Joe Blake Made Highlands Ranch Into Hometown USA

Article Written by Shirley Cavanaugh, Publicity Chair HR Historical Society

Video Tribute and Oral History by Mark Stevenson, Special Projects, HR Historical

Joseph B. Blake might not be known to most Highlands Ranch residents, yet because of Joe, they enjoy the highest quality of life. Joe passed away on Feb. 15, 2022, leaving a rich legacy of countless accomplishments benefiting Colorado’s communities and people, especially Highlands Ranch.

Joe’s journey to help develop the new town of Highlands Ranch—which officially opened in September 1981—began on Feb. 1, 1980, when he became senior vice president for Mission Viejo Company’s Colorado Division. At the time, the Douglas County News-Press said the company had been building homes in the Denver area and had “recently acquired the 22,000-acre Highlands Ranch on which a balanced satellite community of 30,000 dwelling units will be built over the next 25 years.”  

“When I was offered the job, the opportunity was unbelievable,” said Joe, a lawyer by profession. “I had no background or expertise in what I was called to do,” he added with a chuckle. What made him unique was his ability to work with other people—making them feel special and building consensus. Joe enjoyed finding a middle ground and getting things done for everyone’s benefit.

Gary Debus, former Highlands Ranch Community Association General Manager, who  spent 20 years working with Joe, said, “Joe was one of the world’s greatest mentors who treated everyone with respect and dignity.”

Joe’s people skills would serve him well—possibly more than his knowledge as a lawyer—to secure the infrastructure of the fledgling community. Joe played a major role in developing things taken for granted today, such as C-470, Centennial Water, South Platte Reservoir, and the Highlands Ranch Post Office.

“One of the early things we did was to form a C-470 delegation,” he said. “We went back to our representatives in Washington to say we need to have C-470 funded. That was a big deal!”

Mission Viejo then wanted Joe to get signs up on C-470 to identify the exits for Highlands Ranch. “The highway department wouldn’t do it unless the community agreed to incorporate because it didn’t want to deal with the developer,” said Joe.

“I’ve worked with all the governors since day one,” he said. As fate would have it, one day when Joe was at the governor’s mansion, he found himself sitting with the heads of RTD and the highway department. “I told the RTD head that we were going to have park-n-Ride in Highlands Ranch and would like to have signs for it. He thought it was a great idea since it was a new community,” said Joe. “I literally made this up on-the-spot,” he added with a laugh.                                                                          

Joe then told the highway department head that RTD was going to put up signs for park-n-Ride and suggested the department have signs on C-470 identifying the exit to the Highlands Ranch park-n-Ride. He agreed!

When the Centennial Water and Sanitation District was formed, Joe chaired it for many years. Rick McLoud, the district’s Water Resources Manager, said, “Joe was instrumental in assisting me to develop reliable water supplies. He did this with unfailing positivity, diplomatic skills and patience, always with good humor.”

Joe’s people skills were tested when he tried to establish a reservoir for Highlands Ranch. “Kiewit had a plant where the South Platte Reservoir is today,” he said. “I told them, ‘You’re going to be out of here someday and we’d like to build a reservoir.’” When Kiewit wouldn’t agree, Joe threatened to condemn the land. Kiewit relented and agreed to work together.

The reservoir was completed in 2007. “It’s been an enormous success and enormously expensive because the water goes under the Platte River, under C-470 and then into the treatment plant,” said Joe. In tribute to him, the plant is named the Joseph B. Blake Water Treatment and Pumping Facility, citing his “devoted leadership…and assuring that reliable sources of high quality water will always be available to present and future generations.”

Thanks again to Joe’s people skills and perseverance, Highlands Ranch got its own zip code and post office. “When Highlands Ranch first started, we were in the Littleton postal zone,” said Joe. “I told the postmaster that we wanted to make our community Hometown USA with our own zip code.” For Highlands Ranch to have its own postal code, Joe agreed to have gang/mail kiosk delivery rather than delivery to individual homes. “The first time ‘Highlands Ranch, Colorado’ appeared was on the sign at the post office on Quebec,” said Joe.

Joe later worked for Shea Homes after Mission Viejo sold to Shea. Jeff Kappes, Vice President of Shea Homes, said, “Joe always made you feel that you were the most important person he knew…whether you were someone cleaning up after an event held at the Mansion or the Governor of the great state of Colorado. He knew your value as a human being.”

Gary Debus best summed up the countless tributes to Joe, “The world needs more Joe Blakes.”

Note: A Memorial Service will be held at Montview Boulevard Presbyterian Church, 1980 Dahlia Street, Denver, at 2 p.m., Saturday, June 4. The Highlands Ranch Historical Society conducted an interview with Joe about his role in the development of Highlands Ranch. Parts of his interview and quotes from other people were made into a special video tribute to Joe. To view the Tribute to Joe Blake video, go HERE  

The full Oral History with Joe Blake can be accessed HERE