Meet Your Neighbor: Ralph Cundiff

Continuing our occasional series of stories getting to know and appreciate our neighbors. This week we meet a Southern Gables original, Ralph Cundiff. I talked with Ralph in the home where he has lived since the early days of Southern Gables. Interview by Bruce McDonald.

Bruce: I know you are from Illinois, since you told me about that when we first met a year ago. How did you end up here in Colorado?

Ralph: Well, it was the Army. I got drafted back in 1956 and went through the usual training, then got sent to Colorado. I was assigned to the Fitzsimmons Army Hospital, first as a clerk-typist, and then a librarian, and I played on an Army tennis team. I was 22, still pretty young and impressionable. It didn’t take me long to learn I loved Colorado. I got a taste of the good life! Here you’ve got wide open spaces, the mountains, clean rivers and streams. When you go hunting it’s for moose, elk… a lot better than chasing after rabbits and squirrels back in Illinois. I went back home after the Army but I knew I would have to come back to Colorado.

What brought you here to the Southern Gables neighborhood?  When my wife and I could afford a house and looked around on this side of town to be near work, we found this new development they called Southern Gables and it was perfect. We got this Wood Brothers home and I had them make custom changes before it was even completed.

Ralph on his custom-designed patio. He had the builders come back and put it in for him when the house was new.

What was the neighborhood like when you first moved here?  The houses were almost all completed but the yards were pretty bare and no big trees. Everybody took a lot of pride in making it look great. The area to the west, where Parkwest Ridge is now, was all open with hills and trails. All the neighborhood kids had a ball with motorcycles, racing around. It was wild, a great way for kids to grow up.

What was it like where you grew up back in Illinois?  I grew up in an area of Danville, Illinois that was called Germantown. It wasn’t just Germans though; we had Italians, Irish, Poles – people from all over the world. People all got along OK but it was a rough place to grow up. You had to be tough. We were poor but didn’t know it. There was plenty to do for free as a kid with the park, baseball fields, a carousel. We played football, tackle football. We also had chiggers, mosquitoes, and humidity that felt like it would smother you. I’ve had it all, the good and the bad. Here in Colorado it’s the good life for sure. I decided that whatever it would take, “I want this life.”

After the Army I went back home and went to college for a year and had to drop out, then worked in a factory, sweating over making heavy steel Caterpillar earth-moving equipment parts for a year. I saved up a little money and got back into college, Eastern Illinois University. I was a wrestler – still am. I’ve always been involved in wrestling. It built me up and I’m still in good shape. I was on a wrestling scholarship but had to work on a farm for what the scholarship didn’t cover. Up at four, milk the cows, clean stalls, feed all the animals. Hard work.

When I came back to Colorado I had a wife and a 3-year-old. I wanted to teach and coach. We lived in an apartment and I went to a lot of interviews, and I got a great job at Alameda Junior High teaching kids and coaching them in wrestling. I taught PE and science classes: physics, biology. I helped out in the school library, and I liked doing that. I eventually went to CU for a master’s degree in library science, and took a job at Arvada West High as the school librarian. I worked 34 years at Jeffco schools, a great career.

Doing the math, it seems you retired quite a while ago…  Oh, I retired from the school system but I didn’t retire from working, and certainly not from life. After the school district I got the best job a guy could ever have in his life, and did it for another 24 years. I was a starter for the ladies’ groups at Fox Hollow Golf Club. Loved every minute of it.

Are you a golfer too?  Yes, I don’t golf as much now but I was pretty good, had a 6 handicap. I work out, keep in shape.

That invites another question, do you have any words of advice for the younger generations?  Yes. “Get a life!” When I think back on how I got here, to this place where we have everything available to us and life is so good, it took a lot of things that I did myself and a lot of things that just happened to work out right.

What was the biggest thing – hard work, luck, education, motivation?  I’ve done it all, hard sweaty work in a dirty, noisy factory with welding, chipping, moving massive steel parts. Working on a farm. Teaching kids science, managing a library, teaching wrestling and tennis. I’ve hunted, fished, all the outdoor things that Colorado offers. What was behind it, maybe, was wanting something better and working for it.

Any final thoughts as we wrap up?  Yes, and it’s this: “Life is good.” I think what has made my life so good is some advice I grew up with, that has guided me to this perfect place in life that I love so much. I heard it from my mother and I go by it to this day: Leave something better than how you found it.

“Life is good.”

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