Chuck Warden's sense of humor has defined him for 102 years. There were always unexpected quips that left one in stitches. He didn't shy away from a good prank, either. A prank of particular note took place when he returned to his college dorm on a windy, snowy winter day, and his soaking wet roommate jumped out of the shower and grabbed Chuck from behind. Thinking quickly, Chuck seized the roommate's arms, pinned the naked man to his back, and ran with him out into the snow, dashing quite publicly across the frozen campus. Chuck worked at the Chicago World's Fair with his brother Clifford, and then went to work at a Chicago bank, whose owner persuaded him to attend Cornell College in Iowa. Upon graduating, Chuck was astonished to receive a canceled I.O.U. from the fond banker for the remaining amount of his college debt. He remained a Life Trustee of the college until his passing. Chuck and Ruth Ohlsen (nicknamed Gussie) met at Cornell and married in 1941. Chuck became an Air Corps flight instructor and later was sent to Germany as a fighter pilot to fly P-47s. He returned just before being sent to Japan as the war ended. The couple had a daughter, Barbara Jean, in 1943. Chuck received his law degree from the State University of Iowa courtesy of the GI bill. Job offers proving uninteresting, he drove his family to Boulder and began Warden and Company Realty on 13th street, right across from the Court House near the old white popcorn wagon that was permanently parked on the corner. He was Republican County Chairman for years, pinch hit as Municipal Judge when the Real Judge was out of town, and was appointed head of the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) by President Eisenhower, at the end of whose administration Chuck quickly dodged over to the Vice Presidency of Western Federal Savings in Denver. "It's not that the government would have fired me," he explained to his daughter, "but a new administration might want their own guy, and send me off to some state I don't want to live in. We're staying here!" Chuck was active in the Jaycees and downtown business organizations, and was instrumental in hatching the scheme to build the Presbyterian Manor in 1962. Seeing the minister from First Presbyterian approaching his door one afternoon and wondering what he might be about to be asked to do, he leapt up and met the man with his own proposal: "Why not have the church provide an affordable apartment building for older folks?" So began the idea for the 11 story Presbyterian Manor on Arapahoe, just when Chuck's own mother happened to be thinking about a place to live. Coming from a family of builders since the 1500's, Chuck had an eye for land. Wandering into the Court House one afternoon, he saw that a chunk of mountain land was being sold for taxes. He bought it, grabbed a map and drove up to explore the property. What a shock! He had accidentally bought the original Wild Basin Lodge! The huge three story log building had endless rooms, sheets still on the beds, a dining room, outbuildings and a fish pond. For the rest of the summer, every weekend was spent with various friends invited to come and stay. No one ever had to make beds; just changed rooms. Wisely deciding not to learn to run a hotel, he let it go back to the original owners when they found the money they owed in taxes. Another fateful land investment decision came when his group of investor buddies decided not to buy a pasture east of town, Chuck opining that little Boulder would not grow that far east, but south toward Denver. The land snapped up by someone else instead became Crossroads Shopping Center, now mighty "Twenty Ninth Street." This is a decision sometimes described as "oops!" World travel became a passion for the couple, who at retirement began intricately planned meandering trips across Europe and even China, Chuck driving rental cars well into his 80's. As all this was before the internet, trips began with elaborate personal letter-writing campaigns designed to trade homes. Many very happy friendships, visits, and exchanges went on for years as a result. When not traveling, the couple volunteered for thirty years at the retirement home of the Good Samaritan on Taft Street, Gussie playing an abundance of old tunes by ear on piano and Chuck gathering the flock, arranging wheelchairs, and sometimes playing snare drum. A considerate man, he politely refrained from singing. In the 1990's, Boulder's Frasier Manor opened an excellent new retirement wing, and so many of their Boulder friends were closing out their big family homes then that it seemed that all of their old friends moved into Frasier at once. The effect was that of a college dorm without the food fights. Chuck and Gussie are survived by their daughter and son in law, Barbara and Don McKee, both artists, of Louisville. A memorial service will be held at 3:00 on Tuesday the 14th, on the 4th floor chapel at Frasier Retirement Community, 300 Ponca Place, Boulder, Co. Any contributions in his name would be welcomed by Cornell College, 600 1st St. SW, Mount Vernon Iowa, 52314.
Published in Colorado Hometown Weekly on Jan. 8, 2020.