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Love Notes

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Skip Pucci's long connection with the Long Bridge in Sandpoint

As a young boy, back in the 1940s, Little Eugene used to run away from his home on South Fourth in Sandpoint. During each escapade, he’d scamper down the long, yellow wooden bridge which spanned Lake Pend Oreille from South First Avenue to the opposite shore. Every time, though, someone would catch up with him, snatch him, and take him home. Eugene’s father finally resorted to putting a harness on his son and hooking him to the clothesline so he couldn’t escape the yard. For some reason, people started knowing Eugene as “Skip.”

A few years later, little Skip watched and admired his hard-working father Geno build concrete panels for Long Bridge No. 3, which was constructed on a man-made fill extending into the lake southeast of downtown. The fill material came from a rock quarry on Greenhorn Mountain near the airport. It took a long time for the truck drivers to haul enough gravel to build the base for the bridge across the lake, and in those days, their big dump trucks lacked air conditioning for hot summer days in Sandpoint. So, as an enterprising sixth grader, Skip saw a need. He’d prepare lemonade and ice water and sell it to the drivers. In return, they’d give him rides in their trucks.

Finally, one day the newly completed bridge was all ready for vehicle traffic. The town planned a big ceremony for its opening. Before festivities began, Skip and his buddies ran across the new span, hiked to Bottle Bay Road and climbed to a knob on Gold Hill. There, they sat as Gov. Robert Smylie, along with other local and state dignitaries, cut the ribbon and made the official inaugural bridge crossing.

That structure, which Skip’s father helped build and then remodel in later years, faithfully held up as hundreds of thousands of vehicles passed in and out of Sandpoint for the next quarter century. The State Department of Transportation decided to replace it with a new one in the early 1980s. Once again, the bridge provided a project for Skip. By now, he had become a successful builder, had married his high school sweetheart Nancy, and had reared a fine family of two daughters and one son.

Skip decided the third bridge—no longer used for motor traffic but now a popular route for bikers, joggers and walkers—needed some enhancement. One day, he gathered his family and his longtime friend and neighbor Theresa. They all went to the bridge where they installed a planter with a spruce tree and a bench. Skip thought it would be nice to have this place for people to sit down and enjoy the lake. He and Nancy dedicated that first tree to Jim and Jean Brown for all they’d done to support the region’s economy through their Pack River Lumber Co. and other enterprises.

Soon, Skip began to add more planters with help from generous donors who gave money and trees. He encouraged groups and school classes to help install cement tree wells, to plant the trees and to dedicate them to individuals or groups.  Nowadays, 16 planters with dedication plaques line the bridge. And, on summer Sunday afternoons, Skip again leaves home and heads for the bridge. Only, this time he drives from his beautiful new Elliott Bay home.

Parking his pickup, he boards his bicycle and pedals along, stopping at each planter. Dipping a plastic bucket attached to a long rope into the lake, he fills the container, pulls it up, and waters every tree. Each year he also replaces any that die. Every November, Skip and Nancy purchase new strings of sparkly lights for each tree. Once lit, they add magical delight for motorists passing by in the darkness while driving the newest Long Bridge.

As a 61-year-old grandfather and respected owner of Pucci Construction Co., Skip appreciates assistance with his project, especially from young adventurers like himself.  On a beautiful Earth Day this year, he received a lot of help from a class of eager Northside School sixth graders with their teacher Mrs. Sturm, their student teacher Mrs. Neely, school counselor Mrs. Mire and several parents.

Mrs. Sturm says she likes for her students to learn civic pride, just as Skip has practiced so consistently throughout his adult life. Thanks to what her class calls its annual “gift back to the community,” in past years Northside sixth graders have painted murals, created flower beds, or built homes for birds.

This year, to help Skip, they cleaned and planted hardy perennials in seven tree bins at the south end of the bridge.  All Seasons Garden and Floral owner Nancy Hastings helped the students plan where the plants should go by providing a diagram. Northside PTO, Sagle PTO, Unicep, All Seasons, Rotary Club, Golden Meadows, Merwins Hardware, and a donation honoring Jim and Jean Brown supported their effort.

Skip was pleased with the students’ help. He hopes it will start a trend where others come forward to nurture the trees and the plants. He says anyone can help out by planting more perennials, by helping with his watering schedule or even by discouraging vandalism (throwing benches overboard, destroying trees, stealing tables and even his tool box on one occasion) which has happened over the years.

Bridges continue to play an important role in Eugene “Skip” Pucci’s life. He’s even worked on construction of seven of them. His dedication to Sandpoint’s walking bridge/bike path has brought joy to travelers and a tranquility to those who simply wish to sit back and behold our vast heaven on earth. His sense for preserving memories of past community servants through many of the planter dedications inspires young servants yet to come. Thanks to Skip and his helpers, Long Bridge No. 3 connects much more than two pieces of land.

If you or your group would like to help Skip Pucci with his bridge project, call him at 208-263-5807.

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Author info

Marianne Love Marianne Love is a freelance writer and former English teacher who enjoys telling the stories of her community. She has authored several books, the latest of which is "Lessons With Love."

Tagged as:

Sandpoint, Long Bridge, Skip Pucci

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