by Rick Langenberg:
Veterans Day is a memorable occasion for many local residents, with the region’s strong ties to the military.
Not surprisingly, last week’s Nov. 11 holiday abounded locally with a spree of ceremonies honoring those who have served their country and sacrificed their lives for our freedom. The meaning of Veterans Day is even more pronounced now than ever before with the growing threats in the Mideast and across the globe and even in Colorado. Hopefully, most local residents last week took time to reflect on a military veteran or two, or three, who have impacted their lives.
For The Mountain Jackpot (TMJ) staff, Veterans Day is even more memorable, as three years ago (exactly on Veterans Day) we lost Mike Parish, a decorated Vietnam vet, newspaper columnist, letter to editor writer, government critic, community ambassador, journalistic caretaker, local peace-maker, E-bay fanatic and all-out Hell-raiser.
Even now, the spirit of Mike Parish reigns, as noted last week in a very worthy TMJ column by Eli Stone. In fact, few know that Mike paved the way for the grand “Mad Dog Murf” exposes, a definite favorite reading of a few Teller illustrious elected officials.
Mike Parish maintained quite a multi-varied status in the community, and questions still persist about his legacy, even three years after his death.
A few current local officials, including Woodland Park City Manager David Buttery and former Mayor Steve Randolph, remember Mike quite well. Shortly after Mike died on Nov. 11, 2011, Steve made extremely eloquent public statements regarding Mike Parish at a council meeting in describing Mike as someone who was often misunderstood by a few in the community, but a definite community icon with great intentions.
Some only saw Mike through his outrageous stunts, such as ripping off his shirt at a WP Council meeting to display his physical wounds as a deserving patient of medical marijuana, when the elected leaders were debating this issue and preparing to outlaw medicinal cannabis shops. His antics and comments may not have swayed the staunch anti-medical marijuana views of District Attorney Dan May, but they definitely made quite an impression on Dan. The two ended up having a lengthy conversation in the council chambers hallway that attracted more attention than the actual council meeting and the city’s eventual anti-marijuana ban.
Mike would have undoubtedly been pleased with the “no new taxes” aqua center campaign in Woodland Park as Parish was a pretty big critic of the former recreation center plan. In fact, his columns, which at times raised the ire of the WP city manager, helped lay the groundwork for a strong “no” vote on an elaborate rec center bid in 2010 that the city clearly couldn’t afford. This earlier verdict paved the route for what turned into a highly successful pro-2A vote this year, sparked by the first real comprehensive community survey for the project orchestrated by Perini & Associates.
In fact, the local taxpayers probably owe Mike Parish a huge thank you due to his criticism of certain elaborate spending programs and such bogus organizations as the former Teller County Economic Development Corporation, which took in tens of thousands of dollars for doing absolutely nothing. (Don’t worry, Mike let you know about those details and gave our elected officials a well-deserved tongue-lashing in the process.) And those who shop at the Woodland Park Wal-Mart should thank Mike for leading the pro-Wal-Mart charge. During this controversy, he tried to retire from The Mountain Jackpot, but the local readers practically launched a mini-revolt and wouldn’t let him leave due to his staunch “for the people” letters and columns, especially in favor of the Wally-World venture in Woodland.
Mike P. also made quite a reputation on Teller County Sheriff Mike Ensminger during the early debut of his time as head law officer, when he was trying to promote certain new programs. Mike Parish’s arrival at the sheriff’s office, along with TMJ photographer Charles Chambers, armed with a shoebox of fake shrunken heads created quite a sensation. Parish had a few deputies and commanders turning their heads in disbelief. Some agency veterans are still talking about this incident, asking, “Are those real?”
This was part of the Parish humor, which was an amazing trademark considering what Mike witnessed and experienced in Vietnam, and with many of the personal struggles he underwent in his time in Teller County. He never let his personal pain get in the way of fun-loving political satire and an amazing level of community generosity.
Even leaders who Mike criticized, such as David Buttery, admitted they were intrigued by Mike’s larger than life personality. David once went through 15 different colored pens in deciphering a Parish column that assaulted the city’s bid for a sales tax hike for a huge YMCA recreation center. But David will have to admit (maybe not in public) this critique had merits. Actually, it served as a preamble for a strong council and community outcry against the proposed YMCA center. At least Mike warned David of the pending opposition he faced in the coming months.
It’s hard to understand how Mike would have viewed the current state of affairs and politics in Teller County. He certainly wouldn’t have been crazy about some of the “Yuppie-fying” of Teller County, but would have appreciated the growing efforts made by local leaders now to recognize area veterans, who often were ignored in the past. He would have definitely enjoyed the new memorial tributes inside Lions Park.
In the wake of Veterans Day, many locals have special stories in remembering family members and friends. The thoughts of The Mountain Jackpot (TMJ) staff go towards reliving the memories of Mike Parish, a great local veteran.