grounds in one fell swoop, not unlike what happened here long, long ago.

1967. Married less than a year, we had signed a contract with Wood Brothers earlier in the year and had put a deposit on our lot. Our choices of models had been limited as WB had determined which model would go on which lot as they resisted putting the same style house next to each other, and we wanted an eastern exposure midblock.

“Woody” showing off the Vicksburg model in the Wood Brothers brochure

The decisions we had to make were daunting for a newly married couple. First of all there was the cost. They wanted $18,400 for a plain Jane, stripped down model. (I know, outrageous!!!) If we wanted brick all around rather than just across the front it was another $400. fortunately grandma came through with the money and we built our home with brick rather than straw or sticks.

Then there were the decisions about the house on, well, everything. What kind of counter top, gas or electrical stove, color choices for the walls and carpet, and so on. We were even permitted to authorize change orders to modify the house itself; for instance you could order the dishwasher relocated, a wall moved, or even the porch enlarged. Of course today’s newly built homes save you the trouble – or the choices – of deciding much.

Once the house was ours – ours and the mortgage company – windows had to get coverings, furniture had to be found from family and friends, and when that wasn’t enough, Sears. We spent like sailors on shore leave, and entered a long period of great debt.

Wood Brothers built the homes a block at a time with crews moving from model to model. One week you’d see basements being dug and poured, a couple weeks later model after model would be framed giving you your first preview of your neighbor’s homes, and eventually the finishing touches inside and out added. Then at last you’d have the final walk-through inspection of your very own home and, if all went well, you’d be presented with the keys.

It was impossible to keep your stunningly expensive, new home clean! Dirt filled the air and construction noise rang constant. There was not a single tree worthy of the name, grass only slowly arrived, and the winds blew incessantly; you had the makings of housekeeping madness. And it only got worse when the rains came.

On the upside in Southern Gables friendships that have lasted decades were formed. Kids grew up together, went to school together, played sports together, until they moved on in their own lives as adults with a core value system built by our neighborhood. Some have moved back with their kids so they too can capture the magic we experienced.

Southern Gables grabs you like that.


The Padre

The PadreSouthern Gables Neighborhood Association

This is one in an occasional series about local history and old-time characters by our neighbor Ken Fischer. To see more of his stories, click on his name at the end of the article.

He was a small man in stature, but pretty large in all else.

He wore a tam and, but for the Roman collar, one would have made him for a leprechaun for he had a wry smile and lively eyes. The wry smile was not unfamiliar. I had seen such when I would identify a new device, scheme or process that seemed too good to be true (and usually was). My beat partner, Jim Miller, would say nothing but issue that smile with the implicit assumption that this was another shell game. Some days later he would wryly ask “how’s that working out for you?” It wasn’t.

The Padre looked a lot like the actor John Fiedler.

He was a Theatine Priest. An Italian order dedicated to education of less privileged youth and characterized by gentleness, patience and humility. Boy did St. Cajetan, the founder, have his man here in James Prohens.

I met him through a great (not just good) friend, Vince Coyle. Vince was a man for all seasons who lived his faith daily, not just on Sundays. He was such a commendable character that he was the victim of multiple practical jokes throughout our lives. Vince and JoAnn had been married by the good Fr. Prohens in Colorado Springs in the fifties.

During a visit in Denver, Vince took me along to meet this diminutive pillar of the faith for lunch. I was impressed. He spoke sparingly but said a lot. He was funny and also enjoyed ribbing Vince.

At one such later lunch, I asked Father his take on the community angst fostered by a younger firebrand priest and the La Raza movement, known to the police for bombings in Denver. Without hesitation, Father quietly retorted: they have spirit and dedication but they have never heard the bullets pass overhead.

I did not immediately digest or understand his meaning. Vince clarified. James Prohens was a seminary student in Spain during the bloody Spanish Civil War and had often faced life and death encounters. He knew the territory and walked the walk. He was beloved among his parishioners at St. Cajetan Church, the first Hispanic parish in Denver. I asked him how many parishioners there were. He asked back, “Officially or unofficially?” Enough said.

My wife and I had taken our Pre-Cana (marriage preparation) instruction through him at the parish and were honored to have him at our home for the baptism of our son several years later. He was smooth and easy to talk to. Vince related that he also had skill in negotiation as well as legal issues. This became important when his traditional parish site in Auraria was to be reconstituted into Metro State University property. A new venue for St. Cajetan’s had to be found. An appropriate property was located and plans initiated until the City of Denver found multiple problems and denied the request.

St. Cajetan Church. Photo: Colorado Historical Society.

Fr. Prohens politely researched, developed and presented a better plan with all the bases covered. He recruited a phalanx of high rollers on his team to run interference for him if necessary. It was not needed, and on the strength of his plan the parish was built on west Alameda to serve a thriving population of mostly Hispanic working-class faithful. Part of the deal was to have the old church building stay and become a multi-purpose building, hosting lectures, concerts, recitals, and other community events as part of the Auraria campus.

Fr. Prohens however was an addict…. His addiction was well known and actually supported by his friends and parishioners. He loved Village Inn pie. After executive sessions with church leaders, it was off to Lakewood and Village Inn.

We had become pretty good friends, fighting the battle to make life better for people, but from different directions. We would often see father and his flock at the VI at ten o’clock or after when we would get our last coffee before ending our shift at 0100. One night the spirit of mischief overtook me and in a page out of the Vince Coyle practical joke manual, I approached father’s table and sternly advised him that this time he would have to pay his bill or receive no future service. The management was willing to overlook this once in a while but…. Fr. Prohens took up the drama and promised to do better in future.

This performance being witnessed by ten or so of his parishioners was surprising with most of them instantly stepping up to cover what appeared to be bad judgement by a PRIEST! We cut it short, laughed and embraced and the heart rates of those present went back into acceptable range.

I am not religious but do believe in God. The big guy in the sky had a skilled soldier in James Prohens. He would sometimes ask for my help which I would gladly give. Mostly it was information regarding a bad domestic situation, family members making bad choices based on bad information or a kid in trouble. He had an abiding principle that there were no ”bad” people, just poor judgement based on anger, greed, substance abuse or depression. I was advised that he could usually calm most storms and it put me to mind of a verse from a Kingston trio song: the reverend Mr. Black. “He stood like a rock, a man among men and he let that lumberjack hit him again, and then with a voice as quiet as could be, he cut him down like a big oak tree…”

The years passed. Life was busy and packed with experience and commitment. I got a call from Vince advising that father had been diagnosed with inoperable abdominal cancer. He was in no pain and at the parish, but unable to work in his life passion as extensively as before. One afternoon I called him and later met with him at the rectory. We shared some great Village Inn pie.

I had seen a lot of death and encountered people on the verge. I had never seen a man facing death with such grace and comfort.

He was going home. His race was run and he had finished well.

We shared a sentiment common to our roles in life: A man only gets so many days in his chosen vocation; make the most of them. Try to give back more than you take from life. He had.

His funeral was immense. People were standing for blocks around.

This quiet, humble man would have been pleased.

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.