Tom Munds: 1937-2020

For decades, Tom Munds told Englewood’s stories through words and photographs

Reporter was known for his love of the community

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Tom Munds captured high school football games on camera. He dutifully took notes at virtually every city council meeting in his time. He put a spotlight on community events. He wrote stories other media outlets didn’t care to tell.

For several decades, if it happened in Englewood, Munds was there.

Munds’ passion for the city and its people was evident to Englewood Mayor Linda Olson, who met the Denver resident a decade ago when she first ran for city council.

“He loved our community, even though he didn’t live in it,” Olson said. “He really liked Englewood, liked our kids, cared about our athletics and our schools. I think that’s kind of unusual to have that depth of care for the community even when you don’t live in it.”

In his heart, Englewood was home for Munds, who died Feb. 6 after a battle with cancer. He was 82.

Munds’ career covering Denver-area communities spanned more than 40 years — most of them spent with his ear to the ground in Englewood — and he loved that city just as much as it came to love him back.

“There are communities, people I met, that if I don’t live next door to you, I wouldn’t know your name,” Munds said in his final weeks. “Englewood is like an old-fashioned community where — not everybody, but particularly the older families — they have that neighborly thing. A lot of them know each other’s name.”

Randy Penn, a former Englewood mayor who coached sports at Englewood High School for decades, admired Munds’ relentlessly personal touch as a reporter.

“He makes a personal effort to get to know all of our kids and find out what their stories and their lives are about — not just the athletics,” Penn, who knew Munds as a friend, said in 2004 in describing Munds for a journalism award nomination.

Today, memories of Munds are still fresh around the city.

Joe Jefferson, another former mayor and lifelong Englewood resident, remembers as a youth watching Munds in his mother’s Chinese restaurant — Twin Dragon on South Broadway — taking photos and snagging quotes in the crowd at Chinese New Year events.

“It made it feel like a smaller town,” said Jefferson, Englewood’s municipal judge. “I realized he made us feel a little bit special and part of the community, and I realize we weren’t the only ones he made feel that way.”

‘Banner years’

Munds was born and raised in Portsmouth, Virginia, where a strained family dynamic with his father led his mother to move with Munds to Miami, where his half-sister lived, in his teenage years. He graduated in 1955 from Miami Senior High School and almost immediately enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, with dreams of becoming a pilot.

Munds ended up going to military tech school in Mississippi, eventually listening to Russian radio transmissions in Morse code and copying them in Alaska.

He spent 21 years in the Air Force, including service in the Vietnam War. He eventually landed as a public information officer at Lowry Air Force Base in Denver, writing for the base’s newspaper and freelancing for the Sentinel newspaper chain.

He retired from the service in late 1976 and went on to complete his journalism degree at Metropolitan State University of Denver.

In 1977, the Sentinel chain hired him to report on and take photos of high school sports at nine schools, including Englewood High. The beat was eventually pared down to schools in Englewood and neighboring Littleton.

In 1986, he was assigned to cover the entire community of Englewood, which he did for the next 30-plus years.

He spent most of that time working for the Englewood Herald. His articles appeared on the pages of the Herald and sister papers as recently as spring 2019.

“It was so much fun,” Munds said in January. “My years with the paper were banner years for me.”

MORE: The oldest Tom Munds story in the CCM database

Chris Rotar, managing editor of Colorado Community Media, which owns the Herald, worked with Munds for 12 years.

“To many people in the community, Tom was the Englewood Herald,” Rotar said. “But Tom was more than an old-school newspaper reporter. He was a humanitarian, a historian, a father and a friend.”

‘Heart was full’

Munds loved reminiscing about his wife, Alva, who died on Feb. 3, 2011.

He met her in May 1958 on a Greyhound bus as a young Air Force Airman First Class, when she climbed aboard as a group of rowdy men also walked on. She asked if she could sit with Munds.

“I found out that her grandma lived two blocks from my grandma in Portsmouth — we knew all kinds of people that each other knew,” Munds said in January.

They were engaged 10 days later, and married on Aug. 18 of that year in Mobile, Alabama.

“We were married 53 years until she passed away,” Munds said. ‘’She was a marvelous woman.”

They had three children, Gayle, Martha and Thomas. Martha Munds died about a decade ago. Gayle Munds remained a close presence in her father’s life and remembers his playful side: When she was young, her father dressed up as Santa Claus, and she and her siblings didn’t know it was him. His wife kissed Santa, which shocked the kids — and Munds and his wife laughed about it all.

“It was a loving home,” Gayle Munds, 60, said. “Whenever I got in trouble or needed help, he was there.”

She went with her father on trips to Nicaragua, where Munds traveled for mission trips through the nonprofit Casa Unida Foundation, helping to build a school and giving away gifts such as wooden toys and baseball gloves.

“A kid in Nicaragua, that was the first personal toy that was his — he was 6 years old ...,” Munds said. “When that little boy stood against the wall crying because that’s the first toy he had ever owned personally, my heart was full.”

Even near the end of his life, he still planned to give back.

“Lord willing ... I want to see if there’s a way I can continue to help others in some small way,” Munds said.

‘Hands-on’ reporter

In the mid-1970s, Penn began coaching football and track at Englewood High.

“We almost instantly became friends,” Penn said. “We went out and ate together, and he traveled with us on the (football) team bus and sometimes the track bus.”

Munds became such a fixture in EHS sports that he’d chat with Penn about strategy before games and would go out to eat with the team afterward — he even rode with the team to faraway parts of the state such as Alamosa and Palisade, and he’d chat with the kids.

Munds also covered Penn in a different role, as a watchdog reporting on the Englewood City Council. Munds’ personal approach allowed him to get closer to the story.

“He’d call sometimes (after council meetings) and find out who are some of my contacts to talk to, why I chose the way I did, what were some of the big points and where the direction of the council was leading,” Penn, mayor from 2011-15, said.

Munds sat in the council chambers so often that he came to be known as the “eighth member of council,” with the seven-member body jokingly referring questions to him during meetings.

“Because he was there every single night without fail, we’d sometimes turn to him and say, ‘Do you remember that, Tom? We can’t remember — do you remember?’ " laughed Olson, who lauded Munds as “a real hands-on kind of journalist.”

‘A good man’

Ask Munds how he was doing, and there was a good chance he’d give this answer: “Mean, grouchy and hard to get along with. Same as usual.”

Truth is, he did not have any problems making friends.

Colorado Community Media arts and entertainment columnist Sonya Ellingboe counted Munds as a friend since the Littleton Independent and Englewood Herald became part of the same company in the 1990s, said Ellingboe, who traded personal stories with Munds.

“His stories ranged from early military days and his marriage and kids to what was happening now on our beats,” Ellingboe said. “He was a wealth of knowledge on local history and politics and seemed to know everyone related and so enjoyed tracking after the latest bits of information about the community he really loved.”

Behind the scenes, Munds simply was “a good man with a good heart,” said Jerry Healey, Colorado Community Media’s publisher, who knew Munds for about 30 years.

“His late wife, Alva, baked our daughter’s first birthday cake,” he said. “He was always bringing in homemade chocolates that he and Alva had made. And he always had a hug and a smile ready.”

Always looking for the next adventure, Munds talked about getting on the phone to do some reporting even as he lay recently in hospice, said Ann Healey, who has served as an editor and columnist for CCM.

“Despite the battle against the illnesses of the past few years,” she said, “his energy, joy and excitement for life — and people — never waned. We should all live like Tom.”

Munds shared stories even in his final weeks: The time he took more than 1,000 photos on safari in Africa, marveling at the wildlife. Chronicling the demolition of Cinderella City, the massive indoor mall that closed an economic chapter in Englewood history with its fall in the late 1990s. Meeting influential Englewood faces. Even the small things, such as sitting down for breakfast with Penn.

“I’d like to go to the Englewood Tavern and see people that I knew,” Munds said in January.

Showing love

News of Munds’ passing drew dozens of comments and at least 100 shares on Facebook of a CCM profile on Munds published in his final days — and community members shared their stories.

“He did an article on us back in the early ‘90s with our boyscout troop,” one comment read.

“This man interviewed me numerous times in high school; he was a class act,” a post read.

“He was a part of Englewood, no event felt right unless he was there. He definitely left his mark,” said another post, echoing the sentiments of others.

Munds loved reminiscing about his favorite Englewood restaurants, the big high school sports games and the tougher stories — but perhaps above all, the familiar faces.

He recently expressed his gratitude for being a member of the community.

“Tell the people of Englewood,” Munds said, “that I love them.”

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