Wednesday, September 08, 2004
Goodbye, "Pumpkin Man"...
I don't often simply lift stories from a news service and present them, but today I have little choice. I'm not in the right frame of mind to author an appropriate tribute to a man who gave so much of himself to our community. With that in mind, here is the Colorado Springs Gazette news story regarding the passing of Dominic Venetucci...
Pumpkin Man ‘gave, gave, gave’
By DEEDEE CORRELL - THE GAZETTE
The Pumpkin Man is gone.
Nick Venetucci, the beloved farmer who gave millions of pumpkins to generations of children who visited his farm during the past 50 years, died Tuesday. He was 93.
“He taught our kids the definition of generosity,” said Suzanne Royer, principal of Venetucci Elementary School in Security, which was named after the venerated community figure in 1986.
“He gave, gave, gave, and never expected anything in return. He was kind of like Santa Claus.”
The legend of Dominic Venetucci began 50 years ago when the farmer would drive his truck slowly along Tejon Street and hand out pumpkins to children.
Eventually, a teacher noticed him and asked if she could take her children to his farm.
Of course, he said.
Thus began a tradition that touched nearly every child in the region and led him to give away millions of pumpkins to children who visited his farm along Monument Creek in Security.
“He’d be right there with his big smile, very patient. He just loved those kids,” said Fred Darpino, a Colorado Springs artist who is creating a sculpture of Venetucci surrounded by children in his pumpkin patch. It will be placed downtown by the Pioneers Museum.
He especially loved to watch the enterprising children who went to the far end of the field to find the largest pumpkins, then struggled to roll or push them back to their school bus.
“He said those were his favorite,” Darpino said.
“He saw the joy it brings to children, and he loves children. They are his pleasure in life. He was always so happy having children running around the farm,” Nick’s wife, Bambi Venetucci, said Tuesday afternoon.
Venetucci, who did not have children of his own, regarded the students at Venetucci Elementary as his own, Royer said.
“He said, ‘How many kids do you have at school this year?’ I said, ‘474 kids,’ and he said, ‘OK, I have 474 kids,’” she said.
The saddest thing she ever saw, Royer said, was a man stealing pumpkins from Venetucci. As children roamed the fields, a man parked his pickup near the far end of the field and started loading pumpkins into the back. Someone ran after him, but he escaped with the stolen pumpkins.
“It really upset Nick,” Royer said. “Here he is giving, and someone wants to steal.”
When the drought hit several years ago, the Venetuccis announced they wouldn’t be able to have their annual giveaway.
That was difficult for her husband, Bambi Venetucci said.
“It’s been very hard for him,” Bambi Venetucci said. “It’s been part of his life.”
“It’s kind of a hole in our September,” Royer agreed.
When Pikes Peak International Raceway spokesman Clark Curtis, who once covered the annual pumpkin giveaway as a reporter for a local television station, heard the news, the raceway decided to try to pitch in, he said.
“It was the first time in 40 years it wasn’t going to happen,” Curtis said.
PPIR officials asked Hirakata Farms in Rocky Ford to donate pumpkins, which were given to children at several elementary schools. This year, they’ll have pumpkins for about 600 children, Curtis said.
“We obviously were never going to be able to do all he’s done over the years,” he said. “He meant so much to the community.”
Last year, a campaign began to raise money for a sculpture to honor Venetucci. Royer said they’ve raised enough money for the $100,000 sculpture but still need $10,000 more for its maintenance fund.
Venetucci resisted the idea of the statue at first, Royer said.
She argued with him, telling him he deserved it because he had done so much for the community.
“He kind of smiled with his toothless smile and said, ‘No, I didn’t,’” she said.
The first time they saw the sculpture, Royer said, Bambi, who is blind, ran her hands all over it and began to cry.
“She put her hands on his hands and said, ‘It’s so much like Nick,’” Royer said.
The sculpture, which depicts Venetucci handing a pumpkin to a child while two others play with their pumpkins, is nearly finished, Darpino said.
“Everyone says it looks just like Nick,” he said.
The statue will be placed on the north side of the Pioneers Museum, probably in late October, with pumpkins and marigolds planted around its base.
“I was hoping he’d live long enough to see it,” Bambi Venetucci said.
A public memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday in the Widefield High School auditorium. Burial will be at Evergreen Cemetery.
Anyone who wishes to make a donation to the “Pennies for Pumpkins” campaign — which remains $10,000 short of its goal — may send a check to the Widefield School District No. 3, Nick Venetucci Fund, 1820 Main St., Colorado Springs, CO 80911.
I'll see if I can make it to the memorial and also I feel the need to donate to the sculpture fund...After all, he gave me more than one pumpkin in my lifetime...It's only fair...
Thanks, Nick...We'll miss you.
Chiseling out a salute to a hero/
Sculptor needs help to honor farmer
Bill Vogrin - The Gazette
MANITOU SPRINGS - Deep in a cavernous old building on Manitou Avenue, scupltor Fred Darpino is engaged in a labor of love.
He's spending hours squeezing, scraping and prodding Styrofoam and clay into the shapes of three children and a smiling old man in a pumpkin patch.
The region's teachers and students, meanwhile, are helping by collecting "Pennies for Pumpkins."
They are trying to raise $90,000 to finance Darpino's effort to transform the Styrofoam and clay figures into a life-size bronze sculpture honoring longtime pumpkin farmer Nick Venetucci.
"This has been in the back of my mind for quite a few years," said Darpino as he compared a plaster figurine to the full-size statue that's taking shape on a pedestal in his studio.
"This is so much fun," he said, circling his work, studying the length of the child's arm and the angle of his feet. Then he looked at a miniature of the farmer. "I'll really take my time with this one. I really want to capture Nick, just right." In Darpino's mind, he's paying tribute to a hero. Not a dramatic "risk your neck to save someone's life" kind of hero. Venetucci's hero- ism was a thoughtful, simple, even modest act. It was giving. Giving for the simple joy of it. Just to see the smiles on the faces of happy kids. For 50 years or so, Venetucci, 92, gave away pumpkins from his farm along Monument Creek in Security. It started in the 1950s when he drove a delivery truck piled high with pumpkins down Tejon Street, giving them away to every child he saw. Then a school teacher asked if she could bring her class to his 60-acre pumpkin patch. While the class was there, Venetucci told each child to pick a free pumpkin. Soon, schoolchildren from across the Pikes Peak region were going to Venetucci's pumpkin patch before Halloween and leaving with a free pumpkin. It became a tradition that attracted as many as 50,000 children a year. That tradition died abruptly last fall, withering amid the heat and drought that made it impossible for Venetucci to grow a crop. There will be no pumpkins again this year, said his wife, Bambi Venetucci. "He's not planting," she said. But Darpino is determined to honor the pumpkin farmer. This is special to Darpino. During 31 years as an art teacher in Colorado Springs School District 11, he accompanied countless students on field trips to the Venetucci farm. He took his own children, too. It's time, he said, to give Venetucci something in return for those decades of pumpkins. Darpino started talking to others who had similar thoughts. "Everyone loves the Venetuccis," said Suzanne Royer, principal of Venetucci Elementary School in Widefield School District 3. "People want to thank him for all he's done for the people of this region."
The group settled on a life-size bronze statue of Venetucci doing what he loved - giving pumpkins to children.
The Venetuccis are embarrassed by the fuss.
"We're honored and flattered, of course," Bambi Venetucci said. "But we're uncomfortable with the publicity. We never did this for publicity."
Which is why Darpino and Royer and the others are determined to push ahead.
LouAnn Dekleva, who coordinates volunteer services for District 11, took the lead on the project and won the endorsement of 15 area school districts.
Royer's school has collected $2,000 from students and $1,000 from the parent-teacher organization.
But they are a long way from $90,000. Can they collect that much by next spring when the group hopes to unveil the statue - hopefully on the grounds of the Pioneers Museum along Tejon Street where Venetucci started his tradition?
Dekleva thinks it will take more than pennies. Her dream is the campaign will get widespread community support.
"We're hoping a businessman who visited the pumpkin farm when he was a child and is now sitting behind a desk in a corporate office will jump on the bandwagon," she said.
Until then, the pennies will pile up in classroom coffee cans and Darpino will keep massaging clay until he's captured the essence of the man, his pumpkins and the children he loves.
"This is something that's been needed for along time," Darpino said. "I'm just glad to be a part of it."
His field of dreams
By ANDREA BROWN - THE GAZETTE
A child’s crayon drawing of a pumpkin, with tears rolling down its carved face.
The sympathy card from one of Nick Venetucci’s many fans said it all.
Hundreds gathered Sunday at Widefield High School to remember The Pumpkin Man. He died from a stroke Tuesday at age 93.
Friends shared Nick stories, laughed at good memories, wiped away tears.
Majel Dire wore a pumpkin costume and handed out Halloween candy. It was the look she sported during the years she helped Venetucci with the scores of schoolchildren visiting the farm in Security.
Two students from Venetucci Elementary School presented his widow, Bambi, with a basket of pumpkins and bou- quet of flowers.
Suzanne Royer, Venetucci principal, estimated 500 people attended the service. She delivered one of the eulogies.
“He would always say, ‘This is my field of dreams,’ ” she said after the service. “I looked out at the audience at all those generations — we’re talking old old and young young. That to me was a field of generations who shared his field of dreams.”
Venetucci’s legacy started in the 1950s, when he would drive his truck along Tejon Street to give pumpkins to children. Then they started coming to his farm . . . and the rest is history.
Busloads came from all over.
“He was there holding up traffic with all these school buses trying to get in there to get pumpkins,” Widefield resident Sam Weimer said. “That’s how busy it was. Nobody cared. Everybody liked him.”
Patricia Decker, 30, of Colorado Springs, recalled his gentle nature.
“I would go when I was 7, 8 and 9,” she said. “He would be in there helping you. He’d say ‘Do you need help?’ or ‘Here’s a good one.’ I took my daughter Serina there. I wanted her to try to get a feel for that.”
A $100,000 statue of Venetucci will be unveiled soon at the Pioneers Museum. The project was funded by millions of pennies collected by children.
When the drought took a toll on Venetucci’s pumpkin crop in 2002, Pikes Peak Elementary School student Courtney Messmer delivered a bunch of handmade ones.
“The whole entire school, we all made pumpkins for him, to give him back what he always gave us,” said Courtney, 9.
She, like generations of Colorado Springs kids, never had to go through the Charlie Brown angst of waiting all night in the pumpkin patch in hopes the The Great Pumpkin would come.
They knew the Great Pumpkin by name — Nick Venetucci.