By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
During the summer, like many other Globeville youths, Buck would be sent to the farms around Greeley and Fort Collins to thin beets for the season. He was often late returning for the fall term at St. Joseph's Polish Church School--which he still laughingly refers to as Globeville Tech.
"Anyway, I graduated from there when I was fourteen," he recalls. "I was the only one in the family who could find work, so I had to. I worked for the Postal Telegraph company in the stockyards, delivering messages. My family suffered, but everyone suffered back then."
By the time he was fifteen--"and an overgrown punk," Buck remembers--he was working with a crew of six men, shaking the salt off cured cowhides and throwing them onto piles. From there, he went to the lamb freezer. "And I stayed working in the packinghouses," he says, summing up a 45-year career, "and that was my job for the rest of the time."
Meanwhile, he married Margaret, a devout neighborhood girl he'd met at a dance at the Slovenian Gardens, a local bar and dance hall, and began the production of five girls and a boy. The newlyweds paid $2,500 for a house up the hill from the farm Down Below--"a hell of a lot," Buck complains--and lived there together until Margaret died of cancer in 1989.
"So I had her for 51 and a half good years of fighting," Buck recalls. "We had our fights, and our silent treatments. I gave her those silent treatments, and she hated them, too."
In between, though, there were leisurely fishing trips, church picnics and outings, and long summer nights spent sitting on the patio, watching the air traffic as it headed toward Stapleton. And gardening, of course. In short, Globeville was an excellent place for the Oletski family to live. Which is why the standard perception of the neighborhood--that it's a marginal area rapidly fading from respectability--has never made any sense to Buck.
"The worst thing was supposed to be the projects," he says. "And, of course, we never had no trouble with them at all. After the highway, some people moved in who only wanted a place to stay, cheap, and didn't take care of their yards. But mainly it's been people like us.
"The only thing that's wrong around here," he continues, "is that we don't get no noise from the airport anymore. Mother and I used to sit out on the patio and watch seven or eight planes circling. Now all I see is seven or eight squirrels circling."
Buck retired from meat-packing in 1978. He was only 61, but his youngest child and only son John had been killed in a car accident the year before, and Buck lost his will to work. Instead, he got down to serious gardening--making use of a ready supply of grandchild labor and trying to talk his adult daughters into canning fast enough to keep pace with the produce. "Women shouldn't work," he says. "There is plenty for them to do around the house."
His daughters, as if in direct violation of this edict, found plenty to do in the outside world. Georgine and her then-husband were so busy running a fireworks store and a Mexican restaurant that Buck and Margaret ended up raising their son. Michael Sanchez knows he will come to think of those years--between infancy and the age of sixteen--as "the most important," he says. "There wasn't no better time in my life. They were the very utmost religious. My grandmother always said you can do whatever you want in this life, but if you lose your faith, you've lost everything. And you won't find another man like my grandfather. I mean, you probably shouldn't even try."
In Globeville, the Oletskis are as much an institution as the old smelter. Down Below, stretching away in a line from the freight tracks, are four simple white frame houses. These were built by the Kowalczsyks, old-country cousins of the Oletskis, and a few still live in the little houses. A half-block east, at the dead end of East 49th Avenue, is the house where Buck's older brother, Ben, raised his family. His widow, Julia, along with a whole crop of grandchildren, still lives there. Buck's brother Ladis, crippled with arthritis and prostate cancer, lives in a small brick house across the street from a corral full of horses. Buck's brother Ray and his family occupy the house Down Below where Buck and Ray and the rest of the children were raised.
"I lived in this house all my life," Ray says. "I was born here, and I have roots. There's no one you meet anymore who has that, so no, I wouldn't leave here."
The possibility of leaving never even entered Ray's mind until ten years ago. A lifelong gardener, he had retired from a meat-packing job similar to his brother's after injuring his back and was spending most of his time "growing whatever I felt like," Ray says. "Raising pigeons and these quackless Muscovy ducks." When a team from the state health department--Colorado had filed suit against Asarco in federal court in 1983 for damage to natural resources and risk to public health--came by and asked to check his water for contaminants, Ray agreed. "It was very bad," he says. And his soil, despite the composting and organic gardening it had been subjected to for decades, was worse.