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’


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.


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