The Man Behind The Vision

Of Monarch Spur RV Park

Jerry Gunkel was born on Saint Patrick’s Day, March 17, 1943 at Salida’s Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad Hospital (now known as Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center) in Salida, Colorado. Mother said he was born with a caul, (the inner fetal membrane that can cover the head at birth). According to legend babies born with a caul on their head are destined to accomplish great things. He weighed only 5 pounds and the nurses in the nursery nicknamed him “peanut”.

Jerry Gunkel
In 1940 our parents, Louis and Blanche Gunkel, bought 160 acres of Homesteaded land where Monarch Spur is located. By the time they bought it, land had been taken for highway 50 to run through the middle of it, the upper hydro-plant had been built, and the railroad track to Garfield for mining had been established. This left approximately 136 acres for my parents to work. Our small family lived there until Jerry started grade school in 1948, at which time my Mother moved us to Salida. The altitude on the “Ranch/Arbourville” was 8,620′ and Jerry was not thriving. Mother had trouble keeping weight on him, and the pioneer lifestyle was hard on them both.

My childhood memory of living on the property in the old parlor house known as Arbourville, was mostly positive. We always had enough to eat because my father grew an enormous garden with fresh vegetables. He was especially fond of radishes and he loved the hot taste of the horseradish. He loved to make sauerkraut, as he was of German descent, (you may have guessed this from our last name). The only thing I remember about homemade sauerkraut was it smelled terrible and it tasted even worse. I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to eat it.

Daddy’s Grandfather was Johann Adam Gunkel, born in Oberramstadt, Germany (Province of Hessen). He met and married Anna Margaret Hoffman from Holland. They had 6 children, one of them being Daddy’s Father Johannes Gunkel who was born in Germany on 2/13/1822. He immigrated to the United States in 1831 when he was 9 years old with his father Johann Adam Gunkel. J. Adam bought 2 mules and slips (scoops) and worked on the Erie Canal. With 2 mules he doubled their earnings and was soon able to bring the women folk over. Johannes Jr. married Vianna Reeves in America, and from this union came 7 children. Our father, Louis Grover Gunkel born 8/7/1893, was their 5th child. Louis Grover married our Mother, Blanche Catherine Miles on 5/21/1935. Our parents were both teachers when they met. Mother graduating from Colorado University and Daddy graduating from Western State College in Gunnison, Co.

Life at Arbourville was hard, especially in the winter, for there was no running water, no indoor plumbing, and we had to use the “outhouse” even when the temperature outside was below zero, and it was snow packed. We were not without any modern conveniences; however, because I remember a crank telephone we had, that you had to put one piece to your ear and the other to your mouth. We also had electricity and one of my fathers oft repeated phrases was, TURN OFF THE LIGHTS WHEN YOU LEAVE THE ROOM. I don’t remember being afraid when we lived there. I know now that Frank Gimlett, (the hermit of Arbourville), who I met when I was about 3 years old, had named the Arbourville Parlor House, “The Old Ghost House”. Gimlett made his living selling pamphlets he wrote, and he tried to sell me some tiny pinecones that he said were porcupine eggs when I was about 3 years old. Not only did I not have the cents that he was asking for them, I had seen them on the ground and knew they came from the trees, so I had more sense than to buy them. I later learned that he was not above selling rocks and other things in nature if he could convince the tourists of their value. I saw no evidence of Ghosts when we lived at Arbourville and I was always warm (we had two wood burning stoves), and always had plenty to eat. My father’s garden was plentiful with potatoes, carrots, onions, radishes, turnips, peas, and string beans in spite of the short growing season. We had a cow and calf, so we had fresh milk and cream, that wasn’t pasteurized (nothing like the taste of fresh milk). We even had chickens at one point, and lots of horses for me to ride. Mother called them Daddy’s pets for they were not used for much but to feed and pet. We were loved by both of our parents and we were happy, except my mother, who had a different view. She had to wash and change diapers for 2 babies, without running water. She had a wringer washing machine and we had an old cook stove stoked with wood and coal. On the side of the wood stove was a reservoir that held water that heated when the stove was stoked. The water was hauled from the creek that was 500 feet from the house, or water from the mesa that flowed next to our house. Mother also harvested, canned and stored vegetables from the garden, and generally lived the pioneer life. She was born in 1909 in what is now Keyes, Oklahoma. Her parents crossed Oklahoma in a horse and wagon. They settled in the Panhandle of Oklahoma to homestead a few miles west of Keyes. Mother was the oldest of 5 surviving children and had had enough of the pioneer life working with her parents in the cotton fields, and helping to raise her four siblings. When she got old enough to go to school she studied hard and made straight A’s so she could stay in school and stay out of the cotton fields. She graduated from high school as Valedictorian of her class, and her parents sent her and her sister, Ruth to college in Goodwell, OK, now known as Oklahoma Panhandle State University, where she gained enough credits to teach school. She later attended Colorado University to keep her teaching certificate.

My father loved the property at Arbourville, for he got to try his hand at ranching. He had 7 horses: Dot, Pet, Babe, Dennis, Warpaint, Sugarfoot, and a colt. He grew hay to keep the livestock fed. One of my earliest memories is listening to the sound of semi-trucks as they came down Monarch Pass. My Father used to listen and if they lost control and went careening over the side of the embankment he would jump in his Army jeep (one he bought after he was a Sergeant in World War 1 in France) and he would rush to the scene of the accident to see if there were survivors and try to help them. He often had humorous stories to tell, like the truck driver who was moaning and groaning when Daddy came up to his Semi. My father asked him what was wrong and he said he had hit his head and his brains were coming out. On closer inspection my father realized that he had been carrying a load of eggs and they smashed over his head leaving their mucous & yolks. Thank goodness the man was not really hurt.

Another time my Mother went out the front door, which was located just down the embankment from Highway 50, and there was a semi hanging over the embankment practically touching the front door – talk about a surprise.

Life on the “Ranch” was never dull. We had garter snakes down by the river that Jerry and I played with. One day our cousin Larry Dean was visiting from Texas and he was “bit” by one of these harmless snakes. He was about 12 years old and he took his pocket knife and slit the puncture wounds and “sucked out the poison”. My father roared when he heard about that and said Larry was more in danger of getting an infection from his pocket knife than the snake bite. Daddy could always find the humor in a situation.

One Christmas Daddy dressed up like Santa Clause and came to the front door. Jerry was about 5 years old and I was about 3. Jerry and I were very excited to see Santa but Jerry didn’t want Daddy to miss seeing him so Jerry and I went out on the front step and we called and called for Daddy to come in. I’m sure my folks were inside cracking up, but we never did get Santa and Daddy together.

Daddy was not above capital punishment, though, and Jerry was a pyromaniac at the tender age of 5. He had a penchant for starting fires in those preschool years. After Daddy warned him and Jerry started another fire, Daddy made Jerry pick out a switch from the bushes and he got a spanking. I think it wounded his pride more than his bottom but I began to laugh and make fun of him, so my Father showed me how it felt! I can tell you it stung, and I never made light of it again. That is the only time I remember my father spanking me. I do remember him carrying me when I got too tired to walk. I would say “take her, take her” and he would pick me up and carry me. He was always kind and gentle and loved us very much.

Daddy died in May of 1957 from lympho sarcoma when I was 11 years old and Jerry was 14. Mother started working at the Denver & Rio Grande Hospital, Jerry took a job at Safeway, and I worked at the A&W Root Beer stand and later at Woolworth’s in Salida. We were taught the work ethic by our parent’s example and we were diligent and responsible. On our time off Jerry would go skiing or driving Daddy’s old Army Jeep, (which he called the Mountain Goat). He explored the Colorado country side near Salida, and went above timberline to see many old mines and ghost towns. He also learned a great deal about Colorado history, paying more attention to that than his studies at Salida High School. I remember one day when he was suppose to be back from a weekend camping trip and he didn’t show up. Mother had to send the rescue team out for him. His jeep had broken down somewhere in the mountains, he had his sleeping bag with him so he dug a hole in the snow bank and was warm and toasty in his snow insulated cave. He, however, lost the privilege of driving his jeep for a time and he was grounded, although it wasn’t called that then. His wings were just clipped.

After he graduated from high school he decided to join the U.S. Navy. Since he had learned to assemble and disassemble his jeep they soon found he had an aptitude for mechanics and he was stationed to perform military jet fighter repairs. His specialty was aviation structural mechanics, with concentration on the structural, hydraulic, pneumatic, and ejection components of aircraft. After school he was assigned to a Navy training squadron in Key West, Florida. The squadron mission was to transition squadrons to the latest and best fighter the Navy had at that time, the McDonnell F4B Phantom. Then the Cuban crisis developed, and most of his squadron was activated to combat status.

Jerry volunteered to transfer to the operation communication section and his job was to transmit and relay messages to and from patrol aircraft operating off the coast of Florida and the coast of Cuba. He had joined the Navy to see the world but remained stationed in Key West, Florida. He began taking flying lessons six months before he got out of the Navy and he got a job with McDonnell Douglas after his tour was over. He studied for and passed the FAA written test and the oral test and check ride with an FAA examiner and became a pilot. Flying changed his life. Suddenly books were no longer objects of distain, pain, and failure but valuable treasures, and his thirst for knowledge was enormous. He read everything he could get his hands on.

He became a flight instructor in a department with 500 employees. He was training 12 employees to fly and he would have ground school on their lunch hour in a large conference room. Evenings and weekends were for flight training. His pilot licenses’ included:

Certified Flight Instructor
Instrument Flight Instructor
Multi-engine Instructor
Basic Ground Instructor
Advanced Ground Instructor
Instrument Ground Instructor

He also earned his scuba diver’s certification during this period.

He received “Flight Instructor of the Year” award in 1974 for a four state region. He was the first instructor from the St. Louis area to receive this award. One of Jerry’s wealthy ex-students and he had the opportunity to buy Thunderbird Aviation, Inc. in St. Louis, Missouri out of bankruptcy in 1976. He had to get five airplanes out of foreclosure, obtain operating capital to start running the new company, and meet payroll for seven employees. They sold the company in the fall of 1979 for $80,000, three years after they bought it for $1. In the end he was running the corporation with forty employees, doing a million dollars worth of business a year, selling airplanes, selling fuel, doing maintenance and charters, and teaching people to fly in his spare time.

In 1982 he took the profit from Thunderbird, sold some investments, went to a bank and received $100,000 for a construction loan, and spent the next 18 months building a 5 level, 5 bathrooms, 4 bedrooms, 3 fireplace home in Chesterfield, MO. He negotiated contracts for lumber, plumbing fixtures, wiring and lighting, and appliances. He got permits from the county since he was the general contractor. He did 60-70% of the work himself, and gained $60,000 in “sweat equity.”

In 1996 he and his wife divorced, and sold their 5 level home and he used the proceeds to move back to Colorado to the old “Homestead”. He began working on his dream as a boy, to build a “dude ranch” at Arbourville. He named his construction company “Phoenix” as he was building a new life from the “ashes” of his old life. He had lost his pilots’ license due to heart problems, and he began the process of building Monarch Spur RV Park and Campground from the dirt and hills around. He shaped it into 29 RV Sites, 2 cabins, and numerous tent sites. Anyone who has visited Monarch Spur can feel the love and caring that went into his creation. He named it Monarch Spur in memory of the Railroad bed that crossed highway 50 and went up the mountain to switch back (known as the spur) and head toward Garfield to the mine. The railroad would transport ore from the mine to Maysville and return to Garfield for another load of ore. The railroad bed was abandoned and later torn out so Jerry used it’s path to build the road that leads to Monarch Spur RV Park and campground.

Jerry was a man of many talents. He was a contractor, planner, designer, President/CEO, photographer, laborer, chief cook and bottle washer, sales/PR person, Plummer, electrician, and gopher. He spent many hours talking, cajoling, begging, and cussing the Chaffee County Officials and inspectors to bring his dream to reality.

On May 4th, 2003 Jerry was getting ready for a new season at Monarch Spur. He had just had the cabins added the previous year and he looked forward to seeing all of his special RV friends from across the country. As he traveled Highway 50 to the Park he had some chest pain and it grew worse on his arrival. The Park Manager called 911 and the ambulance responded as soon as they could get there. He was still coherent when he started down the mountain with the EMT’s but the ambulance driver said they were suddenly surrounded by a bright light and Jerry died on his way down the mountain. He was always ready for “a new marvelous adventure” and he was about to start a great adventure and a new life. Jerry lived by the Golden Rule, and you could always find him ministering to others-one life at a time. He was a leader and could talk anyone into trying something new, whether it was a trip to Mexico, or an ATV ride on a trip of a lifetime. I called him many times to complain about things and he often said “if you need me to call so-n-so let me know because I always love a good dogfight”. He was always ready to defend the underdog. He hired some people that later took advantage of him, but he said “I want to try and help them. I’m going to give them a chance and we’ll see how it turns out.” It didn’t always turn out the best for Jerry but the employees always left knowing they had been treated more than fairly and they had been given a chance.

You too can start on “a marvelous adventure”, (Jerry’s favorite saying.) by visiting us at Monarch Spur RV Park and Campground. It was Albert Einstein who said “there are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

Come see the miracles God has in store for you at Monarch Spur, the trout; hummingbirds; chipmunks; clear, crisp stars at night; bear; moose; elk; old ghost towns; hiking trails, etc., etc., etc. Every day is full of new wonders and sights. Come get your Rocky Mountain High at Monarch Spur RV Park and campground. We’ll be looking forward to seeing you again or welcoming you for the first time-