The Big Bird

The Big Bird

Happy Thanksgiving!  Our neighbor Harry Puncec is as much a proponent of the traditional turkey dinner as anyone, but the season brings memories of one year when there was not a turkey to be had. An alternative was walking around nearby… 

By Harry Puncec

It must have been in 1945 right after VJ Day, the day in August when Japan decided to surrender and the war ended. Things were recovering from the austere war rationing rules as the soldiers came back home and tried to fit back into their old jobs. Some did, some never would, and most families just kept on getting by. We were living at the corner of Sherman Street and 8th Avenue in Denver in a duplex with a tiny enclosed back yard. My folks brought a live goose home to live with us. My brothers and I fell in love with it, it was our first family pet after all, and we embraced taking care of it. That’s something of an overstatement as all we did was feed it and chase it around the enclosure.

Any farmer will tell you a big no-no is to name a farm animal. Regardless we named the goose Billy as I recall and he – or was it a she? – became family. Things went along swimmingly with Billy, even despite him/her always trying to escape our hugs.

The people who occupied the other unit were a childless couple named Crane. Mr. Crane worked as an engineer on the railroad which made him a hero to us kids. We later learned that he had grown up on a farm and that explains how he became part of this story.

One day in November we were playing with Billy when Mr. Crane came in with a wooden milk carton and an axe. We, of course, had no clue. He sat us kids on the stoop then he grabbed Billy, laid him over the carton and with one swing of the axe cut off poor Billy’s head. Billy, with blood squirting from his now truncated neck, ran around the yard for a brief time bumping into things until he fell over. Wow!

Later in the day we in incomprehension watched Mom pluck the feathers from Billy.

Finally Thursday came around and it was Thanksgiving. As we sat around the table when mom with obvious pride brought out a perfectly cooked and stuffed Thanksgiving bird. While the bird was being carved a vague notion entered my head and I asked if that was Billy?  Yes it was!  I began bawling instantly, followed by Joe and Paul. Needless to say, we refused to partake.

We weren’t cannibals you know.

Harry Puncec, whose friend Billy is still sadly remembered, was a founding member of not only the Southern Gables Neighborhood Association but the Southern Gables neighborhood itself. Story: Memories of Early Southern Gables.


Walt Halloran, S. J.

Walt Halloran, S. J.

Our neighbor Ken Fischer has told us about some interesting characters, but none so far have been connected with mysterious events that were turned into blockbuster movies. Here we have an insight into one of the main forces behind the 1970s film, “The Exorcist.”  Quite a man to admire: football coach, academic, paratrooper chaplain, role model and mentor…. 

By Ken Fischer

Recently I noted a documentary regarding the “real” story of the exorcism portrayed in the movie formulated by William Blatty. It struck me in the similarity of the movie with the accurate accounting of events. Having some contact with facts and a singular individual directly involved, I thought it appropriate to accurately describe him: Walter H. Halloran S. J.

In this day of painfully predictable and frequent school shootings and the King Herod monsters who cause them, one can surmise that evil and demonic actions exist. Whatever you may call it, the killers exhibit fatal aberrant behavior and lack any compassion for less than total target destruction. Demonic possession? Call it what you will.

There are forces for good, of course, that should not be overlooked. I was pleasantly aware of about twenty dads, uncles, grandfathers, brothers, and generally concerned men who met this week at Green Gables Elementary to reignite the “Watchdog” program. God bless you all and may he keep you and your charges in the palm of his hand. It is good to know that there are, here among us, those who will actively stand up to the evil threat of harm to our loved ones. This story is about another such person, a force for good.

The actual incident depicted in “The Exorcist” was in fact that of a teenage boy in St. Louis in 1949. The lad had been exhibiting strange behavior consistent with what the church defined as “possession.” It would require further examination to be verified and it was. The Provincial (Head Jesuit for the province) assigned a veteran priest, who was hesitant but took the assignment requiring a second priest to take written account and a young scholastic (priest in training) should they need his strength to control the youth. The Jesuits are solid in their formulation. It took 15 years to become a certified priest. They are magnificent teachers and life coaches… mostly.

Ignatius Loyola, a soldier and founder of the order, was sage and strong. Most of the Jesuits I’ve met share those same qualities, as did Walt Halloran, the scholastic assigned to accompany two aging priests in one of the most challenging assignments they would ever have.

I knew Fr. Halloran in the mid-sixties. He was the dashing, athletic middle aged priest who was the assistant coach of my football team at Campion Jesuit High School. This was a team which would later produce Tony Cline, a gangly freshman who went on to star for the Raiders. Another lean and tough young man, a Canadian by the name of Pat Bowlen, would go on to own and set high standards with the Broncos. Both teammates – lineman – were mentored by Fr. Halloran.

In addition, he was a good coach and athlete. He would smoothly and subtly point out techniques and tendencies to work on. At times he would run passing routes and relive the days HE played for Campion in the forties. Something must have had the heavens in line: during his tenure we went 20 games without a loss and became the #1 high school team in Wisconsin. We missed the #1 designation the year prior due to a team led by Rocky Bleier of Pittsburgh Steeler fame.

He had Robert Redford looks, only in a taller frame. The women in my family made it no secret that had Walt Halloran not opted for the priesthood, there would have been a score of reverse proposals at his option. He politely accepted these compliments with a wry smile.

He was a quiet man who spoke in a lower tone. You understood that he did not mince words in his brevity. I recall a lasting image of Walt walking strongly across campus after dark, his silver hair flowing and his wearing a long cape type vestment.

He did not speak of his experience in the casting out of the devil until after 2000, when the senior priest passed. He was not allowed to do so, but probably wouldn’t have anyway. What he would say was neither an affirmation or negation, but he did verify several of the seemingly supernatural occurrences that had been reported. He had spent significant time during the month from hell with the team, and the lad finally recovered. The boy actually went on to have a normal life as a prominent NASA scientist.

The flavor of Walt Halloran properly expressed in a circumstance I will close with. In the late sixties Walt determined his calling would require him to go to Viet Nam and minister to the troops. Things were heating up and he wanted to do what he was called to do in life.

He appeared before the Provincial and advised him that he would be going to Vietnam. The provincial disagreed and advised him that he would remain teaching and coaching in the Wisconsin Delta, not the Mekong Delta.

I am told by reliable sources that Walt politely, calmly and with no deviance he countered that he would be going with or without the collar. He went to jump school at Ft. Benning, joined the Rangers in the bush for a year where he could effectively serve the young men he had watched grow from children to soldiers. He would say later in life that he saw more evil on the battlefields of that war than in the boy’s hospital bed of years before. The paratrooper chaplain earned two Bronze Stars for bravery while helping those young soldiers make it through that terrible war.

I think Ignatius would have been pleased. God rest you well Walt Halloran. You served Him with distinction.

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. 


The Night We Took the Nuns to Prom

The Night We Took the Nuns to Prom

A story about the good old days with some good old friends, by our Southern Gables neighbor Ken Fischer. To see more of his stories, click on his name at the end of the article.

Cincinnati is a great town. Great Schools, great people, great times especially in 1966. I was a freshman on a football scholarship living in a religious frat house a mile off campus. Even on scholarship we had to minimize costs as my folks were older and retired. I was usually broke, even with my doorman job at the local 3.2 club. I had food and drink benefits but just $5 – $10 pay on a good weekend night.

At the frat house we got 5 meals per week: evenings Monday through Friday. Weekends required culinary inventiveness. A veritable manna from heaven was furnished by the coeds of Mt. Saint Joe’s (on the Ohio), who fashioned a buffet/dance Sunday nights for any college men who could make the 15 mile trek to the boonies where the all-women’s college was located. The one stipulation was the men wear ties with a collared shirt and slacks. A wide selection of ties was always available in a frat brother’s trunk.

The college women put on a remarkable table after cooking all afternoon. For coeds who went dateless, this was an opportunity to mix with some hungry men and possibly dance too. It was, for all concerned, an event! I first met Kathy Beecher on a VISTA expedition into the impoverished mining country of Kentucky. VISTA was new and had originated along with Peace Corps under JFK and Sargent Shriver. In the frat house we were required to do monthly “apostolates” which entailed giving some service back to the community. VISTA was appealing, hands-on and front line. Two guys from the house would drive four women from Mount St. Joe’s down to the little town of Beauty, Kentucky, for two nights to work with mining families at a barn type community center.

Kathy Beecher was from a large Irish St. Louis family and I fell in love with her that weekend. Yes. I loved her like my fourth sister. She had a wonderful, funny, glib personality and could say anything to anyone and get away with it. She would make some lucky fellow a great wife, some children a great mom and anybody a great friend. She was not a looker. She could have been Rosie O’Donnell’s altruistic sister. I’m a little reluctant to admit it but looks were usually very important to me in those days. In one weekend, Beecher and I became fast friends. I have never laughed so long and heartily at anyone’s stories, impressions and life perspectives. The spring prom was five weeks off and a bevy of Mt. St. Joe women were dateless. Who else but Beecher could work some magic and get dates for the last who wished to go but were without dates. At 4 weeks out, she was down to three women. She called. Could I help? Like to, but I’m broke – as usual.

No sweat: the flowers, dinner and tickets are already covered by some type of slush fund. All that was needed were two guys in suits with a car. I melted. This woman was amazing when working with the less fortunate children of God. How could I refuse? The rest of the story: These “dates” were sisters. Very tall sisters. Sisters as in nuns. One had committed to joining the order commencing at graduation. The other, a junior, was going to sign up at the end of the semester.

This would be their one and only prom.

I needed a wingman. Without hesitation I planted a seed with my best frat brother, Mike Lyons of Chicago. Mike starred in “The Music Man” in high school and was a very close match for Professor Harold Hill. Mike was madly in love with a girl he’d known since grade school and followed her to Cincinnati in hopes of taking their friendship to higher ground. What Mike could not see (and most of the rest of his friends did) was that this young woman really loved him… like a brother.

I had to use some radical tactics to get Mike on board. I lied. I made up a fairy tale about a very pretty transfer student, just into school who was Miss Junior Milwaukee or Sheboygan or something. I had four weeks to modify the picture of the pretty transfer into two very tall nuns. We kept a running tally on the days until prom and I could usually fend off any requests to meet this fictitious coed. The problem was that I had no car and no prospect of borrowing one. The Monday before the prom, my conscience erupted as well as a demand from Mike to meet this mystery woman. I had to come clean.

Mike fended off his allowable anger to note that I was without a car and short of taking the bus to all the events, out of luck and choices. Not so fast – behold the Lord’s providence or just pure luck. On Thursday, a Bowling Green junior arrived at the house and would be staying the weekend. He had a car but could double up with his buddy, and since I was “fully covered on everything I operated” including an F-16 (what?), we had wheels.

Mike was speechless. Not just on this piece of luck but due to a flu virus he had picked up. He could have opted out but honored his commitment. We picked up the nuns, had a quiet dinner – not quite a meditative vigil but close – and moved on to the dance. It was something about Mike’s date being almost a head taller than him that made him uncharacteristically quiet. Seated, crickets. Dancing, Mike looking up at the underside of his date’s chin. Mike got progressively worse and nearly passed out with each camera flash. At nine o’clock, he advised that he would try to make eleven o’clock with the dance ending at twelve. At ten thirty he requested I call an ambulance. A good wingman can always assess the absolute needs of his buddy. I loaded him into the back seat of our Rambler and set out for the infirmary. While enroute, my attempts to speak directly to him were countered with compound profanities, so I just beelined for a medical handoff.

Beecher (dateless at the event) was aglow with how well everything went and the “sisters” had a great time. She inquired regarding Mike – basically to learn if he lived. He did, but after 2 days of infirmary care wished he hadn’t.

I do not know whatever happened to Kathy Beecher, but I hope it was the good life she deserved. She was a good friend. She taught me a valuable lesson. The guys who were seeking Farrah Fawcetts, Jacqueline Smiths or Ali McGraws were missing out. Not that those iconic beauties are bad people; they just got their beauty card dealt from the top of the deck. It takes all of the cards to play.


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.