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.


Winter Wonderland

Community, Joy, Gratitude.

This has definitely been an interesting school year at Green Gables Elementary. None of us have ever experienced anything like this pandemic, where a third of our students have been learning remotely all year and from November we all began learning, teaching, and working remotely continuing until January 19th. However, our little school felt the joy, community, and more importantly counted all the reasons to be grateful as we headed off to winter break.

The “Winter Wonderland” reverse parade was planted as an idea from a teacher at our school, Mrs. Bishop, and blossomed from there. Supporters among our dedicated families came one by one to help set up decorations. There were inflatable decorations and lots of lights strung along the way. School staff made signs, PTA members made goodie bags for teachers to give students, and staff dressed in winter spirit gear. The school community came together beautifully with full-fledged effort to bring joy, hope, and love, to our students before heading off to winter break. The parade began, lights gleaming, music ringing, and socially distanced staff members holding signs filled with warm winter wishes. Santa stood waving on the corner of Woodard and Estes as families drove by. The parade was bringing apparent joy, obvious through students’ smiles, laughter, and waves, along with words of appreciation and love between families, students and Green Gables staff.

Suddenly to no surprise, the parade appeared to move beyond just the school community. Although likely part of the residents’ daily routines of walking, jogging, and even biking past the school, the atypical holiday parade appeared to be filling the neighborhood people with happiness as well. Neighbors were waving and smiling, wishing us all a happy holiday season. Others drove past and waved, honked and yelled words of appreciation from their windows. A sight so touching to behold, that in the midst of a pandemic, the school community could come together in a socially distant way to bring some much needed joy. A winter parade sparked as an idea by a teacher, made possible by the collaboration of a community that is at the heart of Green Gables Elementary, gave warmth and gratitude to everyone, during a time when there is so much uncertainty. What a wonderful constant for our children to know they attend school in a community that cares so deeply about them.

Finally, as we look forward to a new year, regardless of what it may bring, may we all be reminded that we are also truly blessed by the amazing Green Gables’ students we will continue to serve.

With Warm Winter Wishes,

Suanne Hawley, Green Gables Elementary School Principal