Meet Your Neighbor: Erwin Bunzli

Meet Your Neighbor: Erwin Bunzli

Continuing our series of interviews with our Southern Gables neighbors, to help us get to know and appreciate each other.  I met Erwin in his Southern Gables home. His side yard was a wildflower garden, requiring minimum water and even after our recent heat spell, showing lots of color. Inside the house the back windows overlooked a lush arboretum, with a vegetable garden and sunflowers off to one side. We sat and visited at his kitchen table, under a Swiss cuckoo clock on the wall.  Interviewed by Bruce McDonald.

Bruce: When I interviewed your friends Craig and Jeannette Turchi and they were telling me about their camping and canoeing trips, they mentioned a neighbor named Erwin Boonzley. I couldn’t quite place the name. Then they said he was active with Neighborhood Association. “Oh! Erwin! Of course, Erwin Bunzli! I know him! So that’s how you pronounce his name? Sure, I know Erwin.” Not like bun, more like boon. So now we know how to say your name.

Erwin: Yes, that’s the way with the Swiss pronunciation. I was raised in Switzerland, near Schaffhausen on the Rhine River. I came to the U.S. for my job, as a technical representative of a Swiss company.

Switzerland to Colorado, seems a pretty natural change with the mountains and all… Well, it took a while. My work initially brought me to the New York-New Jersey area and I lived there for a time. It wasn’t exactly a Swiss village. That’s where Kathy and I met, and we got married. When my company announced an opening for a representative in Colorado, it took me about one second to decide that was where I wanted to go. Kathy was willing to try a new adventure, and so here we are. We lived in an apartment at first, then a townhome. It was so easy and we felt so welcome. When we found the townhome we asked the agent about making deposits, and proving qualifications and all that, there was nothing to it. It was just “Oh, don’t worry.” We moved in with no trouble, easy paperwork. We felt so welcome and accepted.

So how about Southern Gables? How long have you been here in the neighborhood?  Since 1987. We liked the area because it was close and convenient, and I like the mature trees. The houses are not so close together as in the newer developments.

What are a few things that you like the most about the neighborhood here?  Hm. The schools. Both of our boys were born after we moved here and the schools were so perfect for us. They went to Green Gables Elementary, Carmody Middle, and Bear Creek High. Ah, the Southern Gables Trifecta!  Yes… Thinking back to the Elementary school days, we really loved the Principal, Mr. Freeman. He would stand at the door and greet every student by name, and he visited each classroom every day. The building is small and intimate, and has such a good feel to it. There is such a sense of community. That’s still there, the sense of community. Even as early as first grade the kids could walk to school and often there would be groups walking together, sometimes with a parent or several walking with them along the way and sometimes just kids by themselves, safe in the neighborhood.

Do you have a favorite memory with your Southern Gables neighbors?  Those school days with all the kids growing up together, I would say. Meeting other parents at plays, performances, field days, book fairs. I remember some of the field trips, such as going to different places in Denver, visiting the Capitol. We would set up scavenger hunts around the city — to find a particular statue or landmark. There are a lot of favorite memories around that. Long-lasting friendships. We go hiking and canoeing with friends from those days, though all our kids are grown now.

Will you tell us about your hobbies? I can see the flowers are important to you, and the vegetable garden… Well, I like the flowers but that’s the result of Kathy’s work in the garden. And our son does the vegetable garden. I love biking and canoeing, as I mentioned before, and I do as much of that as I can arrange. I like skiing — Nordic skiing, of course, not standing in lines to ride on lifts with the crowds. I retired just last September so I’m still fitting into that new phase. I have started with something that is really interesting and pleasant for me, though: working as a part-time caretaker at a small resort up in Crested Butte, when the owners want to take a break. It’s a mountain-biking mecca, such a perfect place to be for the activities I love.

I know you are involved as a Board member with the Neighborhood Association too, and we appreciate what you do for the community in that… Yes, I’ve always enjoyed that connection. Volunteering time for that is such a small thing, and it makes a good difference in the neighborhood.

To wrap up, do you have a favorite quote or saying you can leave us with?  “Mostly it is about how  we treat each other.”  We have a small piece of art hanging in our house with that sentence. I think it sums it up very well.

Indeed it does. 

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Meet Your Neighbor: Helga Grunerud

Meet Your Neighbor: Helga Grunerud

Continuing our series of interviews with our Southern Gables neighbors, to help us get to know and appreciate each other.  When I showed up at Helga’s home I remarked, “I really didn’t need the address; Justina told me I could just go to the yard with the beautiful botanical garden.” Helga said, “Yes, I’m the Flower Lady of Flower Street.” And so she is. Before we sat down for a visit, Helga gave me a tour of her back yard too, with flowers and a vegetable garden: tomatoes, zucchini (of course), and five kinds of peppers. I noted we could skip the question about “hobbies and interests,” since that was pretty clear already.  Interviewed by Bruce McDonald.

Bruce:  Well, I always like to start by asking how long you’ve been here in the Southern Gables neighborhood.  

Helga: About 30 years. My husband and I both grew up in small communities in Washington State. Then after his service in the Air Force and college at Washington State University, before graduation we heard a speaker who was touting the tremendous economic boom out in Colorado. Lots of work, lots of opportunity. We figured we would stay for five years, get financially stable, then come back home to live and raise a family. When we first arrived I was having trouble with what I thought was altitude sickness. The doctor had a different explanation and she (the explanation) was born a few months later. And here we are.

How did you come to choose Southern Gables?  We started out not far from here, convenient to where we were working, in a small house over on the eastern edge of Lakewood. Then after a few years the time seemed right to look for a larger place. The attractiveness of the neighborhood was a plus, and the location was good, and the schools had good ratings.

What are some of the things you like most about our neighborhood?  I’m a walker. I like being close to the lake, the soccer fields where our daughter played, and lots of good places for my walks. I go about five miles a day. When our daughter was middle school age she could walk to school and sports, to go and play with her friends, and later to her lifeguarding job and we never had to worry.

How about any examples or favorite memories of neighborly experiences you’ve had here in Southern Gables?  When our daughter old enough to be home without a babysitter, our neighbors across the street would keep an eye on her comings and goings, without her necessarily knowing she had a layer of protection. So, I’d say “neighbors watching out for each other” is integral to living here. We help each other with clearing snow in the winter, and there are things like when people go on vacation the neighbors will water the plants and keep an eye on the house.

Have you seen changes over the years?  Oh yes, of course. When we came the neighborhood was already established, and we knew quite a few of the original owners. There were a lot of kids in the neighborhood, and then over the years into the 90s there were mostly empty-nesters and the older generation. Now we’ve seen more changes, bringing young families in and we’re starting to hear the sounds of kids playing again. It’s the same over in my part of the neighborhood. I like that. So do I. It’s “new energy” all around. A good thing, a natural cycle.

Helga in her lily garden

Now how about your interests — oh, we got that on the way in. Your work? Or are you retired? Yes, I retired a few years ago but I still do consulting. I run mentor-protégé programs for CDOT and the City of Denver. For most of my career I worked in association management, for an international mining association. That gave me a good background for what I do now, putting small companies in contact with larger more experienced companies to do construction work and deal with all the government paperwork. The process involves goalsetting and monitoring small businesses through the bureaucratic maze. It’s something they need, and it’s rewarding to see them be successful and grow. They sometimes call me “Mrs. Mom.”

Anything else you’d like us to know about you?  Well, I like to travel. I used to travel to South America for the mining association, and since retiring I have gone with my sisters on cruises and to visit distant family, from California to Minnesota.

How about leaving us with some words of wisdom… a favorite quote or saying?  There is one that comes to mind. “She who cannot change the very fabric of her thought will never be able to change reality, and will never, therefore, make any progress.” I really do believe that.

Contact to nominate a candidate for the “Meet Your Neighbor” series.