‘Then and Now’ sheds light on history of Highlands Ranch

Founder of the ranch makes special appearance at the Mansion

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Jim Toepfer — one of the founders of Highlands Ranch — asked a room of more than 200 community members:

“What would have happened if I said no all those years ago?”

The answer: Highlands Ranch, most likely, wouldn’t be here.

Toepfer, a spunky 88-year-old, recently spoke at the Highlands Ranch Mansion for a special “Then and Now” event hosted by the Highlands Ranch Historical Society.

He gave an oral history lesson on the community that drew laughter and even some tears among the crowded room.

He spoke of childhood memories — growing up with nearly nothing in the Great Depression, meeting his wife who died eight years ago, and the lifelong friendships he acquired while building a community.

Teopfer, who was raised in Wisconsin, was one of three men from the California-based master planning company Mission Viejo who planned Highlands Ranch in the 1970s. Teopfer, former chief planner, Phil Riley, former president of Mission Viejo, and Don Bren, a real estate developer, invested $26 million in 22,000 acres that is now home to more than 100,000 people.

More than anything, Toepfer wanted to build a community for residents.

“We knew we were going to build cities,” he said. “But we had to make sure we built communities that people would enjoy.”

Old and new friends, families and unaccompanied adults attended the sold-out event to socialize and learn more about the community.

Special guests included the Scott family, the first homeowners in Highlands Ranch, former ranch manager and Mission Viejo spokesperson Art Cook, and Susie Appleby, an expert in Douglas County’s history.

Appleby published her first book, “Fading Past: The Story of Douglas County, Colorado,” in 2001 while earning her master’s thesis from the University of Colorado, Denver. She hopes to tackle the history of the Highlands Ranch Mansion next.

In her research, she was surprised at how family-oriented the county has always been.

“We didn’t necessarily have a Gold Rush like many other areas of Colorado,” she said. “When miners came here, they brought their families — those families started the county.”

Jim Creager, former vice president of finance for Mission Viejo of Colorado, attended. When he arrived in 1979, there was nothing but a few trees around the mansion.

“I was amazed at how quickly it became a community,” he said.

Toepfer periodically asked guests if they had friends and families in Highlands Ranch — almost everyone raised their hands.

He emphasized family because of his own, which he calls “close-knit.” He has six great-grandkids in Douglas County and two more on the way.

“I’m very pleased,” Toepfer said of Highlands Ranch. “It’s been a great success.”

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