Can you believe I once actually worked for The Denver Post?
Helen Bonfils, the owner of our own Denver Post, funded what she called The Denver Post Opera. Miss Helen paid for the construction of a stage at the Cheesman Memorial in Cheesman Park. She paid for all the actors and all the members of the local orchestra. She paid the union rate and I was always grateful for the opportunity she afforded me. I was in high school and thought myself a lucky fellow to have a permit with the Stagehand’s Union, the International Association of Theatrical and Stage Employees, fondly nicknamed IATSE Local 7, by those lucky enough to be carpenters, electricians, property folks for the summer shows. Having a permit card with the union meant that you paid a portion of your wages back to the union for the privilege of working with the union at the Denver Post Opera.
Denver residents loved being able to pack up a picnic supper, find a place on the expansive grass around the beautiful marble memorial and enjoy a great free show with a full orchestra. Max Di Julio, director of Loretto Heights College Music Department, held the baton for the Denver Post Opera musicals and became a household name in music circles around our city.
Now let me tell you about the time I first met Miss Helen. One morning, Miss Helen pulled up to the Cheesman Park, site of the operas, in her roadster, top down, with stately, plump Fr. John Anderson, her chaplain and my Holy Family High teacher. In the back seat was her large white poodle enjoying the windy ride in the back seat of the roadster with Colorado license plate number 1. Miss Helen, a daddy’s girl, inherited the paper from her father, Fred Bonfils. In those days everyone loved the Denver Post, because everyone knew Helen and the paper had their best interests in mind.
Fr. Anderson saw me and brought Miss Helen over to meet me. The poodle stayed in the car.
“Helen, this is Dennis Gallagher, one of my favorite students from Holy Family High and you’re going to hear lots about him. I predict he’s going into politics” Fr. Anderson said of me.
I shook hands with Miss Helen, not sure quite what to say to this legendary owner and operator of The Denver Post and a fine actress in her own professional life, and responded, “Miss Bonfils, our family was always grateful that you built Holy Ghost Church downtown. I think it’s more beautiful than the Cathedral.”
“Dennis, let me let you in on a secret,I built Holy Ghost to get my father into purgatory,” she answered smiling. We all laughed and I turned to Fr. Anderson and asked, “Well, Father, do you think Mr. Bonfils is out of Purgatory yet?” He had passed away years before. Purgatory is the place where your sinful soul gets shined up a bit before it gets to enter heaven.
“Oh, no, Dennis, with his editorial policy I think he will be in purgatory until the end of time,” he responded jovially. “Not enough to keep him out of heaven, but enough for lots of time in Purgatory.”
Eyes flashing like Athena, Miss Helen chimed in. “Dennis, call me sometime. You and I are going to go for coffee, and we are going to leave Fr. Anderson alone at home in his rectory.”
Fr. Anderson’s gold cufflinks, embossed with big dollar signs, glinted in the morning sun. The cuff links reminded everyone in town that Fr. Anderson was unofficial chaplain to the rich.
I met Miss Helen several other times thereafter. A fine character actor, she starred in several plays at the old Elitch Theater. Working as a stagehand at that old historic theater, I would always watch her scenes. Afterward I reminded Miss Helen of our meeting with Fr. Anderson. We would have a good laugh.
Financial angel of the Denver Post Operas for so many years, a grateful city says, ‘Thank you, Miss Helen.” A hometown owner of a newspaper whose readers knew she cared about our city and its cultural future. She was a builder of churches, even though they came with strings. She built the wonderful Bonfils Theater on East Colfax, now Tattered Cover. Look for her ghost in the drama book section.
One of the biggest regrets of all my years is that I never called and had coffee with Miss Bonfils. But I was young and foolish, and now I’m full of tears. I should have called Fr. Anderson to arrange it.